Examination on Underachievement in Schools

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Lynne Knight Student No: 059034824th October 2011

Examine the view that cultural factors provide the most likely explanation for underachievement for some pupils.

In the society we live in, one of its major institutions is Education. In the National Curriculum, certain guidelines are set out for a National expected level of achievement for each year group. Some pupils achieve a much higher level than this guideline, whereas others fall significantly below this.

It is believed that a number of cultural factors are responsible for this wide range of achievements, even though pupils in the same school are exposed to the same lessons in the curriculum and information available within the school.

Various studies conducted and concluded by Sociologists to support this have been widely documented and one of the factors raised was that of parental attitudes from differing social classes from within the home. In his study of parents and their attitudes to education, J.W.B. Douglas believed that fundamentally, parental attitudes and values towards their children’s educations had a direct impact on their level of attainment. His observations concluded that parents of working class children were not as interested in their education as the parents within the middle classes and therefore education was not high on the list of priorities.

This view was echoed by Leon Feinstein (1998) whose belief was also that middle class parents provided a higher level of encouragement to their children. He talked also of a ‘Subculture’ which he believed existed abundantly within the working class. This ‘subculture’ was defined as one where those who belong to it have a different set of values and attitudes to the mainstream culture.

In support of both Douglas and Feinstein, Herbert Hyman (1967) also added that this ‘subculture’ of the lower class are a “self imposed barrier to education and career success” in that they do not believe that they have many career opportunities and so do not place great emphasis on it. Therefore they are more likely to leave school early to take on unskilled work.

Barry Sugarman (1970) elaborated the subculture barrier theory further, directing this again at the working class. He listed four key features of this subculture which pose a barrier to educational achievement.

The first was Fatalism, which was the belief that all events occur due to what happens to the individual and that proactivity on their part has no influence on the end result.

The second was Collectivism. This was defined as working class members seeing themselves as part of a group with no individual ideas or ambitions.

The third was Immediate Gratification, which meant seeking gratification in the present, as opposed to deferring gratification for any long term goals to be achieved.

The final key point made by Sugarman, was Present Time Orientation which meant the working classes generally made no plans for the future.

In further support of influences on education within the home, another study conducted on social classes in 1990 – 1991 indicated that the highest percentage of those aged 25 – 29 with the highest level of qualification had a father who was in a higher social class, hence the higher the social class, the higher the children’s level of educational achievement.

The emphasis of these Sociologists appear to have been put upon parental attitudes, therefore, the level of under attainment appeared to begin within the home, but the most common determining factor seemed to be attitude differences of parents between the social classes.

Another cultural factor which has been examined by sociologists is the subject of Poverty and how levels of income affect the educational achievements of children.

Studies undertaken by others such as Lisa Harker (2006) have concentrated on Material resources available which could have a direct influence on the level of attainment of a child. Harker talked of...
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