Topic 1 and 2, Class Difference in Achievement

Intro for class difference:

A striking feature of education is the difference in achievement between pupils of different social classes. This difference can be explained for a myriad of ideas. Referring to internal such as labelling, setting and streaming as well as external factors including material (with reference to debt, housing) and cultural deprivation (as well as parental occupation, language). This essay will explore both internal and external factors which explain the difference in class achievement


3 elements in cultural deprivation

  1. Language
  2. There are clear differences between typical working class and middle-class language resulting in a difference within the education system
  3. Hubbs-Tait et al found this through the way in which middle class parents use language that challenges their children to evaluate their own understanding and abilities; improving their cognitive performance in education, whereas working class use language to make simplistic descriptive statements resulting in poor language and discussion skills which is a disadvantage in the education system
  4. An example of these types of language codes is distinguished by Bernstein, known as Restricted and Elaborated language codes. Restricted refers to limited vocabulary, grammatically simplistic sentences which is often context bound used by the working class. Whereas, elaborated is usually consisting of a wide vocabulary, used to express abstract concepts often used by the middle class.
  5. These differences in language codes give the middle class an advantage at school; the language of education is usually elaborated code, while working class feel excluded by this system as it is not accommodating to their needs in language
  6. Compensatory education was put in place to resolve this issue by providing extra resources to schools and communities in deprived areas
  • Parents Education
  •  Parental attitudes and values to schools are a key factor in a pupil’s educational achievement.
  • This is often due to the ways in which they offer motivation, support and ambition to their children from their own education.
  • An example of this is within working class is put forward by Douglas where he found that working class parents place less value on education and therefore give less encouragement for homework and revision for exams and visited parents’ evenings less often, often because this system had failed them when they were at school developing an element of bitterness and resentment
  • As a result, working class often lack the resources at home to stimulate a child’s intellectual development, disadvantaging them in the education system
  • However, Blackstone and Mortimore argue working class parents are still interested in their child’s education but often are not able to attend parent’s evenings due to working longer hours
  • Working Class Subculture
  • The lack of interest in a child’s education is arguably reflects their subcultural values of working classes.
  • A subculture is a group whose attitudes and values differ from those of the mainstream culture. Large sections of the working classes have different goals, beliefs and attitudes from the rest of wider society, these very norms and values of the working classes act as a barrier for success.
  • Examples of this are shown in Sugarman’s study such as collectivism, where there is higher value placed in being part of a group than succeeding individually in education due to wanting symbolic capital over educational.
  • As a result, Douglas found that some children internalise these opinions and place less value in succeeding in the education system
  • However, Keddie argues that cultural deprivation is simply a myth and sees it as victim blaming of working classes when in reality, they are just culturally different.

4 main features of Sugarman’s study of working-class subculture

  1. Fatalism – idea of believing in fate, where ‘what will be will be’ and therefore nothing can be done to change that, including education.
  2. Collectivism – value of being part of a group more than succeeding in education individually, resulting in an anti-school subculture
  3. Immediate gratification – seeking pleasure now as opposed to later, in contrast to deferred gratification of middle classes where making sacrifices now to get rewards later
  4. Present time orientation – seeing present time as more important than future

4 types of material deprivation affecting educational achievement

  1. Housing
  2. Poor housing, such as council housing and blocks of flats can affect pupils’ achievement both directly and indirectly
  3. Direct include overcrowding making it harder to study as well less room for educational activities such as homework and desks and sharing a bedroom can result to disturbed sleep and effect concentration
  4. Indirect refers to health and welfare due to poor standard of living as more accidents can occur as well as illness such as asthma
  5. Diet and health
  6. Howard claims children from poorer homes have lower takes of energy, vitamins and minerals
  7. As a result of this poor nutrition, immune system is weaker leading to more absences
  8. Financial support
  9. Lack of this means children have to do without equipment and miss out on things that enhance education
  10. Lack of funds often mean children have to take on part-time jobs to pay for things they need at school, which also is a role of distraction
  11. Fear of debt
  12. The process of going to university usually involves getting into debt to cover expenses, meaning less working-class students apply as their parents are unlikely to help alleviate some of the cost
  13. They are also more likely to go to local unis to save money but often offer less opportunities

