Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Examine the ways in which factors in pupils home background may affect their educational attainment

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It has been revealed that the higher the social class the higher the levels of educational achievement are. Supporting evidence has been found by Halsey, Heath and Ridge, Government figures, Smith and Noble and Bynner and Joshi.

Halsey et al. defined social class by the father’s occupation. The conclusion of their study is that a service class boy (professional/manager etc.) is four times as likely to be in school at 16, eight times the chance at 17, ten times the chance at 18 and eleven times the chance of going to university compared to a working class boy (manual workers in industry and agriculture)

According to a government survey, The Labour Force Survey, 80% of those from professional backgrounds entered higher education at 18 or 1, compared to 14% of those from unskilled backgrounds.

Another government survey, General Household Survey, shows that 66% of professionals had degree-level qualifications compared to less than 1% of unskilled manual workers.

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Smith and Noble found the amount of pupils gaining five or more GCSE’s at grade C or above had increased by approximately 50% in advantaged, medium and deprived areas. Although they have all increased, the gap between advantaged and deprived areas has too been increased. This is because a 50% rise of an already high figure is greater that a 50% rise of a lower figure.

Bynner and Joshi compared 11,000 people in Britain born in March 158 with ,000 born in April 170. They found that although a greater amount of people were achieving high educational qualifications in the second group the inequalities between the highest and lowest classes were as great as those in the first group.

These statistics show substantial evidence to support the fact that the higher your social class the higher your educational achievement will be. There are different interpretations for the reasons behind social class affecting educational attainment.

The first possible reason is that of class subcultures. Working-class students with the same measured IQ as their middle-class counterparts are less successful in the educational system. Because of this it has been suggested that class stratification is linked with educational achievement and in particular different social classes norms and values that influence the student’s performance within the educational system.

Hyman suggested that it is the different norms and values produced by different social classes that effect student’s educational achievement. Hyman suggests that working classes place a lower value on education; they do this because they believe that there is little room for personal achievement and therefore there is less emphasis placed on continuing school past the minimum leaving age. There is also little value placed on achieving a high occupational status. When evaluating jobs working classes emphasise ‘ stability, security and immediate economic benefits.’ They tend to reject the risks and involvements in aiming for high-status occupations. Hyman suggested that the reason that a lower value is placed on education and high occupational status compared to the middle-classes is because working class members believe that there is little opportunity for personal advancement. Hyman concluded

“The lower-class individual doesn’t want as much success, knows he couldn’t get it even if he wanted to, and doesn’t want what might help him get success”

Sugarman expands on Hyman’s suggestion by saying that it is the parent’s occupation that gives different norms and values to children. Sugarman suggests that the working class parent’s occupations allow less room for promotion and their potential is reached quicker; the ladder they have to climb is shorter than middle class occupations. Because of the lack of need for improving yourself so that you can achieve more, working class parents attach less emphasis to personal gain and educational achievement. In opposition to these working class beliefs, the middle classes emphasise the importance of educational achievement and personal gain. This is because in their jobs there is always a promotion or a higher goal that they can aim for.

Sugarman goes on to say that there are four main beliefs that working classes have Sugarman suggests that these are the reasons why middle classes are disadvantaged in the educational system. They are

· Fatalism � Acceptance of the situation. So children will be taught to accept how the educational system is and will not be encouraged to do better at school.

· Immediate Gratification � Want satisfaction and enjoyment as quickly as possible. This means that working class parents will encourage their children to leave education as soon as possible so that they can gain immediate wage, rather than working longer to gain qualifications so that they can gain better wages.

· Present time orientation � Focuses on now. Working classes emphasise the immediate benefits and denounce long-term benefits and goals. However it is these long-term goals that encourage people to stay in education. This will further reduce motivation for academic achievement.

· Collectivism � Loyalty to the group. In schools the individual is influenced whilst at home a working class child will be socialised to believe that the group is more important. This causes conflict between beliefs and the educational system.

However Sugarman can be criticised on the basis of methodology. The values suggested by Sugarman about the working classes are observed. It therefore could be said that if the circumstances were different then the values portrayed could also be different. For example, working classes might be being realistic rather than fatalistic. They might postpone gratification if they had the resources available so that they could postpone it. They might be future oriented if the opportunities for successful future planning were accessible.

Using this point of view it could be said that working classes portray the same norms and values as any other members of society its just their circumstances that prevent them displaying them in the same way as middle class members.

Another criticism is that both Hyman and Sugarman’s findings are based on questionnaires or interviews. Questionnaires and interviews may not provide accurate information on how they might react in other circumstances.

