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Educational Achievemnet and social class

Asked by Rozie | Mar 28, 2006 | AS Level > Sociology > Revision
Rozie asks:

Hi can u help me with this topic i am having difficulties with it i would be very grateful!!!

Thank you!!!!!

etutor answers:

Educational attainment can be looked at in several ways, and can be measured in terms of factors such as examination results, university applications and entry, post-16 staying on rates, access to higher bands, streams and sets, reading scores, etc. Social class differences in educational achievement are certainly not purely the result of cultural factors, such as cultural deprivation and cultural difference. There are many other factors to take into account when trying to determine why working class pupils tend to achieve less.

Cultural deprivation has been identified as one reason why working class pupils are generally achieving less than middle class pupils. It attributes the working class under-achievement to the fact that they have often been brought up with a negative attitude towards education.
Cultural deprivation theory focuses is on the need for instant rather than deferred gratification, and the absence of suitable role models in many working class households. This results in low self-esteem and expectations and often, particularly in the case of males to the emergence of sub-cultures, characterised by resistance to school or grudging conformity.
Often, also, pupils backgrounds are viewed as inferior by teachers, in contrast to middle class children who have been inculcated with the view that education is worthwhile. Douglas (1964) focuses on the key role of parental aspirations, claiming that working class parents are less interested in formal education of their children, and hence in their success. A study carried out by Hyman (1967) identified these distinct differences in attitudes towards education, arguing that the lower value placed on education and on higher occupational status by the working class undoubtedly affects children's educational achievement.

Boudons positional theory (1974) suggests that it is harder for working class children to aspire to university and high status professions because there is no parental role model to follow; hence expectations (of parents, teachers and peers) are lower. Cultural difference theorists, however, suggest that there is a natural difference between working class culture and middle class culture, inevitably placing working class children at a disadvantage in schools. For example, Peter Bourdieu (1977) argues that middle class culture is more closely linked to that of the school, meaning that pupils are more likely to understand what is being taught. The point is about cultural capital the tastes, ideas and knowledge of parents more closely matches that of teachers so their children are on the same cultural wavelength and are therefore rewarded with greater educational success. This was further demonstrated by Sullivan (2001) who showed a close relationship between cultural capital and social class in terms of reading, access to TV (and what was watched), newspapers, participation in cultural activities (theatre, museums, etc) and vocabulary used. Basil Bernstein supports this idea with his study into speech codes, which suggested that middle class childrens knowledge of a more elaborate vocabulary allowed them to understand the teacher better than working class children, who were confined to a more restricted speech code. Bernsteins point is that the middle class language structure is the same as that used by teachers (and examiners for that matter) in contrast to the working class language structure (code) which is far more restricted. Hence the school system is culturally biased in favour of the middle class.

Another explanation for differential educational achievement between social classes is material deprivation. This simply means that working class children are not provided with the same resources as middle class children due to financial constraints they may face at home, for example, no extra materials such as textbooks or computers to further their knowledge, lack of quiet, personal space to complete work and no educational school trips (insufficient funds to allow children to participate in them), again placing them at a disadvantage compared with other children. It has also been considered that intelligence is largely inherited, and so, according to educational psychologists, Jensen and Eysenck, working class children, through no fault of their own, have inherited lower IQ scores, causing them to achieve less. However, it has also been argued that this should not hold working class children back at school, as many environmental factors influence intelligence, as proved in the acquisition of skills, which are learnt rather than genetically determined. Furthermore, IQ tests may be seen to be geared towards the middle class in terms of the language and concepts employed in the questions, and so it is inevitable that working class children will tend to score less.

As well as these external factors, processes within schools can also affect educational achievement. Probably the key factor that influences different pupils achievement is teacher expectations. Jacobsen and Rosenthals study (1968) randomly identified several pupils as bright, and as a result, they went on to do better than their peers because of the time and effort the teacher had dedicated to them, proving that any pupil can do well if they are expected to do so. Hargreaves labelling theory also suggests that pupils will only do as well as their label will let them; this is otherwise known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. These negative labels can become part of the pupils self-image and can seriously affect their progress. The self-fulfilling prophecy, as identified by Paul Willis in his study into sub-cultures in schools (1969), also limits pupils educational achievement as the pupils can only do as well as their label allows. As a result, some pupils form anti-school cultures in which they reject the values of the school - for example, the working class lads. Labelling of students by teachers is a theme also developed by the interactionist Keddie (1971). Hence he also concludes that the educational outcome for different classes becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The labelling is of course based less on actual performance than on stereotyped expectations.

Some mention of schools hidden curriculum might be helpful i.e. deference towards authority, hierarchy, rules and routines, uniforms, insistence on punctuality, etc. It is easier for middle class children to adapt to the socialisation hence they feel more comfortable, and perform better.

I hope this is helpful.

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