Official Statistics on Educational Achievement in the U.K. – Strengths and Limitations

How useful are official statistics for understanding differences in educational achievement by social class, gender and ethnicity?

How do GCSE results vary by social class, gender and ethnicity?

The data below is taken from either the Department for Education’s document – Key Stage 4 performance 2019 (Revised), or Gov.uk ‘ethnicity facts and figures‘. The later shows data from 2017/18 (at time of writing this), but it is much more accessible than the ‘Key Stage 4 document’.

Firstly – GENDER –  Girls outperformed boys in all headline measures in 2019.

For example 46.6% of girls achieved both English and Maths at grade 5 or above, compared to only 40.0% of boys, and girls are much more likley to be entered for the Ebacc than boys (45.9% compared to 34.3%

Secondly – ETHNICITY – Chinese pupils are the highest achieving group. 75.3% of Chinese pupils achieved a ‘strong pass’ (grade 5 or above) in English and Maths, with Indian pupils being the second highest achieving group, at 62%

Black Caribbean pupils have the lowest achievement of any ‘large’ ethnic minority group, with only 26.9% achieving a grade 5 or above in English and Maths

Gypsy/ Roma and Irish Traveller pupils have the lowest levels of achievement with only 9.95 and 5.3% respectively achieving a strong pass in English and Maths.

Thirdly – SOCIAL CLASS – Here, instead of social class we need to use the Department for Education’s ‘disadvantaged pupils’ category, which is the closest we’ve got as a proxy for social class, but isn’t quite the same!

The DFE says that “Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals in the past six years , if they are recorded as having been looked after for at least one day or if they are recorded as having been adopted from care”.

In 2019, only 24.7% of disadvantages pupils achieved English and Maths GCSE at grade 5 or above, compared to almost 50% of all other pupils, meaning disadvantaged pupils are only half as likely to get both of these two crucial GCSEs.

Some Strengths of Official Statistics on Educational Achievement by Pupil Characteristic 

ONE – Good Validity (as far as it goes) – These data aren’t collected by the schools themselves – so they’re not a complete work of fiction, they are based on external examinations or coursework which is independently verified, so we should be getting a reasonably true representation of actual achievement levels. HOWEVER, we need to be cautious about this.

TWO – Excellent representativeness – We are getting information on practically every pupil in the country, even the ones who fail!

THREE – They allow for easy comparisons by social class, gender and ethnicity. These data allow us to see some pretty interesting trends – As in the table below – the difference between poor Chinese girls and poor white boys stands out a mile… (so you learn straight away that it’s not just poverty that’s responsible for educational underachievement)

FOUR – These are freely available to anyone with an internet connection

FIVE – They allow the government to track educational achievement and develop social policies to target the groups who are the most likely to underachieve – These data show us (once you look at it all together) for example, that the biggest problem of underachievement is with white, FSM boys.

Some Disadvantages of the Department for Education’s Stats on Educational Achievement

ONE – If you look again at the DFE’s Key Stage four statistics, you’ll probably notice that it’s quite bewildering – there are so many different measurements that it obscures the headline data of ‘who achieved those two crucial GCSEs’.

When it comes to the ‘Attainment 8’ or ‘Progress 8’ scores, it is especially unclear what this means to anyone other than a professional teacher – all you get is a number, which means nothing to non professionals.

TWO – changes to the way results are reported mean it’s difficult to make comparisons over time. If you go back to 2015 then the standard was to achieve 5 good GCSEs in any subject, now the government is just focusing on English and Maths, Ebacc entry and attainment 8.

THREE – These stats don’t actually tell us about the relationship between social class background and educational attainment. Rather than recording data using a sociological conception of social class, the government uses the limited definition of Free School Meal eligibility – which is just an indicator of material deprivation rather than social class in its fuller sense. Marxist sociologists would argue that this is ideological – the government simply isn’t interested in measuring the effects of social class on achievement – and if you don’t measure it the problem kind of disappears.

FOUR – and this is almost certainly the biggest limitation – these stats don’t actually tell us anything about ‘WHY THESE VARIATIONS EXIST’ – Of course they allow us to formulate hypotheses – but (at least if we’re being objective’) we don’t get to see why FSM children are twice as likely to do badly in school… we need to do further research to figure this out.

