A Level Sociology – Perspectives on Education Summary Grid
A summmary 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)
Key Ideas about Education
Education performs positive functions for the individual and society.
It 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 soceiety – from paricularistic to universalistic values.
Role Allocation and meritocracy
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).
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.
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 cultur. 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).
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.
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.
Key Ideas about Education
Neoliberalism and 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 = 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!
Their policies seem to have raised standards.
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).
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.
Late Modernism and New Labour
Government needs to spend more on education to respond to the rapid pace of change brought about by Globalisation.
People need to reskill 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 opportunty, and promote diversity and equality.
See Evaluation of New Labour Policies
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.
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.
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 Learnin and Education outside of formal education (leisure)
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).
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’
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Evaluate the extent to which home based, rather than school – based factors account for social class based differences in educational achievement (30)
Focusing on home background initially, we can look at how material and cultural factors might affect a child’s education.
The lower classes are more likely to suffer from material deprivation at home which can hold children back in education because of a lack access to resources such as computers, or living in a smaller house means they would be less likely to have a quiet, personal study space. In extreme situations, children may have a worse diet and a colder house, which could mean illness and time off school. According to Gibson and Asthana, the effects of material deprivation are cumulative, creating a cycle of deprivation. This would suggest that home background influences a child’s education.
Also, the amount of money one has and the type of area one lives in affects the type of school a child can get to. Richer parents have more choice of school because they are more likely to have two cars or be able to afford public transport to get their children to a wider range of schools. Also, house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools can be up to 20% higher than similar houses in other areas – richer parents are more able to afford to move to these better schools. At the other end of the social class spectrum, those going to school in the most deprived areas may suffer disruptions in school due to gang related violence. All of this suggests that location, which is clearly part of your ‘home background’ in the broader sense of the word, is a major factor in educational achievement.
Cultural deprivation also has a negative effect on children at home. Bernstein pointed out that working class children are more likely to be socialised into the restricted speech code and so are less able to understand teachers at school compared to their middle class peers who speak in the elaborated speech code. The classes are also taught the value of immediate rather than deferred gratification, and so are less likely to see the value of higher education. In these theories, home background influences children all the way through school.
Although the concept of cultural deprivation is decasdes old, more recent research suggests it is still of relevance. Fenstein’s (2003) research found that lower income is strongly correlated with a lack of ability to communicate, while research by Conor et al (2001) found that being socialised into poverty means working class students are less likely to want to go to university than middle class students because they are more ‘debt conscious’.
Cultural Capital Theory also suggests that home background matters to an extent – this theory argues that middle class parents have the skills to research the best schools and the ability to help children with homework – and to intervene in schools if a child falls behind (as Diana’s research into the role of mothers in primary school education suggested). However, cultural capital only advantages a child because it gets them into a good school –suggesting that it is the school that matters at least as much as home background. There wouldn’t be such a fuss over, and such competition between parents over schools if the school a child went to didn’t have a major impact on a child’s education!
In fact, one could argue that probably the most significant advantage a parent can give to their child is getting them into a private school. To take an extreme case, Sunningdale preparatory school in Berkshire costs £16000/ year – a boarding school which confers enormous advantage on these children and provides personalised access via private trips to elite secondary schools Eton and Harrow. In such examples, it is not really home background that is advantaging such children – it is simply access to wealth that allows some parents to get their children into these elite boarding schools and the schools that then ‘hothouse’ their children through a ‘high ethos of expectation’ smaller class sizes and superb resources.
Similarly, the case of Mossborn Academy and Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius programme show that schools can overcome disadvantage at home – if they provide strict discipline and high expectation.
Although all of the above are just case studies and thus of limited use in generating a universal theory of what the ‘major cause’ of differences in educational achievement by social class might be, many similar studies have suggested that schools in poorer areas have a lower ethos of expectation (from Willis’ classic 1977 research on the lads to Swain’s research in 2006). It is thus reasonable to hypothesis that the type of school and in school factors such as teacher labelling and peer groups might work to disadvantage the lower classes as Becker’s theory of the ideal pupil being middle class and Willis’ work on working class counter school cultures would suggest, although in this later case, Willis argues that the lads brought with them an anti-educational working class masculinity, so home factors still matter here.
Finally – Social Capital theory also suggests that home background is not the only factor influencing a child’s education – rather it is the contacts parents have with schools – and later on schools with universities and business – that are crucial to getting children a good education, and making that education translate into a good job.
So is it home background or school factors that matter? The research above suggests home background does have a role to play, however, you certainly cannot disregard in school factors in explaining class differences in educational achievement either – in my final analysis, I would have to say that the two work together – middle class advantage at home translating into better schooling, and vice versa for the working classes.
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