Social Relations in a Secondary School

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Social Relations in a Secondary School. David Hargreaves. 1967.

Social Relations in a Secondary School is a study of 4th year pupils in a Boy’s Secondary Modern School situated in a working class district of a large industrial town. This 4th year is divided into 5 streams A-E with many of the A stream pupils intending for the first time to stay on for a 5th year as the then new CSE examinations are introduced and the school leaving age is raised to 16. Hargreaves uses a variety of sociological methods which he describes as follows: "The writer spent a complete year at the school. For the first two terms, he was present for the whole school day. He taught all of the 4th year boys at some stage, as well as other year groups; he observed the pupils in lessons conducted by all the teachers; he administered questionnaires and conducted interviews: he used every available opportunity for informal discussion with the boys; he accompanied them on some official school visits an d holidays; he joined them in some of their out of school activities. In a word, the researcher entered the school as a participant observer, aimed with his own training and teaching experience and with the intention of examining the behaviour and attitudes of boys in the school and their relationship with the teachers and with one another.

The main emphasis of the study is upon streaming within the 4th Year. Hargreaves explains that he decided early in the study that it would not be possible to analyse the E stream because of their inability to complete the written questionnaire unaided, and , therefore, only 4A, 4B, 4C and 4D are considered. He presents his main conclusion in the following diagram.



Dominated bybAcademic subculture




Dominated byDelinquescent subculture



In the Hargreaves study a small minority of 4A students were not keen on academic work while in 4D a minority of students would have tried to work if the class atmosphere allowed them to, which it often did not. In 4B and 4C attitudes to work were more variable than in the academic subculture of 4A and the delinquescent subculture of 4D

On the basis of his observation of the pupils inside classrooms, around the school and in various out of school activities, he suggests that two distinct pupil subcultures exist within the school which relate clearly to the system of streaming within the school with the A stream and, (to a lesser extent,) the B stream associated with the academic subculture and the C and D streams linked with the delinquescent subculture, ( although minority groups of delinquescent A/B pupils and academic C/D pupils also exist.) These pupil subcultures are a crucial determinant of attitudes to school work and academic success or failure.

Academic A stream pupils wholeheartedly accept the aims of the school. They are hard working, ambitious, on good terms with their teachers, smartly and conventionally dressed and critical of the minority of pupils within the form who do not conform to the norms and values which are dominant within 4A. Anti- school deviants in 4A have often been promoted from 3B because of their expressed wish to stay on for a 4th year, while some of 3A have been demoted because they are not intending to stay on for a 5th year. Hargreaves presents ample interview data to establish the existence of both cultures in 4A but the Pro-school culture predominates centring around the bright football playing school captain Adrian. He also presents some evidence to show that teachers discriminate unfairly against deviant pupils within 4A which tends to reinforce their deviance.

4B pupils were intending to leave at the end of the 4th year but were eligible to sit for the school leaving certificate not open to 4C and 4D pupils and some academic work was done partly in the hope that this would enable them to get better jobs than the 4C and 4D pupils. There are some academic, pro- school pupils in 4B but they are in a minority and there is considerable misbehaviour in class and also considerable pressure on pupils to conform to this anti-school behaviour whether they want to or not. 4B pupils typically say,"We don’t like boys who don’t mess about" and "We don’t like boys who answer a lot of questions." Hargreaves concludes: "the normative structure of 4B is a compromise between the academic values of 4A and the anti-academic values of 4C and 4D. He describes these values as "non-academic" since although "messing" is an approved activity, there is no attempt to replace academic work with misbehaviour, nor are the academically oriented boys necessarily subjected to low status.

