An Overview of the Education Module for A Level Sociology

Last Updated on April 22, 2017 by Karl Thompson

The AQA Specification – Education

Students need to know….

  • The role and functions of the education system, including its relationship to the economy and to class structure (the perspectives: functionalism etc.)
  • Differential educational achievement of social groups by social class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary society.
  • Relationships and processes within schools, with particular reference to teacher/pupil relationships, pupil identities and subcultures, the hidden curriculum, and the organisation of teaching and learning.
  • The significance of educational policies, including policies of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy.

Education brief

How most text books break the specification down further….

Topic 1 – Perspectives on Education (‘role and function of education’)

There are 4 Main Perspectives:

  • Functionalism
  • Marxism
  • The New Right
  • Postmodernism
  • You can also use knowledge from these perspectives: Feminism/ Social Democratic/ Liberalism


  • Focuses on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs
  • Creating social solidarity (value consensus)
  • Teaching skills necessary for work
  • Bridge between home and school
  • Role Allocation and meritocracy


  • Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. The education system performs three functions for these elites:
  • Reproduces class inequality.
  • Legitimates class inequality.
  • The Correspondence Principle – School works in the interests of capitalist employers

The New Right 

  • Created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given choice. This required league league tables
  • Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth.  Hence: New Vocationalism!
  • The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum


  • Not a major perspective on education.
  • Use to criticise the relevance of the previous three perspectives.
  • A ‘one size fits all’ education system does not fit with a post-modern society
  • Education needs to be more flexible and targeted to individuals.

Topic 2 – In-School Processes

Make sure you explain the difference between Interactionism and Structural Theories

School Ethos and The Hidden Curriculum

Teacher Stereotyping and the halo effect

  • The ideal pupil
  • Labelling and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Banding, streaming and setting
  • Definitions of banding/ streaming setting
  • Summaries of evidence on the effects of banding etc.
  • Unequal access to classroom knowledge
  • Educational triage

Student responses to the experience of schooling: school subcultures

  • Differentiation and Polarisation
  • Pro-School subcultures
  • Anti-school (or counter-school) subcultures
  • Between pro and anti-school subcultures: a range of responses

Gender and differential educational achievement 

There are three main types of question for gender and education – achievement, subject choice the trickier question of how gender identities affect experience of schooling and how school affects gender identities. 

Distinguishing between out of school and in-school factors in explaining these differences is one of the key analytical skills for this topic (and in class/ ethnicity)

Achievement (why do girls generally do better than boys)

  • In the 1980s boys used outperform girls
  • Today, girls do better than boys by about 8% points at GCSE.
  • There are about 30% more girls in University than boys.

Subject Choice (why do they choose different subjects)

  • Subject choice remains heavily ‘gendered’
  • Typical boys subjects = computing/ VOCATIONAL especially trades/ engineering
  • Typical girls subjects = dance, sociology, humanities, English, hair and beauty.

Experience of Schooling/ Gender Identity

  • Pupils’ gender identities may influence the way they experience school.
  • Schools may reinforce traditional (hegemonic) and femininity
  • Gender identity varies by social class and ethnicity.

Out of school factors and differential educational achievement

  • Changes in Employment – Rise of the service, decline in manufacturing sector, crisis of masculinity.
  • Changes in the family – dual earner households, more female worker role models. LINK TO FAMILY MODULE
  • Changing girls’ ambitions – from marriage and family to career and money (Sue Sharp)
  • Differential socialisation –girls socialised to be more passive/ toys related to different subjects (Becky Francis) LINK TO FUNCTIONALISM/ PARSONS.
  • Parental attitudes – traditional working class dads may expect boys to not try hard at school.
  • Impact of Feminism – equal opportunity policies.
  • Policy changes – introduction of coursework in 1988/ scaling back of coursework in 2015.

Gender and In-School Factors

  • Teacher Labelling – typical boys = disruptive, low expectation, typical girls = studious, high expectations (Jon Abraham) – LINK TO INTERACTIONISM, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Subcultures –boys more likely to form counter-school cultures (Willis) – LINKS to out of school.
  • Feminisation of teaching – increase in female teachers puts boys off
  • Subject counsellors advise boys to choose boys subjects
  • Gendered subject images match traditional gender domains
  • Boys’ domination of equipment puts girls off practical subjects like PE
  • Traditional masculine identities – boys just don’t see school as a ‘boy thing’ – Working class boys saw school as ‘queer’, middle class work hard but hide this (Mac An Ghail)
  • Hyper-Feminine identities (hair/ make up) clash with the school (Carolyn Jackson)
  • Verbal Abuse – boys who study hard get called ‘gay’ as a term of abuse.

Social class differences in educational achievement

Why do working class kids do worse than middle class kids? (Free School Meals to measure, not class!)

Material Deprivation

  • Lots of ways!
  • Hidden costs
  • The cycle of deprivation
  • Selection by mortgage

Cultural Deprivation – blame the working classes

  • Immediate/ deferred gratification
  • Restricted/ elaborated speech codes

Cultural Capital – Marxist – blame the middle classes

  • Skilled and Disconnected Choosers
  • In-School Processes
  • Labelling, the ideal pupil (Becker)
  • Counter School Culture (Willis)
  • Aspirational culture in school (links to cultural capital)

Ethnicity and differential educational achievement

Chinese/ Indian kids do best/ African-Caribbean, Gypsy Roma worst.

Material Factors

  • Differences in income/ class don’t explain the difference (poor Chinese kids compared poor white kids)

Cultural factors

  • Family structure (single parent households)
  • Parental attitudes (Steve Strand 2007)
  • Language differences (linguistic deprivation)
  • Black anti-school masculine street cultures (Tony Sewell)

In-School Processes

  • Teacher racism/ labelling (Gilborn)
  • Subcultures and anti-school attitudes (Tony Sewell)
  • Subcultures as a means of resisting racism (Mac An Ghail).
  • Banding and Streaming/ Educational Triage
  • Ethnocentric Curriculum
  • Experiences of institutional racism and from other pupils (Crozier)
  • Also – racism in admissions at Oxford University

Education Policies

Main policies 

  • 1944 – The Tripartite System
  • 1965 – Comprehensivisation
  • 1988 – New Right – Education Act – Marketisation
  • 1997 – New Labour – Academies, Expansion of HE, Sure Start, EMA.
  • 2010 – Coalition/ New Right – Forced Adacademisation, Free Schools, Funding Cuts, Pupil Premium, and MORE STATE GRAMMARS.
  • Compenstory Education – E.G. EMA.
  • Vocationalism – e.g, Apprenticeships.

Policies – key questions

  • To what extent have policies raised achievement?
  • To what extent have policies improved equality of opportunity?
  • How have policies changed the way schools select pupils and what are the consequences (apply the perspectives)
  • In what ways has education becoming more privatised and what are the consequences (apply the perspectives)?
  • What is the relationship between globalisation and education policy?




4 thoughts on “An Overview of the Education Module for A Level Sociology”

  1. omg exams in a few days and having this brief overview of this entire section is helpful

  2. There is so much content, I am struggling to remember the names of perspectives/theories/studies, how important is remembering names of sociologists?…anyone?…

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