The Impact of social class on education

7 July 2016

? THE IMPACT OF SOCIAL CLASS ON EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE AND ATTAINMENT IN UK. Sociologists have argued that social class differences in educational attainment can be explained in many terms but not necessarily in mutual exclusive kinds of theories such as; IQ theory; social class differences in material circumstances; sub-cultural attitudes and values and the school labelling processes just to mention a few.

Sociologists tend to be critical of the IQ theory for various reasons including the factors affecting how it is measured, so in this essay, I shall therefore concentrate upon the other more sociological approaches and exclude the IQ theory. The following list of key words were essential in my argument; different methods of attainment, gender, ethnicity, cultural deficits, social status, formal and non-formal socialisation, equality of opportunities, ladder of opportunity, formal and hidden curricula, meritocracy, anti-school subculture, cultural deprivation, material deprivation, cultural capital and self fulfilling prophecy.

It is perceived that the British society is divided into different social classes.

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I would hardly agree with the idea that the British society is meritocratic, meaning that there is social mobility and any individual can be rewarded through hard working, skills and commitment. There is an upper class comprised with people that are very wealthy, by either inheritance or are self made millionaires and their children are most likely to attend private and expensive schools. The middle class; these have professional backgrounds such as teachers, doctors, surgeons etc.

Their children are likely to either attend private schools or mainstream schools in a wealthy area, with good OFSTED and GCSE results. Then there are the working class people, usually with backgrounds of heavily dependent on benefits and low income paid jobs. Children from working class families do not tend to do very well in their education. They normally attend local public schools in their area and usually receive free meals at school. Although the government in many cases blame poor teaching and schools for underachievement, it recognises that a child’s postcode is also a factor in determining achievement.

Postcodes tend to reflect a child’s social class background (Earlham sociology pages AS Level and A2 Level Sociology, 2012, online). Students from the lower class are more likely to suffer from material deprivation at home which can hold them back, they lack access to resources such as computers, useful books, educational trips, variety in mass media and by living in small dilapidated cold houses means they are less likely to have a quiet and comfortable personal study space. In some extreme situations, these children may have poor diet which can lead to illness and time off school.

According to Gibson and Asthana (1999), the effects of material deprivation are cumulative, creating a cycle of deprivation. This would suggest that home background influences a child’s education (Browne 2006, p. 257). The Middle class parents can pass on cultural and material advantages that privilege or enable their children to succeed within the education system (Archer, 2003, p. 17). Certain ethnic minorities find English as their additional language affecting their children’s education. The evidence of language is central in confirming stereotypes and producing unfavourable opinions.

Language and communication are so important according to Vygotsky, labelling it a “tool of thought” (Kurata 2011, p. 11). He sees it as important as a way children develop their thinking and understanding and as a means of sharing thoughts and understanding each other. Negative teacher attitudes towards the speech of culturally and socially different children affect teacher expectations, which affect pupil performance. Corson, (1998) and Pierre Bourdieu (1977) described this undermining of working-class’ ability, choices, knowledge, accent, and general confidence as a form of ‘symbolic violence’ meaning that it is not acceptable.

The middle-class is able to define the curriculum and what counts as meaningful knowledge. This clearly puts the working-class at a disadvantage despite their equal enthusiasm with the middle class to do the best for their children. Ball, Bowe and Gewirtz (1995) talk about ‘cultural capital and educational choice’ to reflect on how being better educated themselves, middle-class parents have better knowledge and skills to negotiate and influence the education system.

Many working-class parents are ambitious for their children too but do not know how to give practical help and they are usual tied up with long hours at work. However, middle class parents are likely to hold a more advantaged position than working class parents when interacting with teachers and other professionals and this may be demonstrated by their ability to: monitor their child’s progress at school, assist with home work, pay for extra tuition, they seek extra support for their child or complain about what they judge to be shortcomings in the

school. Troyna (1986) and Sarup (1991) claim that there are school structures and environment that favours the white, middle-class culture especially the language and curriculum (Gewirtz, 2001. pp 365 – 378 ). Many sociologists see social class achievement as linked to the meanings and experience that are negotiated in schools and classrooms. According to interactionists the underachievement of working-class pupils is not caused by unequal social structures, but by processes within the school such as teacher labelling and expectations.

