This question is relevant to the Education module within A-level sociology.
Students may get this or a similar question in the Education section of Paper One: Education with Theory and Methods.
The way to answer any question on ‘groups’ is ideally to give equal weight to all of social class, gender and ethnicity.
What is below is some notes on the kind of material you could include in this essay.
- There are significant differences between class, gender, ethnic groups in terms of educational achievement
- The idea that processes within school explain these differences is associated with Interactionism and especially labelling theory
- Interactionists argue micro processes such as interactions between pupils and teachers, subcultures and issues of identity explain these differences rather than structural factures or home background/ socialisation and material differences Teacher Labelling
- Howard Becker (1960s) argued middle class teachers have an ideal pupil and use this as a standard by which to judge all pupils. Positive labels were given based on things such as smart appearance and language (links to elaborated speech code), not intelligence. This gave MC pupils positive self-esteem (1960s) WC pupils negative
- Rosenthal and Jacobsen argued labels can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy – where if a teacher doesn’t expect much of a student, they internalise the label and it becomes true. If the above is true, it will explain why WC pupils underachieve in education compared to MC pupils.
- Labelling theory has also been used to explain why girls do better than boys – John Abraham (1980s) found that teachers thought typical boys were lazy and typical girls studious, thus they expected more of girls and encouraged them more than boys
- It has also been applied by David Gilborn (1990s) to explain why African Caribbean children underachieve – he found that teachers thought black boys were more aggressive, and so this explained why they were 4* more likely to be excluded than white boys, which relates to underachievement.
- A criticism of labelling theory is that there is limited evidence of it – all of the above studies are based on small samples and so unrepresentative, we can’t generalise from them.
- A second criticism of labelling theory is that it is deterministic – students are not as passive as it suggests – not every student is effected negatively by a negative label for example, some try harder to prove the teacher wrong (Fuller’s research on black girls 1980s).
- A third criticism of Labelling theory applied to education is that blames those in power, in this case teachers, for the failure of underachieving groups, arguing they are biased, the problem with the theory today is that teachers are probably amongst the least sexist/ racist/ classist professionals of all, and they are amongst the most well-trained at avoiding discrimination.
- It has been argued that pupil subcultures are a response to in-school processes such as teacher labelling – with both pro and anti-school subcultures forming within schools. Peer groups reinforce positive or negative attitudes towards school, thus helping to explain levels of educational achievement. HOWEVER, much of the research actually suggests that although this is an in-school process, a lot of the attitudes that lead to subcultures emerging come from home background.
- ‘Lad subcultures’’ have been blamed for the underachievement of boys. This linked to hegemonic (dominant ideas about) masculinity – stereotypically, ‘real men’ succeed without trying, and so there is pressure to not work in school. Verbal abuse is one way these peer groups reinforce such dominant masculine identities. Boys who try hard at school may be accused of being ‘gay’, for example.
- To evaluate, this is especially true for working class boys, less so for middle class, but even MC boys tend to hide their efforts at school work from their peers. It will also be less the case for older children (doing A levels for example).
- Paul Willis in 1977 found that the white working class lads he followed formed an anti-school culture, gaining status by ‘having a laff’ because they couldn’t see the point in school. However this wasn’t so much to do with in-school factors, the lads actively wanted working class factory jobs and so didn’t see the point of education.
- Similarly Tony Sewell found that black boys who formed anti-school subcultures brought their anti-school ‘hyper-masculine street culture’ from home, and he argued that out of school factors were really the cause of such subcultures.
Banding and Streaming
Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets and are victims of ‘educational triage’ – such pupils effectively get ‘written off’ because they are perceived as having no chance of achieving A-Cs.
The Ethnocentric Curriculum
The ethnocentric curriculum (EC) might explain the underachievement of some ethnic groups – the EC is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.
To evaluate, the problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.
Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.
Racism/ Institutional Racism
Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion. The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling.
Some recent statistics also suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate). Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.
Overall Evaluations – Home factors – link to in-school factors!
- Material deprivation — hidden costs/ exclusion// private schools.
- Cultural deprivation – speech codes/ teacher labelling
- Single parent families – banding and streaming
- Policy – always favours the MC.
- 90% of the difference comes from home background!
Signposting and Related posts
For more essays, please see my main post on exam advice, short answer questions and essays.