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Are schools meritocratic?

In this post I apply some sociological concepts to develop arguments for and against the view that schools are meritocratic.

This post is really designed to show students how they can apply concepts to this question from across the sociology of education topic within A-level sociology.

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Arguments for the view that education is meritocratic 

Particularistic values

Functionalists argue that at in school students are judged by universalistic values, so it is more meritocratic than at home where children are judged by different particularistic values.

Cultural deprivation

Schools offer children equality of opportunity and so are fair, it’s the inferior values of working-class parents such as immediate gratification that stops them achieving.

School ethos

Nearly all schools today, especially academies have a high ethos of achievement.

Pupil Premium

Introduced under The Coalition government, this encourages schools to accept more students from poor backgrounds, helping to combat selection by mortgage, which is not meritocratic.

Other supporting concepts and evidence

Life-long learning, parity of esteem, expansion of modern apprenticeships, compensatory education.

Arguments and evidence against the view that education is meritocratic 

Correspondence principle

In state school children are taught to obey authority and accept hierarchy rather than to use their talents to achieve.

Cultural capital

Middle class parents have always been more able than working class parents to use their skills to get their kids into the best schools, thus there is not real equality of opportunity

Teacher labelling

Teachers are more likely to negatively label boys, working class and Black Caribbean children as problem students, meaning they are held back through being put in lower bands.

1988 Education Act

Unfairly benefitted middle class parents through selection by mortgage and the school-parent alliance.

Other criticising concepts and evidence

Banding and streaming, myth of meritocracy, hidden curriculum, ethnocentric curriculum.

Sociology Teaching Resources for Sale

If you’re a sociology teacher and you like this sort of thing, and you want to support my resource development work, then you might like these teaching resources for the sociology of education. They are specifically designed for A-level sociology students and consist of three documents:

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