Sociological Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A Level Sociology – Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A summary of the Functionalist, Marxist, New Right, Late Modern/ New Labour and Postmodern Perspectives on the role of education in society – focusing on Key ideas, supporting evidence and criticisms. (Scroll down for ‘test yourself’ link)

NB grids don’t display particularly well online so I’ve put in two pictures of the grid itself, summarised the content in text form below, and you can buy the pdf colour version itself as part of the ReviseSociology education revision bundle!

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

Key ideas

  • Education performs positive functions for the individual and society:
  • Creating social solidarity (value consensus) through teaching the same subjects.
  • Teaching skills necessary for work – necessary for a complex division of labour.
  • Acting as a bridge between home and society – from particularistic to universalistic values.
  • Role Allocation and meritocracy

Supporting evidence for Functionalism

  • 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’ – Extended Tutorials – (‘cringing together’?)
  • Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses.
  • Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer).

Criticisms/ limitations

  • Marxists – the education system is not meritocratic (not fair) – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.
  • Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school –
  • Many schools fail OFSTED inspections,
  • Not all pupils succeed
  • Negative In school processes like subcultures/ bullying/ teacher labelling
  • Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.
  • Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful. The education system tends to work for them. (because they can send their children to private schools) and it suggests there is nothing to criticise.

If you need to review this topic in more depth there are more detailed class notes here: The Functionalist Perspective on Education.

The Marxist Perspective on Education

Key ideas

  • 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.
  • Neo- Marxism – Paul Willis – A Classic piece of Participant Observation of 12 lads who formed a counter school culture. Willis argued they rejected authority and school and just turned up to ‘have a laff’ (rejecting the correspondence theory). However, they ended up failing and still ended up in working class jobs (so supports the reproduction of class inequality).

Supporting evidence for Marxism

  • To support the reproduction of inequality – Who gets the best Jobs. And there is no statistically significant evidence against the FACT that, on aggregate, the richer your parents, the better you do in education.
  • To support the Legitimation of class inequality – pupils are generally not taught about how unfair the education system is – they are taught that if they do badly, it is down to them and their lack of effort.
  • To support the Ideological State Apparatus – Surveillance has increased schools’ ability to control students.

Criticisms/ limitations

  • There are many critical subjects taught at university that criticise elites (e.g. Sociology).
  • It is deterministic – not every child passively accepts authority (see Paul Willis).
  • Some students rebel – 5% are persistent truants (they are active, not passive!).
  • Some students from poor backgrounds do ‘beat the odds’ and go on to achieve highly.
  • The growth of the creative industries in the UK suggest school doesn’t pacify all students.
  • The nature of work and the class structure has also changed, possibly making Marxism less relevant today.

For more detailed class notes on this topic please see this post: The Marxist Perspective on Education.

The Neoliberal and New Right Views of Education

Key ideas

  • Their policies seem to have raised standards.
  • Created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school = league tables.
  • The state provides a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing – National Curriculum.
  • Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work: New Vocationalism!

Supporting evidence for the New Right

  • There has been a correlation between the introduction of New Right policies and steadily improving results all through the 1990s and 2000s, right up to the onset of Coronavirus distorted everything.
  • Their policies have been applied internationally (PISA league tables).
  • Asian Countries with very competitive education systems tend to top the league tables (e.g. China).

Criticisms/ limitations

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice.
  • Vocational Education was also often poor.
  • 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.

For more in depth class-notes please see: The New Right View of Education.

The Late Modern Perspective on Education

Key Ideas

  • Government needs to spend more on education to respond to the rapid pace of change brought about by Globalisation.
  • People need to re-skill more often as – government should play a role in managing this. Schools are also necessary to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.
  • New Labour Policies – the purpose of school should be to raise standards, improve equality of opportunity, and promote diversity and equality.

Supporting Evidence for Late Modernism

  • All developed economies have governments who spend large amounts of money on education, suggesting more (not less like Neoliberals suggest) state education is good.
  • It is difficult to see what other institution could teach about diversity other than schools.
  • There did seem to be more equality of opportunity under New Labour rather than under the 2015 Neoliberal/ New Right government.

New Labour’s education policies are probably best described as Late Modern.


