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