In 4C, the most powerful pupil was Clint, acknowledged as the best fighter in the school. His attitude to school was summarised in the following statements: "I think school’s a waste of time" and "If I don’t like a lesson, I don’t do it." In Hargreaves’ observation of a Maths lesson, Clint never opened a book or used a pen and on the basis of this and other observations, Hargreaves concluded that, "For Clint, any form of academic work was irksome; it would be avoided scrupulously and flagrantly." Yet Clint was, according to the 11+ results, one of the more intelligent pupils in the school and had been progressively demoted from 1A because of his "bad attitude." In general, "the rejection of the academic approach was much more marked in 4C than in 4B. Whereas in 4B, the group solution was to compromise between working hard and completely wasting time, in 4C, the solution was total abandonment of academic values. In this sense, the 4C norms were anti-academic. The dominant norms of 4c involve----encouragement of long hair and the wearing of jeans both of which were against school rules. Messing becomes a substitute for work. truancy is inconsequential. Smoking in the school yard is a sign of status." Also. since the pupils would not be taking the school’s leaving examination at the end of the year, the anti- academic forces increased in strength. Status within 4C is gained primarily by compliance with anti school norms and lost by acceptance of teachers’ authority.

Hargreaves then states that forms 4C and 4D are equivalents in many respects. Again, the anti- school culture is dominant in 4D and informal status within 4D is gained by compliance with the anti- school culture. Attitude to school are indicated by the following pupil statements: "You come to school and you do exactly nothing. You don’t do much.----You’re supposed to do writing but they don’t check the books so you don’t have to do it." Also, "You can have more fun in the 4th year. In the first year, you daren’t say owt. But it’s great fun in the 4th year. You can give a dead lot of cheek, you know, ‘cos you’re leaving." As with 4C and 4B to some extent, 4D pupils regularly fail to comply with school uniform policy.

Hargreaves suggests the existence of 2 fairly distinct pupil subcultures on the basis of his observation of pupils in and out of class and interviews with them. Relationships between these two groups are generally poor although often based upon inaccurate stereotypical views in each case. He then looks for additional information to confirm his impression that these distinct subcultures exist and are related to the streaming system. Here, he finds that absence rates are higher in the lower streams; that lateness increases; that pupils’ answers to questionnaires designed to assess their acceptance or rejection of school norms are predictably stream related; that participation in school choirs, bands and sports teams are stream related as are contributions to the school fund. Teachers also answer questionnaires and their answers suggest that appearance and dress are stream-related as is behaviour, although according to the teachers , there are not major differences in behaviour as between the different streams and not all teachers agree that behaviour is stream-related. On the basis of these investigations, Hargreaves concludes that "our attempt to measure the values in different streams has been broadly successful. The results lead to the generalisation that the higher the stream, the greater the extent of pupil commitment to the school, satisfaction with school life and conformity to the expectations of teachers. Boys in low streams tend to be the reverse of high stream pupils in these respects. Secondly, our analysis of normative differences within streams has been broadly substantiated: the higher the stream, the greater the tendency for high status to be associated with attitudes, values and behaviour expected by the school; in low streams, high status is negatively associated with conformity to school expectations."

Although the Hargreaves study centres upon the organisation of one particular Secondary Modern school, he does also present some information on home background and out of school activities. As regards involvement in criminal activity, increasing percentages of boys as we move from 4A to 4D are prepared to admit appearances in court and /or involvement in petty theft. For 4A pupils, home background appears to be a significant factor in their non- involvement in crime while there is also some tentative indication that delinquency is connected with home backgrounds which seem supportive of criminal tendencies. The vast majority of pupils in all streams come from a manual working class background, with A stream pupils slightly more likely to have skilled manual fathers; 4A pupils come from smaller families resulting in marginally less overcrowding at home and there is some evidence that A stream parents are more ambitious for their children. These latter findings are broadly in line with the findings of JWB Douglas to which Hargreaves refers in some detail.