  • Postmodernists argue that government attempts to ‘engineer’ pupils to fit society kill creativity
  • Marxists argue that whatever state education does it can never reduce class inequalities – we need to abolish global capitalism, not adapt to it!
  • Late-Modern, New Labour ideas about education are expensive. Neoliberalists say that we can no longer afford to spend huge sums of money on education.
  • See also evaluations of New Labour Policies

The Postmodern View of Education

Key ideas

  • Stand against universalising education systems.
  • See Modernist education as oppressive to many students – especially minority groups
  • Believe the ‘factory production-line mentality of education kills creativity
  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include – Home Education, Liberal forms of education, Adult Education and Life Long Learning and Education outside of formal education (leisure)

Supporting evidence

  • Many people agree that schools do kill creativity (Ted Robinson, and Suli-Breaks)
  • Sue Palmer – Teaching the test has resulted in school being miserable and stressful for many pupils.
  • Do we really want an education system more like the Chinese one?
  • The National Curriculum has been criticised as being ethnocentric (potentially oppressive to minority groups).

Criticisms/ limitations

  • Late-Modernists – we need schools to promote tolerance of diversity.
  • Neoliberalism – we need a competitive system to drive up standards in order to be able to compete in a global free market!
  • Marxists would argue that home education would lead to greater inequality – not all parents have an equal ability – if we leave education to parents, the middle classes will just benefit more, and working class kids will be even further behind.
  • Liberal forms of education may result in the survival of the fittest’

For a more in depth look at this topic: Postmodernism and Education.

Signposting/ Find out More

This post has been written primarily for students revising for their A-level Sociology exams, specifically for the education topic which appears on paper SCLY1

This post focuses only on the knowledge, you also need to be able to apply it! For further help with revising for this paper, you can see my ‘essays and exams page‘ for examples of the kind of questions which may come up and help with analysis and evaluation skills.

Please click here to return to the homepage –

Test yourself:

Functionalist or Marxist? (Quizlet Test)

The New Right’s View of Education

The New Right created an education market in the United Kingdom from 1988 through introducing league tables and formula funding, among other education policies.

The New Right believe in Marketisation (schools competing like businesses) and Parentocracy (parental choice) and they are well known for introducing league tables, GCSEs and OFSTED in the UK as part the 1988 Education Reform Act

This post covers the underlying principles of New Right thought and should be read along with this post on the 1988 Education Act which outlines specific New Right education policies.

The New Right is closely associated with Neoliberalism, and this post (Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction) covers the similarities and differences between them.

The New Right: Underlying Principles

  • Lowering taxation and reducing government spending.
  • The introduction of free market principles into more areas of social life traditionally paid for by taxation (such as education and the health services).
  • An emphasis on individual freedom responsibility (they are against the welfare state).
  • A strong state where law and order is concerned (Right Realist Policies are examples).
  • Pro-tradition – they support the traditional married nuclear family.

New Right Education Policies

  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 New Right ideas on Education 

  • Competition between schools benefited 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

The Neoliberal and New Right view of education 

You might also like the mind map below – a more up to date summary of neoliberalism and the new right

Neoliberal new right education.png
Education Revision Bundle Cover

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Signposting and Related Posts

This material is usually taught as part o the education module within A-level sociology.

Related posts include:  

Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

The Marxist Perspective on Education

The New Right View of the Family

Please click here to return to the homepage –

The Neoliberal Theory of Economic Development

According to neoliberalism big government and too much official development aid prevent economic and social development, while deregulation, privatisation and lowering taxation are required to achieve economic growth. This post outlines the neoliberal approach development and then briefly assesses the effectiveness of neoliberal policies.

What is Neoliberalsm?

Neoliberalism - The Dominant Ideology since Reagan and Thatcher
Neoliberalism – The Dominant Ideology since Reagan and Thatcher

While the usage of the term neoliberalism varies considerably, for the purpose of this post i use the term to refer to that set of economic policies which have become popular in economic development over the last 30 years (since the late 1980s) – namely increased privatisation, economic deregulation and lowering taxation.

