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Assess the View That Factors Within Schools Are the Greatest Influence on Social- Class Differences in Educational Achievement Essay

Assess the view that factors within schools are the greatest influence on social- class differences in educational achievement. (20 marks) I am going to be looking at the view that schools and the education system determine how successful each individual student will become; sociologists have very mixed opinions about whether the education system is beneficial to all pupils. There are some sociologists that believe labelling and stereotypes affect the way a student achieves within the education system. To label a student means to attach a meaning or make a presumption about their behaviour, labelling can be detrimental to a student while at school, for example, if a student isn’t focused in one of their lessons and isn’t as successful as they could possibly, the teacher will label the student as distracted and possibly lazy, not doing as much work as they should be; if in meetings teachers discuss this with other teachers it could possibly influence their opinion on the student and realise they are not reaching their full potential. When teachers first meet their pupils they automatically make an assumption about them on how they look and how they carry themselves, if a student comes in to a classroom with a hood on, baggy trousers and with a bad attitude it can be quite easy for a teacher to suggest the student isn’t going to be intelligent or an asset to the class room. Once a teacher sees a student dressed inappropriately for school and carrying themselves in a certain way, it’s almost natural that they begin to question the social class of the student, in this case they would assume the student is working class, and that education isn’t something of a priority to the student. Becker (1971) studied labelling in secondary schools, using interviews of 60 high school teachers; he found that teachers stereotyped students based on their work, conduct and appearance.

Teachers saw middle class children as the closest to their stereotype of the ‘Ideal pupil’ and working class did not come close to this ideal. These stereotypes lead to ‘The Halo Effect’ this is the idea that when a middle class student is entered in to the education system they succeed based on their social class, it gives them an instant advantage over all of their peers who may be of a lower class. Differentiation refers to the way teachers categorise students regarding their abilities, their appearance, mannerisms and general behaviour; setting and streaming are other forms of differentiation. Setting is when you organise pupils into sets regarding their ability in that subject, however sometimes if a pupil is good at a majority of their subjects, they will be placed in high sets for all, just because they clearly have the ability is a number of other subject, they are seen as generally intelligent. Ball (1981) believes streaming can have negative consequences for pupils, in his study of beachside comprehensive he found that it was in fact phasing out and replaced with mixed ability teaching, which means groups are formed with pupils of high ability’s and low abilities and the aim is that the high ability students will encourage and influence the other students to achieve and become more proactive with their learning. This can have a reverse affect and in some cases students with high abilities underachieve with the disruptive students in the class. As middle class students are seen as the perfect type of student, polite, cooperative, and generally higher achievers, teachers appreciate and warm to this more than the typical working class student. A working class student is seen as talkative, they look scruffy and education isn’t as much of a priority or an enjoyment, it’s something they have to do. Working class pupils require a lot more encouragement and time from teachers to understand basic points and knowledge that middle class pupils would typically understand easily. The middle class do suffer as well, just because they are seen to come from a good background and supportive parents, that does not necessarily mean they are going to do well in every subject, they can be forgotten about and glide though school years with the assumption they will get the grades they need by the end of the year.

The working class do demand a lot more attention and if they do not see success in their work or exam results, they will become frustrated and ‘Resistant anti-school subcultures’ that oppose the values and norms the education system encourages; therefore finding rewards and status within their group of friends. The two subcultures that the education creates are ‘The pro- school subculture’ filled with positivity and rewards, expectations are high and positive stereotypes; If we look at the opposing subculture ‘The Anti- school subculture’ filled with negative stereotypes, labels, low sets and streams and low expectations. These subcultures show two opposite ends of the spectrum, with high achievers and low achievers, however, it’s the ones in the middle who receive the most attention and support, as teachers accept that Pro-school subculture will achieve anyway and ‘the anti-school subculture’ will fail, neither receive a great deal of attention or time but are left to their own devices. Overall the education system is the biggest influence on social class differences in education; they have two extremes, the successful ones and the ones who will just go menial jobs or manual labour for the average wage. The education system idolises the middle class as a whole and don’t take people for individuals, the education appears to care more about their reputation and their place in the league tables than they do about their students. The social class of students sets them up for success for failure, assumptions are made as soon as the student walks through the door, every time it’s a parents evening or an event students are always being judged. The education system doesn’t promote equal opportunities for everyone, they know who is going to pass or fail, the ones in-between are the ones they focus on to bring up the percentage of pass rates on the school, not for the good of the student. Many sociologists such as Marxists believe the education system ignores wider problems, they assume all teachers label pupils and that it will have a negative effect upon a pupil.

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