Perspectives on Education

  • Functionalist View on Education:
    • Functions of School:
      • Pass on norms and values
      • Socialization that teaches all children a shared set of values and gives sense of belonging to society
      • Children are taught importance of individual achievement and are taught that they will be judged by universal standards
      • Produce people with skills needed by society
    • Arguments against Functionalist View:
      • No set ideology passed on
      • No strong connection between schools and work – children won’t need most of what is taught and sometimes companies complain that the skills of school-leavers aren’t up to par
      • People are selected for jobs not by their ability but more of their social class, ethnicity and gender
  • Marxist View on Education:
    • Functions of School:
      • Socializing that teaches all children a shared set of values which is based on the ideology of the ruling class
      • Working-class children are taught values that will make them good workers in the eyes of the capitalist system
      • Hidden curriculum teaches children to follow authority as preparation for the future
      • Private schools for wealthy children ensure that they secure positions in top colleges and maintain their position as upper-class society members
      • Schools now take less-privileged children on scholarships to recruit the brightest working-class members to the ruling class.
  • Feminist View on Education:
    • Functions of School:
      • Socialize boys and girls into their gender roles by teaching different subjects and discouraging girls from taking “harder” subjects
      • Teachers expect more from boys and encourage them to aim for a career
      • Typically have more males in leadership positions as role models, giving the impression that men are better suited for these positions

Relationship between Education and Social Mobility

Functionalists believe that the education system permits social mobility. As there is an equality of opportunity, people are able to reach the level they deserve based on their natural ability and the effort they make to succeed (meritocracy).

Sociologists using other perspectives challenge the idea that a meritocracy exists and the possibility of social mobility as evidence shows sex, class and ethnicity play a bigger part than children’s achievements.

Marxists believe that the working-class start with a handicap in the race to attain prized occupations against other students. Upward mobility is possible only when there are positions available to be filled so when there is an increase in professional jobs, working-class people can move up the social hierarchy but when they dry out, the opportunity is lost. Marxists believe that capitalist system recruits the most able of the working class to make the system stronger and therefore, reject the idea that the education system is meritocratic and any mobility that is allowed is a safety valve that takes away potential leaders from the working class.

Types of Schools

  • Categorizing by age:
    • Pre-school:
      • Designed to help very young children get used to learning in a school-type environment
      • Focuses on the children developing cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills
  • Primary schools:
    • Children from age 5 onwards
    • Children receive first years of academic education
    • Emphasizes on reading, writing, mathematics and some other subjects
  • Secondary schools:
    • Children from age 11-16 or more
    • Children study a range of subjects
    • Ends with a series of examinations that determine whether the child can continue studying
  • Post-compulsory education/ Tertiary education:
    • People aged 18 or over but may also attract students who are much older and are returning to study
    • Offer both first or undergraduate degrees and higher or postgraduate degrees
  • Categorizing by who runs the school:
    • State schools:
      • Run directly or indirectly by national or local government
      • Funded by taxes
      • Have to teach certain subjects and need qualified teachers
  • Private schools:
    • Run privately
    • Funded by fees paid
    • Can specialize in what they like and usually have highly qualified teachers
  • Faith Schools:
    • Run by religious organizations
    • Often have a distinctive ethos (code of conduct) followed by pupils and teachers
  • Selective education:
    • System where schools select pupils based on ability
  • Tripartite system:
    • Based on assumption that children could be divided into groups with different abilities and needed different types of education
    • Grammar schools:
      • Often enrolled mainly middle-class students selected by a test at the age of 11 or after
      • Often attracted the best teachers
      • Taught Latin, Greek, Math, Science and other demanding subjects for GCE O (ordinary) level exams
  • Technical schools:
    • Specialized in technical educations
    • Helped prepare students for manual occupations
  • Secondary Modern schools:
    • For most children
    • Children had little success as they had been labelled failures, reducing their motivation to work well and behave
    • Life chances were already limited
    • Offered a basic education
    • Few opportunities to take exams
  • Comprehensive schools:
    • Cater to all students of a certain age in a local area
  • Based on ideology that every child should get to study and be given a chance to succeed

  • Specialist Schools:
    • Specialize in one or more subjects like medicine or music

  • Academies:
    • Allowed businesses and other sponsors to start schools, usually to replace schools with low GCSE results
    • Sponsors decide how school is run
    • Not under the control of the local authority as they are funded by government and can set their own curriculum, salary levels and ethos

  • Free schools:
    • Current government allows parents, teachers, charities and other groups to set up schools and be directly funded by the government

Factors that Affect Educational Achievement

Gender – In most schools, boys and girls now follow the same curriculum, but in the past some subjects were set aside for girls such as domestic science and textiles while woodwork and metalwork were thought to be for boys only. Even when given a choice, girls may choose subjects like arts than science or technology due to early socialization into gender roles.

Girls may find some classrooms male-dominated; textbooks may show pictures of boys rather than girls; and the subject may be taught by a man. These factors can give girls the message that the subject is not for them and vice versa for subjects like dance for boys.

Why do girls do better than boys at GCSE level?