Neoliberalism replaced modernisation theory as the official approach to development in the 1980s. It focuses on economic policies and institutions which are seen as holding back development because they limit the free market. The agreement by the World Bank and IMF that neoliberal policies were the best path to development is referred to as the Washington Consensus following a meeting in Washington by world leaders in 1989.

What prevents development?

Neoliberals argue that governments prevent development – When governments get too large they restrict the freedom of dynamic individuals who drive development forwards. Neoliberals argue that there is some pretty powerful evidence for this – Think of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, although these governments forced through industrialisation, they would not allow people enough freedom to bring about the kind of consumer culture (based on individual freedom of choice and expression) that emerged in Western Europe in the 1960s, so development stagnated in those countries because of governments having too much power. Similarly neoliberals argue that even in Capitalist countries where there is too much ‘red tape’ – or too many rules, regulations, taxes and so on, it’s harder to do business and so harder for economies to develop.

Neoliberals are also critical of the role of Western aid money – They point to the many corrupt African dictatorships which emerged in Africa in the 1960s -1980s – These were often propped up by aid money from Western governments and during this period billions of dollars were siphoned off into the pockets of government officials in those countries and not used for development at all.

How can countries develop?

Chile - The First Neoliberal Experiment
Chile – The First Neoliberal Experiment

Neoliberalism insists that developing countries remove obstacles to free market capitalism and allow capitalism to generate development. The argument is that, if allowed to work freely, capitalism will generate wealth which will trickle down to everyone. 

Another way of putting this is that neoliberals believe that private enterprise, or companies should take the lead in development. They believe that if governments promote a business friendly environment that encourages companies to invest and produce, then this will lead to exports which will encourage free trade. So encouraging ‘free’ trade is a central neoliberal strategy for development

The policies proposed are those that were first tried in Chile in the 1970s, then in Britain in the 1980s under Thatcher. They include:

  1. Deregulation – Removing restrictions on businesses and employers involved in world trade – In practice this means reducing tax on Corporate Profits, or reducing the amount of ‘red tape’ or formal rules by which companies have to abide – for example reducing health and safety regulations.

  1. Fewer protections for workers and the environment – For the former this means doing things like scrapping minimum wages, permanent contracts. This also means allowing companies the freedom to increasingly hire ‘flexible workers’ on short-term contracts.

  1. Privatisation – selling to private companies industries that had been owned and run by the state

  1. Cutting taxes – so the state plays less of a role in the economy

Neoliberalism and Structural Adjustment Programmes

Some countries willingly adopted these policies, believing they would work; others had them imposed on them as part of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). SAPs basically involves the World Bank or IMF agreeing a loan for a developing country (this might be to build roads/ hospitals/ industrialise/ mechanise agriculture/ build sewage systems/ schools etc.) as long as the country fulfills certain conditions. Since the 1980s these conditions have meant such things as deregulation and privatisation. 

Overall Criticisms of Neoliberalism12

  1. A report from the CEPR compared the period from 1960 to 1980, when most countries had more restrictive, inward looking economies to the period 1980 to 200 the period of neo liberalism and found that progress was greater before the 1980s on both economic and social grounds.

  1. Those countries that have adopted free market polices have developed more slowly on those countries that protected their economies

  1. Dependency theorists argue that neo-liberalism is merely a way to open up countries so they are more easily exploitable by Transnational Corporations. We will see this in the next handout!

  1. Transnational Corporations do not tend to invest in the poorest countries, only in LDCs and NICs

Global Development Revision Notes

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Global Development Revision Notes

 Global Development Notes Cover53 Pages of revision notes covering the following topics within global development:

  1. Globalisation
  2. Defining and measuring development
  3. Theories of development (Modernisation Theory etc)
  4. Aid, trade and development
  5. The role of organisations in development (TNCs etc)
  6. Industrialisation, urbanisation and development
  7. Employment, education and health as aspects of development
  8. Gender and development
  9. War, conflict and development
  10. Population growth and consumption
  11. The environment and sustainable development

1 – article on the failure of neo-liberalism

2 – review of a book on the problems neo-liberal policies caused in Bolivia in the late 1990s.

Related Posts

World Systems Theory

Further Reading

The Guardian -Neoliberalism’s Trade not Aid approach to development ignored past lessons

The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics – Guardian commentary (August 2016)

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