According to Bynner and Joshi (1999) class differences have persisted since the late 1950’s. It can be seen that all studies carried out by various theorist came to the same conclusion that middle class pupils tend to do a lot better than working class in terms of educational achievement. Pupils from middle class backgrounds tend to pass more exams, stay on at school for longer and are five times more likely to go to university. This gap in achievement widens with age as right from nursery school to university, processes like labelling or the self fulfilling prophecy take place which insure that the working class are always at a disadvantage.
When analysing the influence of social class on educational achievement it’s crucial to examine both internal and external factors.
Many sociologists like the interactionist Howard Becker (1971) chose to explain their views to why there are differences in class achievement in relation to processes which take place within schools (internal) as mentioned above.
Labelling is a common process within schools where teachers attach a meaning to a pupil for example middle class are labelled as the ideal pupil however this in itself acts a stereotype as it assumes all middle class fit the description of the perfect pupil. However this can act as a positive or negative label as those labelled negatively may aim to prove the person in question wrong.
In addition to this the concept self fulfilling prophecy takes the process of labelling a step further as based on the label teachers make prediction about pupils which usually come true simply by the fact they were made. The reason it interacts with labelling is that it changes the pupils self image by bringing it in line with the expectation others expect him/her to fulfil.
However there are also sociologists who examine the external factors like cultural or material deprivation as an explanation to why there is a widening gap between the social class differences in achievement. Some sociologists for example Nell keddie (1973) criticise the views on external factors as they see them as a victim blaming explanation and in a way reinforce the view that internal factors are more to blame.
It has been shown however that the proportion of pupils achieving qualifications has risen across all the social classes and there has been a slight increase in those participating in higher education although many still believe it’s the middle class who are still getting greater benefits from this than the working class.
Factors and processes within schools and the education system have a large influence over class differences in achievement. Most sociologists who have studied the role of school factors were Interactionists who focus on the small scale interactions in day to day life between teachers and pupils. Collectively they identified a number of causes in relation to under achievement for example labelling, self fulfilling prophecy; streaming and pupil subcultures.
Labels are meanings or definitions we attach to someone or something in order to make sense of them. Theorists like Howard Becker or Ray Rist identify how teachers label pupils in order to differentiate between those they see as fitting the idea of an ‘ideal pupil’ normally the middle class and those who fall under hopeless cases who normally are the working class and are sat further away from the teacher in all subjects. The pupils’ work, conduct and appearance were key factors influencing the way teachers perceived pupils.
However Ray Rist’s study of an American kindergarten show how some teachers don’t even wait till a student is older before beginning the labelling process. He found that the teachers used information about the child’s home background and appearance to place them in separate groups-...