Finally, their studies can be criticised because similarities between social classes are often ignored and the differences emphasised by sociologists, this could be the same for Hyman and Sugarman.

The above criticisms can also be applied to Douglas’ study. Douglas related educational attainment to a variety of factors, including the quality of the school, the size of the family and the student’s health. The parent’s interest in the child’s education appeared to be the most important factor. He found that middle class parents expressed a higher amount of interest than working class parents. As the child grew older, parental interest and encouragement became more and more important. Douglas suggested that the higher the interest and encouragement the higher the educational attainment was. He suggested that norms and values are given to us during early socialisation. This means that infants have already got an understanding of norms and values before they reach secondary socialisation. Middle class children received more attention and stimulus from their parents compared to working class children. This means that from the start middle class children are achieving higher than working class children.

One criticism of Douglas’ findings is that working class parents may not be less interested in their children’s education just because they don’t visit their child’s school as often as their middle class counterparts. Working class parents might not have time to visit their child’s school due to the demands of their job, working classes work longer, and less stable hours unlike their middle class counterparts who tend to work � 5, Monday � Friday.

Also the National Child Development Study found that 8% of middle class children attend a school with good parent/teacher relations compared to 75% of working class children. This means that working class parents may be put off visiting their child’s school due to the way that teachers interact with them.

Another sociologist is Bernstein; he moves away form the idea that it is the norms and values of a social class that cause educational attainment differences. He argues that the difference is due to speech patterns. Bernstein suggests that the working classes use restricted codes whereas the middle classes use elaborated codes. Restricted codes are a kind of shorthand speech. Those who talk with restricted codes have so much in common that they have no need to make meanings explicit in their speech. Therefore restricted codes are perceived as inarticulate. Bernstein stated that restricted codes are characterised as ‘ short, grammatically simple, often unfinished sentences.’

In contrast to restricted codes, elaborated codes explicitly verbalize the meanings that are taken for granted in restricted codes. It fills in the detail, spells out the relationships, and provides the explanations that are left out by restricted codes.

In schools, Bernstein suggests that only elaborated codes are used, therefore leaving working class children disadvantaged.

Bernstein’s idea of speech patterns can be criticised because Bernstein’s class varies, at times he talks about the working class in general and at others he talks specifically about the lower working class. He lumps together all non-manual workers into a middle class whose members from top to bottom appear equally proficient in handling elaborated codes. Therefore he ignores possible variety within classes.

Bernstein is also criticised because he shows little evidence supporting the existence of elaborated and restricted codes.

Hyman, Sugarman, Douglas and Bernstein all support the idea of subcultural differences between social classes, which may be the cause for different educational attainment between social classes.

Another theory that attempts to identify the reason for different educational attainment between social classes is that of cultural deprivation. The theory of cultural deprivation is derived from the idea of standards deteriorating the lower down the class system you go. This theory states that the sub-culture of low-income groups is deprived or deficient in certain areas, this accounts for the low educational attainment of members of its group. Cultural deprivation places blame on the children, their family, their neighbourhood, and the subculture of their social group.

The culturally deprived child is not only poverty-stricken economically but culturally as well. They lack important skills, attitudes and values that are necessary for high educational attainment. The skills that culturally deprived children lack include linguistic deprivation, experiential, cognitive and personality deficiencies and a range of ‘substandard’ attitudes, norms and values.

When the tripartite system was replaced by the comprehensive system it was generally believed that equality of opportunity would exist because access to all areas of education was freely available to everyone. However the emphasis has changed from equality of access to equality of educational attainment.

According from the cultural deprivation theory, equality of opportunity can only be reached if the education system took into account the deprivations and deficiencies of low-income groups.

The idea of positive discrimination arose from the above thinking. This is the idea that culturally deprived children must be given a helping hand to compete on equal terms with other children. This took the form of compensatory education � additional educational provision for the culturally deprived.

Cultural deprivation theory has been attacked for acting as a smokescreen, which disguises the real factors that prevent equality of educational opportunity. By placing blame on the child and his or her background, it diverts attention from the deficiencies of the educational system.

Cultural deprivation theory can also be criticised for assuming or implying that higher-class cultures are superior to working-class cultures, and therefore placing the blame for the failure of their children in education on themselves.

Bourdieu’s cultural capital theory is different to the cultural deprivation theory because it is strongly influenced by Marxism. Higher social class cultures are not assumed to be superior to working class cultures. Bourdieu argues that different education attainment between different social classes is the fault of the education system and not the working-class culture.

Bourdieu believes that the culture of the dominant class is reproduced through society as a whole. However there is no way of telling whether the dominant class culture is better or worse. Bourdieu refers to the dominant class culture as cultural capital. He does this because through the education system it can be translated into power and wealth. Cultural capital is not distributed evenly throughout the class structure, and this accounts largely for class differences in educational attainment. Students from an upper-class background have an automatic advantage because they have been socialized into the dominant culture.

