People experience education throughout their lives and in many different settings. Some parts of education are informal but the main parts are formal where education takes place in schools and other institutions such as colleges and universities. Education is part of the process of socialisation and is an integral part of the social structure. Over the years, various sociologists have studied children's attainment in education and have found that class, gender nor ethnicity can be accounted for as the sole factor of affecting the educational achievement of pupils.
However, all three do play a very large part. Class can be seen as a major factor which affects achievement. Before the 1870 Forster Education Act, education was seen as only being available for the wealthy and powerful. Working-class children received a short, basic education from church schools. The type of schools children attended and the education they received was dependent on their class background. Upper-class children attended public, fee-paying, schools, which strived to develop the qualities of leadership seen necessary for the reproduction of labour power.
Middle-class children attended grammar schools, which were like public schools except they were less prestigious and charged lower fees and working-class children attended secondary modern schools, which taught basic literacy and numeracy. Once pupils left primary education it was only the upper and middle-class that had the means to continue onto secondary schooling, which again created a social class divide. This changed when the 1944 Butler Education Act made secondary education available to all. As a result the tripartite system was introduced.
The idea was to eliminate the divisions of social classes, which were based on meritocratic ideology. However, it just recreated social class inequalities. The negative stigma attached to secondary modern schools created a negative self-fulfilling prophecy for the working-class pupils. Teachers were paid less in secondary modern schools and therefore were arguably less qualified and less motivated in their teaching. Secondary modern schools tended to have poorer resources and facilities due to a lack of income.
Since it created many problems, the tripartite system was replaced by the newly installed labour government, which aimed, once again, to create equality amongst the social classes. Comprehensive schools were introduced in 1965 and their purpose was to ensure that all pupils were getting equality of opportunity within education. JWB Douglas found that children from working-class backgrounds were less likely to stay on at school while more affluent children were more likely to continue with education. He related achievement to children's health, size of family and quality of the school.
Poorer children are more likely to come from bigger families, attend poorer schools and to lead less healthy lifestyles. Middle class parents are more likely to encourage their children to succeed and socialise them more effectively to achieve in education. Barry Sugarman found that middle-class children tend to come from homes where there is an emphasis on deferred gratification. Their parents would have studied to gain qualifications so that they could get high-income jobs in the future. Their attitude would be that they could study hard and wait for financial reward.
This instils a kind of patience into middle-class children, which helps them to maintain their focus and commitment at school. Middle-class parents can afford to move into catchment areas, pay for educational trips or extra tuition to help their children to achieve in education. Working-class children emphasised present-time orientation and immediate gratification as their work didn't allow the same opportunities for advancement. Therefore working-class children didn't have the attitude to stick with education and instead wanted to earn money. They are more focused on collectivism than individual achievement.
They are also more likely to suffer from cultural and material deprivation where their parents lack the knowledge, skills and money to help them succeed. Their parents are more likely to be in unskilled occupations that don't have high incomes and therefore there will be little value attached to education at home. Some theorists have suggested that working classes tend to be more fatalistic, which would explain their low aspirations in education and low expectations of themselves. The Office for National Statistics examined the data of men and women of all social classes in England and Wales from their childhood into their 30s.
It found that 43% of men aged 23-26 who were living in a two-parent family in 1981, where one at least parent was in the highest social class (professional or managerial) achieved a higher education qualification. Of those who had a parent from the two lowest social classes (semi-skilled and unskilled), only 14% achieved the same level of education. Basil Bernstein used an experimental approach to make links between language and educational achievement. He argues that the elaborated code of language is the norm for middle-class children, whilst the restricted code is the norm for working-class children.
He suggests that middle-class children and their teachers speak the same language within the school putting them at an advantage. Working-class children are at an immediate disadvantage because they effectively have to learn this "new" elaborated language code. For Karl Marx, education is seen as an important part of the superstructure of society. It reproduces the inequalities and social relations of production of a capitalist society and it serves to legitimate those inequalities through the myth of meritocracy. According to Marxist, capitalism requires a highly motivated workforce and education serves as the reproduction of labour power.
This is provided through the hidden curriculum, which shapes the next generation of workers by helping to produce a subservient workforce of uncritical, passive and docile workers. Bourdieu saw the education system as an agent of social control for the benefit of capitalism. He argued that working-class failure is the fault of the education system and not working-class culture. The education system is biased towards the culture of the dominant social classes and devalues the knowledge and skills of the working-class.
The possession of the dominant culture by an individual is referred to as cultural capital because, via the education system, this can be translated into wealth and power. However, the idea that Marxist create that we all compete on equal terms is an illusion. Diane Reay found that "it is mothers who are making cultural capital work for their children". She found that the amount of cultural capital possessed by middle-class mothers meant that their children succeeded more in education that their working class peers.
Middle-class mothers had the knowledge and skills to help their children more effectively with homework, to challenge the school and negotiate with teachers for the benefit of their children. Middle-class mothers could also afford to have domestic help, giving them more time to spend with their children or to pay for private tutors. Gender has also had a profound affect on achievement. In the past, education was almost always for boys as education for girls was restricted in many ways, which resulted in girls underachieving.
