Assess the View That Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement Are the Result of School Processes Such as Labeling.

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Assess the view that social class differences in educational achievement are the result of school processes such as labeling. (20 marks) Labelling refers to meanings or definitions we attach to someone or something to make sense of them and these could be negative or positive labels. For example, in schools teachers are likely to label middle-class pupils as bright and more able to achieve in education whereas, they would see working class pupils as less able. Teacher labels can affect a pupil’s educational achievement as it will influence how they perform educationally. However, there are other school factors which cause underachievement and these are, the self-fulfilling prophecy, streaming and pupil subculture. There have been a number of studies of labelling carried out by interactionist sociologists. Interactionist sociologists study small-scale, face-to-face interactions between individuals, such as in the classroom or playground. Ray Rist (1970) did a study of an American kindergarten where he found that the teachers used information about the children’s home background and appearance to place them in separate groups and each group were seated on different tables. The pupils which the teacher thought were fast learners were labelled by the teacher as the ‘tigers’ and tended to be middle-class with neat and clean appearances. This group was seated nearer to the teacher who showed them greatest encouragement as well. The other two groups were labelled as the ‘cardinals’ and the ‘clowns’ which were the working-class pupils who were also seated further away. Also, they were given lower-level books to read and were given less opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. Another study which was carried out by Howard Becker, (1971) was based on interviews with 60 Chicago high school teachers. Becker found that teacher judged pupils according to how closely they fitted an image of the ‘ideal pupil’. The pupils’ appearance, work and conduct were key factors which influenced teachers’ judgements and they saw children from middle-class backgrounds as the closest to the ‘ideal pupil’ whereas, teachers saw the lower working-class children as furthest away from it as they regarded them as badly behaved. Sociologists argue that teacher labelling could lead to self-fulfilling prophecy which refers to a prediction that comes true simply by virtue of it having been made. Interactionists argue that labelling can affect a pupils’ achievement by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, the teacher labels a pupil positively and on the basis of this label makes predictions about the pupil therefore, the teacher then treats this pupils accordingly to the predictions so by providing the pupil with more attention and help. Then the pupil internalises the teachers’ expectations and becomes the kind of pupil the teacher believed in the first place therefore, this helps the pupil to gain confidence and work harder to success in education. Studies of labelling show that ‘what teachers believe, pupils achieve’. Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) did a study of a California primary school and they told the school they had a new test specially designed to identify those pupils who would ‘spurt’ ahead. However, the test was in fact simply a standard IQ test. After all the pupils have been tested, the researchers randomly picked 20% of them and told the school, again falsely that they were the ‘spurters’. After a year, Rosenthal and Jacobson returned to the school and found that the spurters had indeed made significant progress. Rosenthal and Jacobson argue that the teachers’ beliefs about the pupils had been influenced by the test results therefore, the pupils made progress due to the amount of attention, interaction and encouragement the teachers have them. This demonstrates self-fulfilling prophecy as teachers accepted the predictions that some of the pupils were spurters and then believed theses pupils to be a certain type therefore; they...
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