David Hargreaves demonstrates that he is well aware of the difficulties involved in the different methods of sociological research. With regard to participant observation, he recognises that teachers may be less than frank in their discussions with him and that his presence in the classroom might change significantly the behaviour of pupils and teachers. Pupils told him that this was indeed the case with regard to the teachers. He also states that teachers have told him things in confidence which he could not ethically reveal in his research. As time went by, he felt that he was more and more accepted by the teachers but found that in order to increase his acceptability to lower stream pupils, he had to give up his teacher role with them and function solely as a researcher. In order to increase his acceptability, Hargreaves did not report boys who had clearly broken school rules and this appeared to increase their trust in him to the extent where they were prepared to divulge details of their criminal activities to him. With regard to other sources and methods, Hargreaves recognises that both pupil and teacher answers to questionnaires may have their limitations. Pupils may offer pro-school answers which don’t necessarily reflect their true opinions; they may understate or exaggerate their involvement in criminal activity; and their answers to questions designed to measure parental influence over their education may not be entirely reliable. Teachers assessments of personal appearance, dress and behaviour are subjective so that what is reasonable behaviour according to one teacher may not be so according to another.

Nevertheless, despite these admitted difficulties, it seems reasonable to conclude that in the case of this particular Secondary Modern school, Hargreaves has succeeded fairly well in establishing the existence of pro-school, academic and anti school delinquescent subcultures related to the streaming organisation of the school. How is the development of the anti-school subculture to be explained? Hargreaves argues that in a class divided society such as the UK, different social classes tend to subscribe to different values with the middle class subscribing to the value of individual achievement. There is some evidence that the parents of 4A pupils, although working class, are more likely than the parents of 4C/4D pupils to subscribe to middle class values and to transmit them to their children. However, it is in the organisation of the school itself that Hargreaves finds the main reasons for the development of pro and anti-school subcultures and he relies here on A.K. Cohen’s explanation of working class juvenile delinquency in terms of status frustration.

Academic 4A pupils, by virtue of their membership of the highest stream, the positive, encouraging attitudes of their teachers (which also involve positive comparisons with boys in lower streams), the greater likelihood that they will be chosen for school trips and holidays and as school prefects, achieve formal status and informal status within the school in proportion to their educational performance. C and D stream pupils are denied formal status within the school. They are double academic failures in that they have both failed the 11+ examination and have been consigned to the lower reaches of the Secondary Modern school. Teachers see them as academically limited as is indicated in statements such as"You’ve got to remember that these kids haven’t got very much ability." and"You’ve struck the bottom of the barrel here." Teachers regularly define pupils very much in terms of their membership of a particular stream and convey their negative opinions in many ways to the pupils which further undermines pupils self-images. Since 4C and 4D pupils are denied academic status, they experience status frustration which they seek to resolve by achieving informal status through misbehaviour and rejection of school, generating further problems of control for teachers so that even well- intentioned teachers feel that they must spend time on discipline which otherwise could have been spent teaching.

Social Relations in a Secondary School is a classic study but you might say that it belongs to a previous era and our task is really to assess its relevance in the early 21st Century.Here are some issues to consider.

1. Is it possible that Hargreaves has overstated social class differences in attitudes and values?

2. Has he accepted some of the conclusions of the Douglas study rather too uncritically?

3. Having raised these questions, it is important to note that the development of pupil subcultures is explained mainly in terms of school organisation especially the system of streaming. Does streaming create these subcultures or does the prior existence of these subcultures encourage schools to stream which then reinforces trends which already exist?

4. Have Comprehensive Education , more enlightened teacher attitudes and the partial replacement of streaming by mixed ability teaching changed teacher responses to apparently academically weaker pupils? If we rely on say the Ball study of 1980, it seems that similar problems still remained but O'Donnell and Sharpe (Uncertain Masculinities 2000) tentatively suggest some improvement?

5. Is streaming the only factor which affects student behaviour? What other factors may be important?

6. Would more "mixed ability" teaching improve student behaviour? .

7. Why is it difficult to carry out this kind of research? Which methods would be most useful? Why?