These processes together with the hidden curriculum result in self-fulfilling prophecies and anti-school subcultures. Sociologists have also argued that relative working class educational achievement can be explained partly by processes of streaming, banding, setting and labelling. This whole system produces what I would refer to as a chain reaction of events. The streaming produces the failing and challenging schools and further streaming in classes produces the cream and the disengaged students.

When teachers group students on the basis of their assumed ability, Ofsted research reveals black students are usually found in high numbers in the lower ranked groups (Gillborn 2005) Hargreaves’ idea that low stream pupils are denied academic status within the school and eventually try to regain status among their peers by misbehaving and unwillingness to work which lead to the development of anti-school subcultures in lower streams is noticeable. Additional problems arise in cases where students are labelled by teachers as “worthless louts” or suchlike, this would encourage more misbehaviour.

There are other structural factors such as racial bullying and discrimination that can create a hostile environment in school. Also, it is possible that “better” teachers are assigned to higher sets and that teacher preparation for lower set is bias as these students are seen as incapable of real progress. In general terms therefore, lower set students are labelled as failures and the system of setting created the conditions which ensured failure and by so doing results in the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Teachers at times chose not to teach the more complex, theoretical ideas to these lower set students on the assumption that they would not understand them. Obviously, this is likely to restrict their progress. Nevertheless in Uncertain Masculinities (2000) M. O’Donnell and S. Sharpe argue strongly that negative labelling is less common nowadays. If this is true, the prospects for all poor working class children might gradually improve. Once students are in school, the dual factors of socialization and social status contribute significantly to their attitude towards learning.

The school socialization process pressures students to be like their peers or risk social rejection, whereas the desire for high social status drives students to attempt to differentiate themselves in some areas such as music and dance, sports, personal style, sense of humor, or street skills. Paul Willis (1977) in “Learning to Labour” claims that the working class children choose to fail in schools as a rejection of capitalism as an act of resistance. Correspondence theory suggests that educational inequality mirrors the inequality of wider society.

The “Lads” as he called them, reject the mental labour (studying and thinking) and pursue manual labour because they perceive it as an expression of masculine power and superiority representing a source of independence. There is also a possibility of lack of meaningful careers guidance and the impact of stereotyping on expectation. Joan McFarland argues in the British Journal of Sociology that in many of Willis’ work, his sample is not representative; he is only coming from a male standpoint. I believe in democracy and freedom with the curriculum.

The so rigid and prescribed curriculum in schools kill creativity by insisting on systems and conformity, children learn to accept authority in an unthinking fashion. I believe in holistic development, meaning, Schools have major responsibilities for developing the whole person, not just their intellect. There should be Curriculum autonomy; Schools should be free to decide their own curriculum, and the way that it is taught according to (Gazeley, L. and Dunne, M. 2005). Conformity rather than independent thoughts give the view that life and education is just an inevitably routine, there is no space for naturalness or free spirit.

According to Maxine Greene, we can now realise the impact of new technologies on teaching and learning using the arts as a tool for opening minds and for breaking down the barriers to imagining the realities of worlds other than our own familiar cultures. Imagination and the arts can provide experiential opportunities to see the world from multiple perspectives, helping individuals to “wake up” and question what is going on around them in order to start their own journey towards freedom (The Maxine Greene Foundation for Social Imagination, the Arts & Education, 2008 online).

In conclusion, I would cry for more democracy in how the curriculum is set. I would agree with Dewey and Maxine Greene on their idea of imagination, flexibility and freedom with the curriculum instead of focusing more on certain core subjects. In this contemporary world, there are more opportunities in art, music, sports and other professions related to Physical Educational industry rather than just Mathematics, Science and English.

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