One of the primary purposes of the education system in our society is to differentiate children, as part of the social process of their transition into wider society. Such differences would not be particularly important, if we believed that differences in educational attainment are simply the result of natural or inherent differences between individuals; that is, that children naturally have different levels of ability or intelligence and the education system simply demonstrates these differences in terms of measured attainment levels i. . the passing of exams.
When looking at the differentiation process, it became clear that hidden patterns of differential educational achievement existed. These patterns involve differences in educational achievement between, social classes, males and females and ethnic groups. The fact that these differences are apparent clearly provides evidence that the current education system is not adequately addressing all groups of children.
In this essay I plan to examine the difference in educational attainment between different groups in society and illustrate that there is an apparent inequality for certain classes, genders and ethnicities. Firstly, sociological research of recent years has shown that students of ethnic minorities have generally attained lower results than their peers. The Swann Report (1985) outlined the differences in academic attainment amongst ethnic minority groups. The study found that West Indian children particularly do worse than whites, however Asians did almost as well as the whites or 'others'.
Within the Swann Report study, only five percent of West Indian students passed at least one 'A' Level and just one percent went on to university compared with thirteen percent of others getting at least one 'A' Level and four percent going on to university. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2002, pg868). There have been many explanations for the reason behind the inequality, Jensen & Eysenck have argued that blacks inherited their lower levels of intelligence, where as Hernstein & Murray believe it is more a case of environmental issues ( www. sociology. org. k ).
But Coard (1971) strongly believes that it is the education system that is to blame. He claims that the system actually makes black children become educationally subnormal by making them feel inferior. He gives a few examples as to why this happens, one example is that the word 'white' is associated with good and 'black' evil and these sort of references often come through in the literature etc, another idea is that the content of the education is mainly about whites and ignores black people i. e. the history, the music etc (www. sociology. rg. uk).
The results found in the different studies clearly show an inadequacy in the attention to ethnic minorities within the education system. Another area to address is the difference between the class groups. In the 1960's Herbert Hyman wrote an article named 'The value systems of different classes'. He used a range of results from opinion polls to surveys and found that there were infact differences between the social classes. He noted that the working class placed a lower value on their education and often only stayed until they had to.
He also found that the working class generally thought that there was less opportunity for personal advancement and would rather have the stability of a working life than invest in a long term education. (Bilton et al, 1996, pg 356). It is a shame that these stereotypes exist in today's society as the education system is supposed to be equal for all. This clearly is not the case and it is obviously failing some members of the working class and is geared towards the progression of the upper classes. Although social mobility is present today the majority of pupils tend to fall into ideology of their social status.
Surely it is the role of education to banish these ideas and re-educate the pupils so that everyone believes they have an equal chance of achieving, but maybe the accessibility of private schools and even the setting and streaming systems within schools today only help to create the inequality. Another focus point is gender. 'Under the Tripartite System, 1944, girls achieved higher average scores in the 11+ exam than boys, but to ensure the Grammar Schools weren't dominated by girls, their scores were marked down and the boys' scores were weighted.
Girls have only been accepted into universities since 1877 and it wasn't until 1948 when Cambridge gave full membership to girls. Until the 1970's, boys were more successful at 'O' Level than girls and until the 1990's, boys were also more successful at 'A' Level. Then, in 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act prohibited sex discrimination and specified that neither boys nor girls should be refused access to courses or benefits based solely on their sex. Since this act, the achievements at both 'O' Level and 'A' Level have been reversed, however, males still achieve more at university' (www. sociologyonline. co. k).
'In 1994, the Equal Opportunities Commission carried out a study of gender in schools in order to evaluate the impact of the recent period of legislation. The study was interested in the dual consequences of Thatcherism/Majorism and the education reforms. Three forms of data were collected: statistical analysis of examination and performance data from 1984-1994, questionnaire surveys of national sample of primary and secondary maintained schools in England and Wales and all LEAs in England and Wales; and case studies of equal opportunities policy and practice in seven selected LEAs in England and Wales.
The main findings were that there was improved exam entries and performance for girls due to the GCSE. Because of this, girls had caught up with boys in maths and science and had increased entry levels and a closing gender performance gap in most subjects apart from chemistry and economics which were still largely taken by boys, and social sciences, largely taken by girls. The evidence clearly shows an inadequacy between the genders and shows that, gender perspectives in British schools were seen as having been altered to accommodate the post-reform era.
Therefore, the equal opportunities policy-making had to some extent become part of the new mainstream culture of schools' (www. leeds. ac. uk). It has been suggested that that there is a difference in innate ability between boys and girls. However, while researchers have looked for evidence suggesting girls have lower levels of ability than boys, they have found that if anything, it is the boys with the lower innate ability. Although, this could be because girls generally mature quicker than boys but by the age of 16, the boys have again overtaken the girls.
Therefore, it seems quite clear that of previous years, girls have been held back during the earlier years of education. All the evidence seems to suggest that there is a major inadequacy in the UK secondary education system in addressing the needs of particular groups of children. The vast difference in attainment levels between girls and boys, black and whites and the working class and the upper class is quite shocking and the fact that it still exists, though I do believe the gap is getting smaller, is very worrying.
I believe the education system is moving in the right direction but still has a long way to go to be completely equal for all its members. I am sure there are many more groups within our school system that are also at a disadvantage i. e. disabled students or special needs pupils and if the above evidence is anything to go by I am sure there are also many barriers effecting their achievement that need to be addressed.