Bourdieu’s work on cultural capital was influential to Ball, Bowe and Gewirtz. Ball et al. suggest that middle-class parents are in a better position to assure that their children go to the school of their choice. The reasons for this are

· Middle-class parents possess cultural capital � They are more likely than working class parents to have the knowledge or contacts to ‘play the system’. Middle class parents strategies include attempting to make and impression with the head teacher at open days; making a private appointment to meet the head teacher; knowing how to mount a successful appeal; and putting in multiple applications.

· Middle-class parents can manipulate the system � they spend a lot of time and effort researching and visiting schools along with multiple applications and appealing. Middle-class parents have their stamina ‘sustained by knowledge, contacts, time and money’ whereas working-class parents lack these assets.

· Material advantage � Middle classes have material advantages over their working class counterparts as well. They are outlined by Ball et al. as

o Middle class parents can afford to pay for public transport that is needed so that they can send their children to more distant schools. They are also more likely to have cars so that they can take their children to school.

o They are more likely to be in the financial position to move house so that they live in the immediate catchment area of a successful school with a good reputation.

o They are much more likely to be able to afford extra help or tutoring for their child. They are also in a far better position to pay to have their child privately educated.

o Middle-class parents are in a better position to pay for childcare for younger children so that they are left available to take their older children to distant schools.

Ball et al.’s study illustrates how the cultural factors that Bourdieu identified can have an affect on class differences in education.

Boudon argues that inequality of educational opportunity is due to material inequality between social classes. Boudon uses the term position theory to explain the fact that even if there weren’t any subcultural differences between social classes, the fact that people start in different positions in society will produce inequality of educational opportunity.

An example of this is that the costs of living for a working-class and an upper middle-class boy following the same educational course is very different, simply because their starting positions are different. If the upper middle-class boy chose a vocational course such as catering or building, his choice would probably lead to social demotion. The career that he would pursue is of a lower status than that of his father. However if the working-class boy chose a similar course, the course might lead to social promotion, it would be compared to the occupational status of his father. Therefore there is a greater pressure on the upper middle-class boy to select a higher-level educational course, if only to keep his present social position.

Boudon suggests that family and peer group solidarity is affected by course selection. If a working-class boy chooses to become a barrister and follows the required courses, this would tend to weaken both family and peer group solidarity. He would be continuing his education when most of his peers would be going to work, therefore he would be moving in different circles and living a different lifestyle. In contrast to this, if a upper middle-class boy chose the same path he would probably be aiming for a job at the same level at most of his peers. His family solidarity would be increased as well because his future occupation will be of a similar status to that of his fathers. Again, the position of both of those boys in their social class affects the boy’s individual career path.

Cultural deprivation theory, cultural capital theory and Boudon’s positional theory all attribute great emphasis on cultural factors. However another perspective is that material factors are the main influence in regards to the different educational attainment between different social classes.

Smith and Noble suggest that money is the main reason for the different educational attainment between social classes. They argue that lower classes may lack the money that is needed to provide their children with the educational opportunities that middle- and upper class parents provide.

Smith and Noble suggest that marketization increases polarization between successful, well-resourced schools in affluent areas and under-subscribed, poorly resourced schools in poor areas. Marketization is control by market forces. An example as to why this is important is that if a book is vital for a course but its expensive only those who can afford it will be able to use it, therefore limiting the available knowledge. This is only a little example but if multiple books are needed for many courses, the expense builds up and it may be difficult for lower social classes to be able to pay for the books, and because of this the individual is unlikely to choose the course. Therefore marketization increases the educational attainment differences between social classes.

Smith and Noble point out that there are also hidden costs. These include school clothing, meals, transport to and from school and sometimes equipment, materials and school trips. There are previsions to help supply these to children but there have been cut backs. Poor children are entitled to grants but they are not compulsory. This might affect the child’s education because they would have to make do with second-rate material and not go on school trips. This therefore means that their educational experience wont be as rich as those who come from higher class backgrounds who can afford new equipment and can afford to go on school trips.

In conclusion, I think that subcultural, cultural and material factors all affect the different educational attainment found between different social classes. Halsey et al. found supporting evidence, they argued that parent’s attitudes to education and the level of the parent’s education (family climate) affected the child when deciding what type of secondary school the child should attend. However once the child was at school family climate didn’t affect the child’s progress very much. Also they found that material circumstances affected how long the child stayed in school. Material disadvantage was more important than family climate when making this decision.

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