Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement [2] : The Schools – Summary and Conclusions

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Parts List

Part One: Some Introductory Links Followed By Early Investigations - Click Here
Part Two: Some More Recent Investigations - Click Here
Part Three: School Effectiveness Research - Click Here
Part Four: Secondary School Choice - Click Here
Part Five: Summary and Conclusions 

Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement [2] : The Schools

Part 5

Summary and Conclusions : Social Class Inequalities in Educational Achievement

In this and the previous document  we have investigated a considerable number of relevant sociological studies of social class inequalities in educational achievement and considered the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches to the analysis of this issue.

On the basis of this work we may draw the following broad conclusions.

  • With the current state of knowledge it is impossible to determine the relative importance of heredity and environment as factors affecting individual intelligence.
  • Sociologists are, for various reasons, critical of  IQ theories  and  they can show that social class factors have a considerable impact on educational achievement even for pupils of equal measured intelligence
  • It has been argued in some sociological studies that social class inequalities in educational achievement can be explained partly in terms of the cultural deprivation of working class pupils and their families. Other sociologists have claimed that it is inappropriate to make this argument in relation to the vast majority of working class parents who are ambitious for their children.
  • The theories of Bourdieu and their application in the studies work of Ball and Ball, Bowe and Gerwitz who make use of the concepts of cultural, economic and social capital are very useful.
  • It is clear that relative working class educational underachievement can be explained partly as a consequences of relative material economic deprivation.
  • Relative working class educational underachievement is explained partly as a consequence of the organisation of the UK education system: working class children are less likely to attend effective schools and more likely to experience the effects of negative labelling within schools. Some recent studies suggest that the negative labelling investigated in interactionist studies of the 1960s-1980s is still prevalent in the early C21st.
  • It is argued in school effectiveness research that effective schools can help pupils to improve their examination results very significantly but there are also studies which suggest that factors external to the schools are more important determinants of educational achievement.  Basil Bernstein’s comment in the 1970s that “Education cannot compensate for society” may have been an overstatement but it is clear that the ending of social class inequalities in educational achievement requires wider social and economic reform as well as educational reform.
  • It is argued that the growing quasi-marketisation of education has in practice operated to the disadvantage of of working class parents and their children who have been less able than middle class children to secure access to high performing schools.
  • Please note that information on Private Education is now provided in  a separate document.

Nevertheless it remains very difficult to assess with any certainty the relative importance of the various factors contributing to social class inequalities in educational achievement.

In the following documents information is provided on relationships between Gender and Educational Achievement and Ethnicity and Educational Achievement.

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