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Sociological perspectives on the role and functions of education in society; the significance of in-school processes such as teacher labelling and subcultures for pupil identities; explanations for differences in educational achievement by social class, gender and ethnicity; the impact of education policies of marketization, selection and privatisation, and the globalization of education
The New Right refers to conservative, right wing political beliefs, best exemplified by the Thatcher government’s policies of the 1980s. Please note that the New Right is a political philosophy not a Sociological theory!
Underlying principles of the New Right
They believe the state (government) cannot meet people’s needs.
The most efficient way to meet people’s needs is through the free market – through private businesses competing with each other.
Economic growth is an important overall goal – to be achieved by allowing individuals the freedom to compete with each other.
Key ideas of The New Right on Education-
1. The New Right created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school they send their children to rather than being limited to the local school in their catchment area. This lead to the establishment of league tables
2. Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth. Hence: New Vocationalism!
3. 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 Evaluation of the New Right
Competition between schools benefitted the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice – refer to the handout criticising the 1988 Education Act
Vocational Education was also often poor – refer to the HO on Vocational Education
There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools
The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools
Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. According to the Marxist perspective on education, the system performs three functions for these elites:
Reproduces class inequality.
Legitimates class inequality.
It works in the interests of capitalist employers
1. The reproduction of class inequality
In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced
2. The Legitimation of class inequality
Marxists argue that in reality money determines how good an education you get, but people do not realize this because schools spread the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – in school we learn that we all have an equal chance to succeed and that our grades depend on our effort and ability. Thus if we fail, we believe it is our own fault. This legitimates or justifies the system because we think it is fair when in reality it is not.
3. Teaching the skills future capitalist employers need
In ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’ (1976) Bowles and Gintis suggest that there is a correspondence between values learnt at school and the way in which the workplace operates. The values, they suggested, are taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum’. The Hidden Curriculum consists of those things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum subjects taught at the school. So pupils learn those values that are necessary for them to tow the line in menial manual jobs, as outlined below
SCHOOL VALUES Corresponds to EXPLOITATIVE LOGIC OF THE WORKPLACE
Passive subservience (of pupils to teachers) corresponds to Passive subservience of workers to managers
Acceptance of hierarchy (authority of teachers) corresponds to Authority of managers
Motivation by external rewards (grades not learning) corresponds to being Motivated by wages not the joy of the job
Evaluations of the Traditional Marxist Perspective on Education
There is an overwhelming wealth of evidence that schools do reproduce class inequality because the middle classes do much better in education because they have more cultural capital (Reay) and because the 1988 Education Act benefited them (Ball Bowe and Gewirtz)
Conversely, WWC children less likely to go to university because of fear of debt (Connor et al)
Henry Giroux, says the theory is too deterministic. He argues that working class pupils are not entirely molded by the capitalist system, and do not accept everything that they are taught – Paul Willis’ study of the ‘Lads’ also suggests this.
Education can actually harm the Bourgeois – many left wing, Marxist activists are university educated
Neo- Marxism: Paul Willis: – Learning to Labour (1977)
Willis’ research involved visiting one school and observing and interviewing 12 working class rebellious boys about their attitude to school during their last 18 months at school and during their first few months at work.
Willis argues pupils rebelling are evidence that not all pupils are brainwashed into being passive, subordinate people as a result of the hidden curriculum.
Willis therefore criticizes Traditional Marxism. He says that pupils are not directly injected with the values and norms that benefit the ruling class, some actively reject these. These pupils also realise that they have no real opportunity to succeed in this system.
BUT, Willis still believes that this counter-school culture still produces workers who are easily exploited by their future employers:
The Counter School Culture
Willis described the friendship between these 12 boys (or the lads) as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. This value system was characterised as follows:
1. The lads felt superior to the teachers and other pupils
2. They attached no value to academic work, more to ‘having a laff’
3. The objective of school was to miss as many lessons as possible, the reward for this was status within the group
4. The time they were at school was spent trying to win control over their time and make it their own.
Attitudes to future work
They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work.
The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.
Their counter school culture was also strongly sexist.
Evaluations of Willis
Very small sample of only working class white boys
Functionalists focus on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs
1. Creating social solidarity
2. Teaching skills necessary for work
3. Teaching us core values
4. Role Allocation and meritocracy
1. Creating Social Solidarity
We have social solidarity when we feel as if we are part of something bigger. Emile Durkheim argued that school makes us feel like we are part of something bigger. This is done through the learning of subjects such as history and English which give us a shared sense of identity. Also in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag.
Durkheim argued that ‘school is a society in miniature.’ preparing us for life in wider society. For example, both in school and at work we have to cooperate with people who are neither friends or family – which gets us ready for dealing with people at work in later life.
2. Learning specialist skills for work
Durkheim noted that an advanced industrial economy required a massive and complex Division of Labour. At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs.
3. Teaching us core values
Talcott Parsons argued that education acts as the ‘focal socializing agency’ in modern society. School plays the central role in the process of secondary socialisation, taking over from primary socialisation. He argued this was necessary because the family and the wider society work in different principles and children need to adapt if they re to cope In the wider world.
In the family, children are judged according to what he calls particularistic standards by their parents – that is they are judged by rules that only apply to that particular child. Individual children are given tasks based on their different abilities and judged according to their unique characteristics. Parents often adapt rules to suit the unique abilities of the child.
In contrast in school and in wider society, children and adults are judged according to the same universalistic standards (i.e they are judged by the same exams and the same laws). These rules and laws are applied equally to all people irrespective of the unique character of the individual. School gets us ready for this.
Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy
Positive evaluations of the Functionalist view on education
School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low
Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees
Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – PSHE
Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses
Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer)
Negative Evaluations of Functionalism (Criticisms)
Marxists argue the education system is not meritocratic – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.
Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school – e.g. bullying/
Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.
Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful – the education system tends to work for them and they suggests there is nothing to criticise.
Cultural Deprivation theory holds that some groups, such as the lower social classes, have inferior norms, values, skills and knowledge which prevent them from achieving in education. Inferior language skills, and the fact that working class parents do not value education are largely to blame for working class underachievement, rather than material deprivation.
You might also hear ‘cultural deprivation’ theory referred to as ‘working class subculture theory’ – which is something of a throwback to the 1950s. Personally I don’t like the term, and so just use cultural deprivation theory, it’s a bit more modern!
All of the studies below suggest that working class cultures are deficient and that working class children are deprived as a result. These explanations thus put the blame for working class underachievement on the working class families themselves. In these explanations, working class parents basically teach their children norms and values that do not equip them for education in later life.
Five ways in which cultural deprivation can disadvantage children in education
Working class parents may show a lack of interest in their children’s education
Lower class parents are less able to help their children with homework
Lower class children are more likely to speak in a restricted speech code. Rather than the elaborated speech code- Basil Bernstein argued this.
Working class children are more concerned with Immediate Gratification rather than deferred gratification – Barry Sugarman argued this.
The underclass has a higher than average percentage of single parent families. Melanie Philips argued this.
Supporting evidence for cultural deprivation theory
Connor et al (2001) conducted focus group interviews with 230 students from 4 different FE colleges from a range of class backgrounds, some of whom had chosen to go to university and some who had not chosen to go to University. The main findings were that working class pupils are discouraged from going to university for three main reasons:
Firstly, such candidates want ‘immediate gratification’. They want to earn money and be independent at an earlier age. This is because they are aware of their parents having struggled for money and wish to avoid debt themselves
Secondly, they realise that their parents cannot afford to support them during Higher Education and did not like the possibility of them getting into debt
Thirdly, they have less confidence in their ability to succeed in HE.
Research by Leon Fenstein found that low income was related to the restricted speech code. His research revealed that children of working-class parents tend to be more passive; less engaged in the world around them and have a more limited vocabulary. Children from middle-class households had a wider vocabulary, better understanding of how to talk to other people and were more skilled at manipulating objects.
These studies actually show that cultural and material deprivation are related
Evaluations of cultural deprivation theory
If we look at ethnicity and gender differences in achievement – to triangulate, it does seem that cultural factors play a role!
It seems that it isn’t just cultural deprivation but also material deprivation that explains underachievement
Marxists would argue that cultural deprivation theorists blame the working class parents for the underachievement of their children whereas these parents are really the victims of an unequal society in which schools are run by the middle classes for the middle classes.
Earlham’s Pages – do their usual ‘overwhelming for anyone but an A* students whose interested in Sociology approach’ (personally I like it though, then again I’m several levels above both of those criteria) – lots of contemporary links at the top (no summaries) and then a useful overview of ‘class subcultures’ below.
Material deprivation can be defined as the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating. Material deprivation generally has a negative effect on educational achievement.
Gibson and Asthana (1999) pointed out that there is a correlation between low household income and poor educational performance. There are a number of ways in which poverty can negatively affect the educational performance of children. For example –
Higher levels of sickness in poorer homes may mean more absence from school and falling behind with lessons
Less able to afford ‘hidden costs’ of free state education: books and toys are not bought, and computers are not available in the home
Tuition fees and loans would be a greater source of anxiety to those from poorer backgrounds.
Poorer parents are less likely to have access to pre-school or nursery facilities.
Young people from poorer families are more likely to have part-time jobs, such as paper rounds, baby sitting or shop work, creating a conflict between the competing demands of study and paid work.
Supporting evidence for the importance of material deprivation
Stephen Ball (2005) points out how the introduction of marketisation means that those who have more money have a greater choice of state schools because of selection by mortgage
Conner et al (2001) and Forsyth and Furlong (2003) both found that the introduction of tuition fees in HE puts working class children off going to university because of fear of debt
Leon Fenstein (2003) found that low income is related to low cognitive reasoning skills amongst children as young as two years old
The existence of private schools means the wealthy can afford a better education. Children from private schools are over-represented in the best universities
Evaluations of the role of material deprivation
To say that poverty causes poor educational performance is too deterministic as some students from poor backgrounds do well. Because of this, one must be cautious and rather than say there is a causal relationship between these two variables as the question suggests, it would be more accurate to say that poverty disadvantages working class students and makes it more difficult for them to succeed.
There are other differences between classes that may lead to working class underachievement. For example, those from working class backgrounds are not just materially deprived, they are also culturally deprived.
The Cultural Capital of the middle classes also advantages them in education.
In practise it is difficult to separate out material deprivation from these other factors.
This video shows a hypothetical dialogue in which two middle class parents discuss how they might translate their material and cultural capital into educational advantage for their offspring, thereby reproducing class inequality.
material capital is basically money and resources,
cultural capital refers to the store of skills and knowledges middle class parents might have which give their children an advantage in life over working class children.
The reproduction of class inequality through education may be defined as the process whereby middle class children succeed in education and go on to get well-paid middle class jobs, and vice versa for working class children. As a result class inequality is carried on across the generations.
This was one of the first educational videos I ever uploaded to YouTube, but since the company decided to demonetize my account I am deleting everything from YouTube and bringing it to Dtube – a decetralised, blockchain based social media platform – get on the chain, I say!