Middle class children have a higher tendency of achieving more than pupils of the working class. A few explanations pay attention on the external factors outside school. This includes cultural deprivation – working class pupils are portrayed as having a lack of correct attitude, values, language and knowledge for educational success. Whilst material deprivation means that working class pupils are most likely to have poorer diets, health and housing and their parents are less able to meet the hidden costs of schooling.
The middle class have mote cultural capital – they have a better advantage of their choices within the marketised education system. There are three main aspects to cultural deprivation. The first is intellectual development; theorists argue that many working class homes lack things such as books, educational toys and activities which would help to stimulate intellectual development. Douglas (1964) found that pupils of the working class scored lower on a test of ability than those of the middle class.
He argued that because working class parents are likely to be less supportive of their child’s intellectual development this has an impact on them. This could then lead to underachievement as it would mean the child is always behind. Secondly, Bernstein (1975) looked at the difference in language between working class and middle class students. He identified that language can be categorised into two types of speech codes. This highlights the differences between both the working and middle class.
The restricted code was typically used by those of the working class. It consisted of a limited vocabulary and is based on use of short, often unfinished, grammatically simple sentences. Their speech is predictable and sometimes consists of single words and hand gestures. The restricted code is context bound so the speaker makes the assumption that the listener shares the same set of experiences. Then there was the elaborated code which is most commonly used by those of the middle class.
Vocabulary is a lot more varied and is based on more grammatically complex sentences; speech is more varied and communicates abstract ideas. It is also context free: so the speaker doesn’t assume that the listener shares the same experiences as them, allowing the use of a more descriptive language. This would lead to under achievement because the language used in schools and in test papers tend to be in the elaborate code as it is seen as the ‘correct’ way of speaking and communication, so therefore middle class people are again at an advantage.
Finally, attitudes and values, Hyman (1967) argued that values and beliefs of the lower class show a ‘self-imposed barrier’ to educational and career success. Hyman outlined between working-class and middle-class value systems Members of the working class place a lower value on education.
They place less emphasis on formal education as a means to personal achievement, and they see less value in continuing school beyond the minimum leaving age. Members of the working-class place a lower value on achieving higher occupational status, In evaluating jobs, they emphasize ‘stability, security and immediate economic benefits’ and tend to reject the risks and investments involved in aiming for high-risks occupations. Job horizons tend, therefore, to be limited to a ‘good trade’.
Compared to their middle-class counterparts, members of the working-class believe there is less opportunity for personal advancement. This belief is probably the basis for the lower value placed on education and high occupational status. Whilst Sugarman (1970) similarly argued that working class subculture has four key elements that create this barrier to educational achievement: Collectivism involves loyalty to the group rather than to emphasis on individual achievement which the school system demands. Immediate gratification emphasizes the enjoyment of pleasures of the moment, rather than sacrifices for future rewards, Will also tend to encourage early school-leaving for the more immediate reward of a wage packet, adult status and freedom from the disciplines of school.
Fatalism involves an acceptance of the situation rather than efforts to improve it; it will not encourage high achievement in the classroom. Present-time orientation may further reduce the motivation for academic achievement, whereas an emphasis on long-term goals and future planning can encourage pupils to remain longer in full-time education by providing a purpose for their stay. Cultural deprivation theorists argue that parents pass on values of their class onto their children. Values of middle class will equip children for success, whilst working class values fail to do so.
However Keddie (1973) describes cultural deprivation as a myth and sees it as a victim blaming explanation. She believes that having a culturally deprived background can’t be blamed as the reason that certain pupils fail in school. She argues that there is no cultural deprivation but cultural differences; failure is due to the disadvantages that are pursued by an education system dominated by middle class values. She believes that schools should recognise and build on strengths, and also challenge teachers’ anti working class prejudices.
Under achievement can also be subjected to material deprivation. This can also be classed as poverty. It is a lack of basic necessities such as adequate diet, housing, clothing or the money to buy these things. Material deprivation theory explains working class under achievement as the result of the lack of such resources. Unlike cultural deprivation theorists, who blame educational failure on the inadequacy of working class subculture, many other sociologists see material deprivation as the main cause of under achievement.
Poverty is closely linked to educational under-achievement. Although external factors, such as cultural deprivation, material deprivation and cultural capital can play an important part as to why there is class difference in regards to achievement, there are also internal factors that can be put to blame. To label someone is to attach a meaning or definition to someone.
Studies show that teachers often label pupils regardless of ability or attitude, by basing labels on stereo-typed assumptions about their class background, labelling working class pupils negatively and working class pupils positively. This can restrict pupils from achievement as it means teachers will refrain from giving pupils they have labelled negatively from getting the support they need, meaning they do badly at school.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that comes true simply by virtue of it having been made. Integrationists argue that labelling can affect a pupils achievement by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When a teacher labels a pupil, they make predictions about their abilities for example, ‘this child will do well’ – The child then gets treated in accordance to this prediction, the pupil then internalises the teacher’s expectations which becomes part of its self-image. This makes the child become the kind of pupil the teacher perceived them to be. (e.g. if a child is labelled positively, the child will then gain more confidence and try harder with their work, thus leading them to success).
This prevents children from having the potential to do well, rather than working hard to allow them to do their best they allow their teachers opinion of them to hold them back.
Marketisation is the final internal factor that portrays class differences of achievement. Schools operate on a wide education system, whose policies affect class differences in achievement. Such policies include marketisation and selection.
Marketisation brought in – a funding formula that gives the school equal funding for each pupil, exam league tables which rank each school according to its exam performance and make no allowance for the level of ability of its pupils, and competition among schools to attract pupils. Marketisation explains why schools are under pressure to do well.
Some schools respond to marketisation by creating a traditional image to attract middle class parents – this has re-in forced class divisions. Schools have to spend more money on marketing themselves to parents, often at the expense of spending funds on special needs or other important areas.
Overall I think it is clear that cultural deprivation plays a huge part in regard to underachievement. Pupils lack help both at home, and at school, meaning they have less chance at doing well. Internal and external factors both work alongside each other – putting middle class pupils at an advantage in contrast to working class pupils.
Courtney from Study Moose
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