  1. The attitude and motivation of girls has increased
  2. Schools make an effort to ensure girls get the same opportunities as boys
  3. Schools may use techniques such as positive discrimination
  4. Girls work more consistently over long periods
  5. Girls mature earlier than boys so by the age of 16, they’re more likely to understand the importance of studying hard

Why do boys underachieve compared to girls?

  1. Boys tend to be overconfident
  2. Laddish behaviour – influenced by anti-learning subcultures
  3. Fewer traditional male jobs so boys may feel like there isn’t a point in studying
  4. Boys are more likely to spend their leisure time playing which is less helpful for academic success
  5. Boys tend to have different skills and interests and would do better at school if work was active and practical rather than based on reading and writing.

Ethnicity – Some ethnic groups do less well than others:

  1. Ethnicity cannot be separated from class and gender so higher-class students tend to do better.
  2. Prejudice and discrimination against certain ethnicities in the wider society may cause the child to rebel against the school as it represents the authority of the racist society in their daily lives.
  3. Discrimination within school – streaming and setting in lower groups based on stereotypes
  4. Teacher may label them “troublemakers”
  5. Lessons may be ethnocentric
  6. Cultural differences
  7. Genetic differences

Social class – working class pupils were more likely to underachieve due to:

  1. Labelling, setting and streaming leading to underachievement
  2. Inherited intelligence
  3. Cultural and material deprivation
  4. Low self-esteem
  5. Language differences
  6. Cultural capital
  7. Class position
  8. Lack of resources

Material, Cultural and Linguistic Influences on Education

 Material InfluencesCultural Influences Linguistic Influences
Social ClassLess space to study; Inadequate food; Lack of resources; Haven’t gone to pre-school; Part time jobs; School in poor areaFatalistic attitude; Need for immediate rather than deferred gratification; Parents not valuing education; Loyalty to social group; Absence of successful role modelsBasil Bernstein suggested that middle-class children were more proficient in elaborated code than working-class children giving them an advantage
Ethnicity Low position in new countryLouise Archer found people with Chinese backgrounds did well in school as working hard at school was an essential part of Chinese identityMinor ethnic groups do not always talk in the same language at home as school and may therefore find trouble understanding. Shown by William Labov regarding AAVE.
GenderA poor family is more likely to spend on a boys’ education than a girls’Girls may be influenced in seeing their future in terms or marriage 

Influence of School, Teachers, Peer Groups and Pupil Subcultures

 School and TeachersPeer Groups and Pupil Subcultures
Social ClassWorking-class students may be seen as poorly motivated; lacking support from home; and disruptive which makes teachers view them as lacking in ability even if they are able as according to Howard Becker, teachers judge people based on non-academic factors like speech, dress, and personality making up a stereotype of the ideal pupil.If labelled as failures, some pupils rebel against the school and develop anti-school sub-cultures which provide a means for pupils to improve their own self-esteem. The sub-cultures are usually: hating school; truanting; avoiding work; cheating; being insolent towards teachers; despising pupils who work hard; being involved in delinquency. Working-class children are more likely to belong to anti-school sub-cultures.
EthnicityPupils from minority ethnic groups may be put in lower sets or streams because of language differences and usually good or bad behaviour of a few members of a certain ethnic group may reflect on the teacher’s view of the entire group.If labelled as failures, some pupils conform to a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. Majority of these students belong to minority ethnic groups because they fail to meet the expected/ ideal pupil stereotype. They may also be bullied or discriminated against by peers for under or overachieving.
GenderBoys are more likely to be seen as problems in school and more rules focus on boys than girls. Girls may find some classrooms male-dominated; textbooks may show pictures of boys rather than girls; and the subject may be taught by a man. These factors can give girls the message that the subject is not for themGirls’ peer groups are more likely than boys’ to be in tune with the school and with learning. Valerie Hey found that cliques tended to form among girls from the same class background. Carolyn Jackson found more girls behaving in ways typically associated with boys – fighting, swearing, being aggressive, etc. She suggested that being seen not working was a way of protecting themselves from failure due to pressure on them to do well – “I would have scored better if I had tried”.

Labelling, Setting, Streaming, Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Labelling – Teachers constantly judge and classify pupils as being bright, lazy, troublemakers, hardworking etc. This process of stereotyping a pupil from non-academic information can produce a ‘halo-effect’. The halo effect is when a pupil is stereotyped from first impressions as being good/bad or thick/bright. These impressions can shape future pupil teacher relations.

Sociologists like Howard Becker found teachers initially evaluate pupils on a whole raft of non-academic factors which label a student in a particular way. The problem is, once you’ve been labelled as either good or bad it’s hard to ‘peel off’ that label.

Rosenthal and Jacobson found that stereotyping affects attainment. They found that when a randomly chosen group of school children were told by their teacher that they were bright and would make good progress they did when compared to a group of children of similar ability. This showed labelling inaction. Rosenthal and Jacobson found if a student was given a positive label, they acted that label out and vice versa. When a student acts out a label, they’ve been given it’s known as the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Setting – pupils of similar ability are put in specific sets in specific subjects. So, for example, it would be possible to be in a top set for History and a lower set for mathematics.

Streaming/ Banding – involves grouping students of similar ability for every subject studied. Most schools split their pupils into several different hierarchical groups usually A, B, C, D, with A being the top stream. This meant an A streamed student would be in the A top stream for every subject.


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