No doubt there are further strengths and limitations, but this is something for you to be going on with at least…

Related Posts 

Official Statistics in Sociology

Assessing the Usefulness of Using Secondary Qualitative Data to Research Education

Social Class and Educational Achievement Essay Plan

Evaluate the extent to which home based, rather than school – based factors account for social class based differences in educational achievement (30)

sociology essay plan social class education 2

 

sociology education revisionFocusing 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.

If you like this sort of thing – then you might like my A-level sociology revision bundles: The bundle contains 5 full, 30 mark sociology of education essays, written for the AQA specification.

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Related Posts

For links to more essays, please see my main page on exam advice, short answer questions and essays.

The Effects of Material Deprivation on Education

The Effects of Cultural Deprivation on Education

Cultural Capital and Social class differences in educational achievement

cultural capital refers to the skills, knowledge, attitudes and tastes through which typically middle class parents are able to give their children an advantage in life compared to working class children.

Cultural Capital refers to the skills and knowledge middle class parents have that they can use to give their children an advantage in the education system.

A closely related concept is Social Capital – which is the support and information provided by contacts and social networks which can be converted into educational success and material rewards.

cultural capital

Three ways in which middle class parents use their cultural capital

  1. Middle class parents are better educated and are more able to help their children with homework
  2. Middle class parents are more skilled in researching schools
  3. Middle class parents teach their children the value of deferred gratification

Two ways in which middle class parents use their social capital

  1. They speak to parents of children who already attend the best schools
  2. They are more likely to know professionals who work in the best schools

Supporting evidence for the importance of cultural capital in education

Diane Reay (1988) – Mothers make cultural capital work for their children. Her research is based on the mothers of 33 children at two London primary schools. The mothers of working class children worked just as hard as the middle class mothers. But the cultural capital of the MC mothers gave their children an advantage.

Middle Class Mothers had more educational qualifications and more information about how the educational system operated. They used this cultural capital to help their children with homework, bolstering their confidence and sorting out their problems with teachers.

Stephen Ball argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. Ball refers to middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. They use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.

The school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general the schools with more middle class students have better results.. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market. 

Analysis point

For the sociologists in this section, the cause of lower class failure is the very existence of inequality itself in society and differences in power held by the working and middle classes.

The role of Cultural Capital – Evaluations

Cultural capital has proved difficult to operationalise and measure

However, more and more research suggests this is important in explaining middle class success and working class failure

Helps to explain why the Middle classes always do better despite compensatory education

Related Posts

The Marxist Perspective on Education

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

 

Marxist theory of education - mind map

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

For a more in depth account of Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle, please see this post.

Evaluations of the Traditional Marxist Perspective on Education

Positive

  • 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.

Negative

  • 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.

Essay Plans/ Revision Resources

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

Other Related Posts on the Marxist Perspective on Education

Other related posts on other aspects of Marxism and related perspectives on Education

Sources

  • Bowles and Gintis (1976) Schooling in Capitalist America
  • Paul Willis (1977) Learning to Labour

The effect of cultural deprivation on education

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!

Cultural Deprivation and education

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   

  1. Working class parents may show a lack of interest in their children’s education
  2. Lower class parents are less able to help their children with homework
  3. Lower class children are more likely to speak in a restricted speech code. Rather than the elaborated speech code- Basil Bernstein argued this.
  4. Working class children are more concerned with Immediate Gratification rather than deferred gratificationBarry Sugarman argued this.
  5. 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.

Related Posts 

The effects of material deprivation on education

The effects of cultural capital on educational achievement

Related External Posts – Useful 

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.

Factors influencing class based differences in educational achievement – probably written by a student but it’s quite a useful summary!

Related External Posts – Not so Useful 

The History Learning Site’s material is shockingly out of date – maybe useful for the history, but not so much for our contemporary era.

 

 

 

 

The Effects of Material Deprivation on Education

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.

Material Deprivation and 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 –

  1. Higher levels of sickness in poorer homes may mean more absence from school and falling behind with lessons
  2. Less able to afford ‘hidden costs’ of free state education: books and toys are not bought, and computers are not available in the home
  3. Tuition fees and loans would be a greater source of anxiety to those from poorer backgrounds.
  4. Poorer parents are less likely to have access to pre-school or nursery facilities.
  5. 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.

Related Posts

The Effects of Cultural Deprivation on Education

The Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK

Evaluating the extent of material deprivation in the UK