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Class And Achievement In Education In The Uk Education Essay

Sociologists have established that difference in class has a bearing on achievement in education of the pupils. We can give four reason for this assessment: general knowledge; provision of certain materials; difference in cultural values and attitudes; and the process of labeling schools. (Haralambos, M & Holborn,2004)

Although difference in general knowledge or IQ levels of pupils cannot be directly related to social class so it would be wise not to explore this theory further. Now keeping the other three factors in mind, I’ll analyze the advantage and disadvantages of each of the three (lower, middle, and upper) classes and relate it with their academic achievements.

 Poverty is defined to exist when an individual receives income, which is at most 40% of the median income in UK. With this criteria in mind almost 13.5 million individuals of which 2.9 million children can be said to be in the lower class of the social hierarchy in the UK in 2008.

Students belonging to these homes are more likely to have insufficient diet resulting in lower energy and concentration levels. Sickness could be another consequence and that could lead to missing school; at home they probably don’t have a dedicated room for study; with limited buying power they cant afford better books or tuition; taking part-time jobs may be a requirement which would mean less time for study. Their options are limited to state schools and colleges. Choosing higher education would mean for them to make some financial sacrifices and would possible result in them opting to not pursue further education.

Hyman suggested that pupils from lower class are at a cultural disadvantage then the other social class students. He feels that comparing with the middle class, lower class is not that ambitious as they feel that they are trying to work away from their grass roots; they thinks that they have a very stubborn approach towards this and don’t quite get the concept of making short term sacrifices for long term gains. Sugarman reinforced Hyman theories and added that the reason for such behavior might be based on their own experiences of working in an environment with very little growth opportunities and lack of appreciation or encouragement to progress.

In addition to the views held by Hyman and Sugarman, Douglas said that middle class and upper class parents tend to support more in their child’s academics. This theory has been proved by the attendance at the parents- teacher meetings.

Pierre Bourdieu has a different take on the idea that lower class pupils are at a cultural disadvantage. He feels that the underachievement of children from these homes lack the ‘cultural capital’. He agreed that there is a difference in culture of the upper, middle and lower class, but maintained that no one is to say which is less important than the other. Upper class has an advantage of having power and resources to dominate the society with their culture. By a dominant culture Bourdieu means that the upper class and possibly middle class have one foot on success as they are likely to be in contact with well paying jobs because of the environment they are being raised. For this reason Pierre believes that lower class pupils don’t lack culture and heritage but the difference in their culture from the rest keeps them at a disadvantage.

Sociologists believe that the process of labeling in schools can also have a negative or positive effect on the children

Hargreaves stated that pupils from working class are denied academic titles and privileges and then to compensate for this they children tend to misbehavior. Students take labels like "worthless " as an encouragement to act in this fashion. And the more you try to stop them the more they move away.

Nell Keddie added some courses are designed differently for different sets of pupils. In this case their professors thought it’d be wise to not expose the working class student to these studies, in fear that they would not understand it. So in this case the promise of better and more understanding teachers would help these children. Once again this labeling environment is seldom found in the middle and upper class students. (Cole, M, 1995)

A student’s pursuit for success is a direct consequence for her academic motivation. No two human beings are exactly the same and hence perform differently in certain situations than one another. Likewise students differ in their need to succeed. Academic achievement motivation is used to mean the pupil’s need or drive towards the achievement of success.

Gesnide states the importance of role model in a child’s life. If high achievers surround a child than it is more likely that he will try to follow their act. On the other hand if he is amongst low achievers than that would hardly motivate him to succeed.

We define “home environment” as all the conditions and experience in home, which help develop a child’s way of thinking and his emotional needs. There are many factors, which account for a certain form of home environment. Such as the educational background of a students’ parents, expectations, income and number of siblings. All these factors directly influence a child’s’ performance in school. (Meighan, R & Harber, C (2007)

Atkinson and Feather found out that students who have fathers working at high paying jobs are more motivated to get better grades at school. To Atkinson it was obvious that the will to succeed increases with the social status.

According to Atkinson the reason for better performances by middle and upper class students was down to the training these students received at home. They found out that parents who give freedom in decision-making are doing a better job at motivating their children for academic excellence.

Majoribanks concurs with the findings of Atkinson and adds that a child should be given responsibility to groom him. Expectations should be kept high and the degree of complexity of task should be raised to develop a sense of accomplishment in the child from a young age. (Davies, N, 2000)

Now lets take a look at the variation in male and female performances in education. From studies conducted by Sean Coughlan it is observed that girls have done better than boys in all social classes. The participation from women in universities has been on the increase. At the moment it stands close to 49% by girls and only 38% is comprised of young men. Reports suggest that success by women is not only a trend seen in all social classes but also in all ethnic groups.

This trend is attributed to the lack of male teachers in the primary schools. Sociologists believe that boys are more motivated to perform well in class if they are being taught by male teachers. About 75% of primary schools in UK have no male teachers in their staff. This trend has been stretched into later years now as students lose some motivation to learn, and other factors like not being able to talk about bullies to their female schoolteachers. Another study tells us that there is a lack of male role models in the shape of guest speakers and volunteers.

Other sociologists attribute this trend to lack of playgrounds at school. Since boys have more physical energy they need to exert more before they can finally settle down and study. And diminishing number of playgrounds means that male students lose more and more interest in school. ( Lawton, D 1992)

One notable thing might be the case where the improvement of girls in academics over the few decades may just be the greatness and due to their obedient behavior more than anything else that have seen them out perform the boys. But one thing is for sure that this trend is consistent with all the social classes. So this cannot be considered a direct link towards social class and achievement in education in UK.