Difference between Cultural and Material deprivation

  1. Cultural
  2. Feinstein argues that educated parents make a positive contribution to their child’s achievement regardless of income, demonstrating that cultural deprivation has the biggest impact
  3. Material
  4. Robinson argues that the most effective way to tackle underachievement would be to eradicate child poverty and deprivation, and remove the material barriers to success

How Cultural Capital affects a pupil’s achievement

  • The term capital refers to an individual’s wealth, assets and resources, Bourdieu argues this is central to educational achievement
  • It can take three forms as cultural referring to language, attitudes and values, economic to disposable income for enrichment activities and educational for outlook on success
  • An example of this is within Sullivan’s use of questionnaires to explore this matter, she found those who read complex fiction and serious T.V. developed a wider vocabulary and greater cultural knowledge and were more likely to be successful in GCSES
  • This demonstrates the high impact of cultural capital has on educational success
  • Material deprivation may affect it further


What is labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy?

  • The term labelling refers to the artificial label attached to an individual. Becker’s study found that in the US teachers judged pupils based upon how closely they fitted the image of the ‘ideal’ pupil which included factors including a pupil’s work, conduct and appearance, working class pupils often received negative labels due to this
  • This is because teachers saw a middle-class background as the closet to the ‘ideal’ pupil, with correct manners, language skills and behaviour whereas working class were seen as troublemakers which Becker argues leads to a pupil internalising this label which is referred to as the self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • An example of the self-fulfilling prophecy affecting pupil’s achievement is within Rosenthal and Jacobson’s study; where by randomly labelling 20% of pupils in a primary school as naturally intelligent from a bogus test it saw the ‘spurters’ a year on were outperforming other pupils
  • Demonstrating how labelling a pupil can affect their achievement
  • Not all accept label

What is setting and streaming?

  • One external factor which can affect a pupils’ achievement is a school’s process of setting and streaming
  • Setting is when pupils are put into higher, intermediate or lower sets in certain subjects, whereas streaming involves pupils being put in the same ability classes for all subjects.
  • A study of Gillborn and Youdell found from the publishment of league tables created an ‘A to C Economy’ where schools feel under pressure to achieve high results. this in turn, meant that schools categorise students in the three sets, focusing all their time and resources on those who have potential to achieve a C with help, disregarding those of lower sets who often consist of working class
  • As a result, their educational achievement will be negatively affected, particularly when there is a cap on the maximum grade, they can achieve in the lower stream
  • Evidence of this affecting a child’s achievement is seen through Ball’s study through analysis of school who had abolished this system and the chance for polarisation of subcultures helped improve achievement of working-class pupils

The effect of pupil subcultures?

  • Another internal factor which may affect a pupil’s achievement is subcultures found within schools
  •  This refers to groups of pupils who share similar values, attitudes and patterns of behaviour, often resulting from being labelled given within school
  • Woods states there are 4 types of subcultures alongside Lacey’s pro-school and anti-school. These include; ingratiation (teacher’s pet), ritualism (going through motions and staying out of trouble), retreatism and rebellion
  • This helps us understand how pupil subcultures can affect a pupil’s achievement in the way in which a pupil can fall into a negative subculture which places less importance in achieving through educational purposes such as rebellion and anti-school
  • However, the process of labelling is very deterministic as it assumes all pupils who receive a label will fulfil it.

What is the effect of pupils’ class identities and the school?

  • Occasionally, how pupils’ class identities that are formed outside of school interact within school and the values to either produce educational success or failure can affect a child’s achievement
  • This is referring to a persons’ habitus which refers to dispositions (ways of seeing the world that are largely taken for granted that are shared by a particular social class and varies in amount of capital)
  • High cultural, economic and educational capital is largely associated with a middle-class habitus and evident in the schooling system and therefore feel comfortable in the system, while low capital is associated with lower classes and undervalues their habitus.
  • This helps us to understand how not holding symbolic capital working class experience symbolic violence where they are kept in place by their inferior view, leading to a feeling of alienation in the education system.
  • In response to this, working class develop what sociologists call ‘Nike identities’ where the invest in bands distinct from the middle class to create a strong authentic identity.