A level sociology revision – education, families, research methods, crime and deviance and more!
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
There are three main strands to New Labour’s Education Policies –
Raising standards – which essentially meant building on what the New Right had done previously
Increasing diversity and choice within education
Improving equality of opportunity
1. New Labour Policies designed to Improve Standards
Class sizes – were reduced to 30
Literacy and Numeracy Hour – one hour per day of reading and maths
Extension of school career and the school day – children now start at 4, even younger in Sure Start nurseries and the leaving age is being raised to 18.
Tougher Line on Inspection – Expanded the role of OFSTED
City Academies – 10% funded by the private or voluntary sector – extra money should help improve standards
Higher Education – expanded the number of places available in universities
2. New Labour Policies designed to reduce inequality of opportunity
Education Action Zones – Extra money for schools in deprived areas
Sure Start – 12 hours a week free nursery provision for children aged 2-4
Education Maintenance Allowance – £30 per week to encourage students from low income households to stay on in 16-18 education
3. Polices designed to increase diversity
Specialist schools – Specialise in various subjects, providing expertise in areas from sciences to the performing arts.
Child centred learning (differentiation within schools) – Teachers are expected to focus more on each child’s individual learning needs and OFSTED focus on this more.
Special Educational Needs Provision – there has been a massive expansion of study and support under New Labour to support those with Special needs.
Faith schools – expanded under New Labour
Evaluating the Impact of New Labour’s policies
Positive Evaluations of New Labour Policies
Standards have improved and there is greater choice and diversity –
SATs and GCSE scores have improved significantly under New Labour
There are now a greater diversity of schools (Specialist Schools, City Academies) and a greater variety of subjects one can study (AS and A levels, Vocational A levels, the mix and match curriculum), meaning there is more choice for parents and pupils.
New Labour have established a ‘Learning Society’ in which learning is more highly valued and created opportunities in which adults are able to relearn new skills in order to adapt to an ever changing economy,
Criticisms of New Labour policies
New Labour have not improved equality of educational opportunity
The gap between middle classes and working classes achievement continues to grow because of selection of by mortgage, cream skimming etc. (see last sheet)
The introduction of tuition fees in Higher Education puts many working class children off going to University
The Private school system still means that those with money can get their children a better education
City academies enable those with money to shape the curriculum
Gilborn and Youdell argue that more students have a negative experience of education in the ‘A-C economy’
Schools have become too test focussed, reducing real diversity of educational experience
Students are too taught to the test and less able to think critically
According to Traditional Marxists, school teaches children to passively obey authority and it reproduces and legitimates class inequality.
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:
It reproduces class inequality.
It legitimates class inequality.
It works in the interests of capitalist employers
The main source for the ideas below is Bowles and Ginits (1976): Schooling in Capitalist America. These are the two main sociologists associated with Traditional Marxist perspective on education.
1. The reproduction of class inequality
This means that class inequalities are carried from one generation to the next.
Middle class parents 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.
This has the effect of controlling the working classes – if children grow up believing they have had a fair chance then they are less likely to rebel and try to change society as part of a Marxist revolutionary movement.
If you’d like to find out more about the above two concepts please see this post on ‘the illusion of educational equality‘ in which I go into more depth about educational realities and myths, as theorized by Bowles and Gintis.
3. Teaching the skills future capitalist employers need
Bowles and Gintis suggested that there was 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 the working classes are more likely to suffer from material and cultural deprivation. Meanwhile, the middle classes have more material capital, more cultural capital (Reay) and because the 1988 Education Act benefited them (Ball Bowe and Gewirtz),
The existence of private schools is strong supporting evidence for Marxism – the wealthiest 7% of families are able to buy their children a better education which in turn gives them a better chance of getting into the top universities.
There is strong evidence for the reproduction of class inequality if we look at elite jobs, such as Medicine, the law and journalism. A Disproportionately high number of people in these professions were privately educated.
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.
There is less evidence that pupils think school is fair – Paul Willis’ Lads new the system was biased towards the middle classes for example, and many young people in deprived areas are very aware that they are getting a poor quality of education compared to those in private schools.
Education can actually harm the Bourgeois – many left wing, Marxist activists are university educated for example.
The correspondence principle may not be as applicable in today’s complex labour market where employers increasingly require workers to be able to think rather than to just be passive robots.
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
Overly sympathetic with the boys – going native?
For a more in depth summary of Paul Willis, please see this post which focuses more on the research methods.
Functionalists focus on the positive functions of education – creating social solidarity, teaching core values and work skills and role allocation/ meritocracy
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!
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