Lets further dive into the argument beyond ethnicities. It wont be wrong to say that ethnic minority students such as the Chinese and Indian -Origin pupils have been brilliant academically. But the Afro-Caribbean pupils are not performing too well. Recent findings show that consciously or unconsciously racism by does persist at some level. Although some teachers are known to help these students.

In his book, Bernard Coard states that the UK education system is unsupportive of afro-Caribbean children as it makes them feel like they don’t belong. He further states that their dialect is ridiculed; white symbolizes something good whereas black means something bad; black students become a target of labeling. (Majors, R (ed), 2001)

Cecile Wright supported Benards’ research. He said that professors rarely brought Asian and black children into group discussions. As they felt that the Asian and the black student don’t have lesser communication skills. However, teachers also had higher expectations of Asian origin than of Afro-Caribbean origin pupils. (Journal: Race, Ethnicity and Education)

Gilbourn and Youdell joint findings confirmed the fears faced by the ethnic minority pupils. They explained reason for the under-performance of Afro-Caribbean students due to the fact that, Afro-Caribbean student were admitted and placed in lower tier GCSE examinations. And the focus of the professors has primarily always been on the high achievers and mediocre students and helping low achievers (who were usually black) was secondary. These reasons sum up to result in bad performances by the black students. (Wright, C 2000)

Most sociologists believe that labeling theories hold some substance. And do provide an answer for the discrimination in class and ethnicity in the field of education. But the critics of such arguments believe that these deductions are based on small group of pupils. And these findings might be biased.

Studies by the University College London (UCL) and Kings College London came up with statistical evidence supporting this argument. This report uses figures released by the Department for Education and Skills.

"These are very important findings, which should change the way parents, pupils and politicians think about schools," says Richard Webber, professor at UCL. "This is the first time we have been able to measure the precise impact of a child's social background on their educational performance, as well as the importance of a school's intake on its standing in the league tables."

The study concludes that schools with more "middle-class" students have a good academic record. It even went on to say that 50% of any college's academic performance is due to the class of it students.

In posh areas, the passing rate in schools is 67% and for colleges its 94%.

For the students coming from working class homes, just 13% have a good result in the endlish test. And just 24% of pupils get five-plus grades of C or above in their GCSE.

"The results show that the position of a school in published league tables, the criterion typically used by parents to select successful schools, depends more on the social profile of its pupils than the quality of the teachers," says Webber, who, along with Professor Tim Butler from Kings, has devised new school league tables from the data that take the social background of each pupil into account. "

The results of the study will be published at the end of the year by the UCL. But it included students from 61 different socio-economic groups with their background known. (Power, S, Edwards, T, Whitty, G, & Wigfall, V 2003)

In the past it was seen that the working class were far behind than the rest in terms of academic achievement. But one would think that this trend should begin to change in 2011, if not already have changed. But what we miss to see is that the foundation of the whole education system has already been laid. And that is to serve the interest of the middle and upper class.

According to Ken Roberts, the new policies created in terms to increase the demographic of academic achievers are nothing but an illusion. As he says that the elitism only favors the middle class, as they are not really aware of the situation, which surrounds them. It’s not really a prejudice on their part but a way of life.

Bourdieu adds to Roberts’s theories by saying that the privileges of the working class have been overshadowed by the dominant culture of the middle class. And this trend has reflected in the field of education. And even after being part of a single state schooling system, the difference in results keeps on widening. (John, G, 2006)

This trend is most in evidence in the UK. A report by the Lond School of Economics showed that UK has the lowest changes in social up gradation or degradation. This trend also highlights the fact that better grades would lead to better job and hence and improvement in the social class. But since the report suggests very little social mobility, that also means that the lower class are not performing quite as well as the middle class and the middle class are not performing quite as well as the upper class students.

Even though huge development have been made in the field of education and there has been a massive increase in the number of students being taught in schools, colleges and universities but the trend of achieving success has remained the same in the UK education system.

Summing up, these trends are due to a combination of cultural difference, financial difference, and the labeling policies that are being practiced in schools and colleges all over the UK. Unfortunately these trends while working against the working class, favor the middle and upper class. So pupils from poor families get poor grades on their exams. Lets also consider the relationship between ethnicity, sex and class. Of the three social class no doubt the most dominating factor. Girls, from all classes get higher grades than boys. This trend is primarily attributed to a small or no amount of male teachers in primary school. This results in curbing the enthusiasm and motivation of male pupils. But since this trend is over all classes we cannot consider it the defining factor to link achievement and social class.

Even though Chinese and Indian- origin student have done well in the UK education system but generally the ethnic minority, especially the ones from working class have not done well academically.

But from the views of sociologist and some factual statistics there is no doubt that social class is the most telling factor in achievement in education. This deduction holds true for primary and secondary schools. But the right balance of class dominance cannot be gauged correctly in colleges and universities because of the few bright and high achieving students, belonging to lower class, not many actually choose to go for higher education. Only about 25% of these students go for higher studies. So the comparison can be made at school level but at college or university level there is still a very small group of children to draw a definitive deduction. As stats tell us that the participation of this class is as low as only 10% in colleges and universities. This is down to the cultural gap and them not wanting to make financial sacrifices and be in debt by the time they graduate. Having that we can safely conclude that the links between social class and high academic achievers is very apparent and understandable.


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