Is there a problem of Inequality in British schools?
The educational system is one of the most influential institutions in society as it provides young people with a vast amount of knowledge, attitudes and skills. These are acquired formally through set lessons or informally through the ‘hidden curriculum’ which provides the unofficial and unplanned consequences of school experience. Social Inequality is one of the major preoccupations of sociology. The relationship between inequality and education has been studied for many years. Although it seems obvious that educational success is simply down to an individual’s capabilities and motivation, sociological research shows that the inequalities in social class, gender and race and ethnicity have had a huge influence in the differential achievement within British schooling. The development of the educational system in Britain was first put in place to secure equal educational opportunities for all young people, however despite these efforts, sociological evidence states that not all children with the same ability achieve the same success. Some sociologists, such as Charles Murray have contended with the idea that genetic intellectual potential determines an individual’s performance in school. This idea is rejected by the conflict theorist’s as they believe social class to be one of the main factors that determine whether a child is successful at school or not, as there are major differences between the levels of achievement of those that are part of the working social class and those apart of the middle class. (Macionis. J, Plummer.K, 2008) One of the main explanations for this is material deprivation. Working class families are financially in a worse position than those of the middle class and therefore are not able to make the most of their educational opportunities. As they are living in poorer housing conditions they may not have the space at home to be able to complete their schoolwork with full concentration. The lack of financial funds means that many families will not be able to provide their children with the necessities needed to fully develop within education, for example a household computer, sports equipment, or even money for school trips. It may be financially difficult for parents on a low income to support their children in higher education as well. Although student grants have been put in place, many children avoid higher education as they worry about the debt or travel costs. It also more likely for those from a working class background to be managing education with a part time job, such as paper rounds or shop work, this can cause conflict between the amount of time available for work and the amount of time spent on studying. (Browne. K, 2005) Research suggests that it is not only factors outside of the school that can effect achievement; there are also factors inside the school that have an impact on a child’s educational experiences. Teachers have been known to take into account things such as a child’s standard of behaviour, dress, speech and their social class and background and this reflects how teachers treat particular individuals within the classroom. Teachers are often part of the middle class and the children that share the same values and standards are likely to be seen as ‘brighter’ than those with working class values. The working class have a different focus on their values, attitudes and their lifestyle in society. This often works as a barrier to the success of the working class. The blame for underachievement is often focused in the direction of the family and community. These material and cultural conditions put working class children at a disadvantage when it comes to achievement in schools. Many of these factors, which have no relation to biological potential, have contributed to the educational class divide in Britain. Sociologist Robert.K.Merton was credited for the term ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ which focuses on a teacher’s...
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