Before the National Curriculum, girls tended to study subjects that would prepare them for their future roles as housewives and mothers like textiles and home economics. When the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988, girls were given equal access to all subjects including physics and chemistry. The same applied for boys although boys tended to choose subjects like science and maths. Litch and Dweck found that girls lacked confidence in intellectual tasks and constantly underestimated their ability to achieve. They were not given the encouragement from their teacher to achieve.
Boys and girls arrive in school with gendered interests and behaviour based on early socialisation. For example, boys tend to play more with construction toys than girls. It can be argued that boys are not socialised in a way that suits the process of being educated. "The over stimulating, action packed and exciting world they are now able to choose to belong to outside, more than ever conflicts with the relatively confined and passive nature of the classroom environment". In the 1990s the priorities of girls started to change.
Sue Sharpe found that girls have now set their sights on universities and careers and were far more career oriented. Historically, boys outperformed girls, but this situation has since reversed and the gap is continuously getting wider. In 2000, the proportion of girls achieving 5 GCSEs at grade C and above was 53%, compared to 43% for boys. Girls now also get a higher rate of passes at A level and more grade As that boys. Nowadays women are the majority of undergraduates in British universities, comprising 55% of the total.
Figures like these show boys as the underachievers. The gender gap is mainly a result of boy's poorer literacy and language skills. This is because parents spend less time reading with their sons. Also boy's hobbies, such as sports, do little to develop their language and communication skills. Schools can be seen as being feminised. They are passive, obedient environments which girls are more likely to conform too. Schools do not nurture masculine traits such as leadership and competiveness. In recent years, teaching has become more female dominated.
In the 1960s, 25% of primary-school teachers were male. This has now fallen to about 16%. This means boys have fewer role models amongst their teachers. Yougov found that 39% of children aged 8-11 had no male teachers at all. The majority of children said the presence of a male teacher made them behave better and 42% said it made them worked harder. The introduction of coursework was an advantage for girls, as they are better organised and use their free time to do extra work as opposed to boys who are less organised and would rather engage in sports in their spare time.
In the classroom, boys are more likely be sent out for being disruptive or excluded for bad behaviour, which can results in them falling behind. The majority of boys are from working-class backgrounds who strive for traditional manual labour jobs like their fathers had, but as there is a decline in these types of jobs, boys are struggling to conform to new types of jobs such as administrative roles, which are regarded as feminine. Therefore many boys will not be as determined to succeed whereas girls will, as they have the opportunity to have a career ahead of them.
The concept of ethnicity refers to cultural differences between social groups. Not all ethnic minorities underachieve. In particular, Indian children outperform their white counterparts, as do those of Chinese heritage. However, some researchers have argued that many of Britain's schools are institutionally racist. In 1999, Bhatti observed fifty working-class Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils who initially spoke very little English. She found that both the boys and girls reported instances of racist behaviour by teachers.
This included ignoring them and not believing them when they complained about the behaviour of white children. The pupils felt their teachers had low expectations of them and that they often seemed to be invisible, which reduced the motivation of pupils. Their culture, festivals and achievements were not being recognised. Some teachers were even unable to pronounce their names correctly. Since the late 1980s, the achievement gap between 16-year-old white pupils and their classmates of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African-Caribbean origin has roughly doubled.
Just under 50% of white pupils achieve five of more GCSEs at grades A to C whereas about 60% of British Indian pupils achieve this. However, it is lower for other minority ethnic groups, such as for Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils it is 30%. Chinese pupils also achieve above the national average. Although African-Caribbean pupils are still behind the national average the proportion of them gaining five or more GCSEs at C grade and above went up 6% between 1996 and 1998.
Also, the proportion of Bangladeshi pupils achieving this went up by 8%. Pupils of ethnic minorities are more likely to stay in education after the age of 16 than members of the white majority; 71% compared to 58% are in full-time education. Members of ethnic minorities that are not in full-time education were twice as likely to be unemployed as their white peers. Black pupils often enter school better prepared than any other ethnic group but fall behind as they move through the system.
The reason minority ethnic groups are at a disadvantage is because of the way in which schools are organised and the way in which they carry out their teaching. Fuller carried out a study including African-Caribbean pupils, both boys and girls, to see their reaction to the way they were being labelling by their teachers. African-Caribbean girls rejected the label and tried hard to prove their teachers wrong by succeeding, resulting in the self-fulfilling prophecy. However, African-Caribbean boys rejected schooling altogether and developed anti-school subcultures.
His study also showed how the similarities in ethnicity but the differences in gender gave two different outcomes in children's educational achievement. Class can also be closely related with ethnicity, as Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black children are more likely to be brought up in low-income families where English is not their first language. In some ethnic groups, education is not seen as a high priority. Children are expected the take responsibility in the family home performing household duties, which would leave them little time to spend on homework.
Therefore these pupils will subsequently suffer educational disadvantages in line with or worse than those of working-class Whites. As a single factor, whether it is class, gender or ethnicity, achievement in education cannot be accounted for solely. If this where the case, then the only people that would be succeeding in life would be white middle-class boys and white working-class girls as working-class boys are now seen to be underachieving. This example alone shows that one factor cannot be viewed in isolation.