Factors Which Affect Educational Achievement Education Essay

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This essay will specifically investigate the negative impact of outside influences on educational achievement. I will look into material and cultural influences located within the family and community as these factors need to be taken into consideration when analysing why children from different social classes with the same level of intelligence achieve differently and have different attitudes toward education. I will look into some of these features and relate them to sociological research as well as my own experiences.

Statistics show that working class students are more likely to underachieve than students from middle class backgrounds. For example, recent research conducted by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that there is a link between eligibility for free schools meals and poor GCSE results:

'… The gap at GCSE level remains large, with the latest Department of Education figures indicating that pupils eligible for free school meals are almost half as likely to achieve five or more A*-C grades at GCSE as those who were not eligible (30.9 per cent compared with 58.5 per cent).' The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2012).

This research shows that low income families are more likely to need assistance with providing daily meals for their children and that the children given these meals are not achieving as highly as they are capable of.

My own experience supports this research as I was eligible for free school meals throughout secondary school and I did not achieve high grades at GCSE. I think this was partly to do with my lack of self-esteem and lack of parental influence on my education as my mum had no choice but to work full time to support her family, this meant that I was left to my own devices when it came to completing homework and pursuing extracurricular interests. Naturally, I rarely did my homework and my extracurricular interests consisted of watching television and 'hanging out' with friends.

This is just one example of material deprivation, another is the fact that low-income families are less able to provide expensive resources such as computers, books and private tutors than higher income families. In 1995 Smith and Noble investigated 'Material Factors and British Education', their findings suggested that affluent parents are more able to "provide their children with advantages both before they attend school and during their school career." This study showed that children from poorer backgrounds "will have a less rich educational experience" because they have limited access to educational stimulation outside of school, parents may want to cater to the specific learning needs of their children but are unable to do so due to a low-income and long working hours.

Although working-class families are less able to supply their children with the latest educational resources, local councils often provide services for free or at a low cost. In West Sussex, for example, services such as libraries, toy libraries, and youth clubs enable parents to socialise their children in an educational environment while giving them direct responsibility to motivate their children to succeed academically. Whether parents view these resources as beneficial or not comes under the term 'cultural deprivation'.

Cultural deprivation encompasses the customs and principles of families and communities. Although these values differ between working-class and middle-class families, cultural deprivation can exist in both. Any family that lacks the ability to identify and nurture their child's skills and interests will be depriving them due to pre-conceived notions of how one should behave and how success is defined.

In the 1970's cultural theorist Paul Willis sought to prove the Marxist theory that we do not live in a meritocratic society - that non-achievers do not 'fail' due to a lack of intelligence or persistence but because they start their academic life with a disadvantage.

In order to prove this theory Willis studied a group of working-class children from the Hammertown Boys School in Wolverhampton, he observed and interviewed them in order to discover how a pattern of educational failure is established in working class culture. Willis discovered that these 'lads' belonged to and anti-school subculture permeated with the idea that education is unnecessary to be successful in adult life. Looking at the families and close community, Willis found that this attitude had filter through generations to become customary thus proving his hypothesis.

Although Willis' study was limited as it focused solely on one group of children who had already identified themselves as belonging to the aforementioned subculture, I think that if Willis had observed the 'lads' from childhood through to adolescence he would have gained a greater insight into why they were determined not to conform to the aims of the school.

In my experience, material and cultural deprivation are linked and equally valid. Although I was born into a working-class, single-parent family I was taught from a young age that possessions and monetary wealth were not as important as spending time as a family and pursuing hobbies that interested me. When it came to being unable to go on school trips because my mum couldn't afford the fees I was content to stay at school and read or draw because I enjoyed it and I knew there was nothing my mum could do to pay the fees. As I got older, I started to become envious of my peers who had big houses, all the latest CDs, new clothes etc while I was listening to cassette tapes and wearing second-hand clothes. Although I felt envious, I knew that not possessing the latest technology had no impact on my education because of the values my mum had taught me.


Smith, T and Noble, M. (1995) Material Factors and British Education.

Westsussex.gov.uk (2012) West Sussex County Council: Children and family centres. [online] Available at: http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/living/children_and_families/children_and_family_centres.aspx [Accessed: 22nd Nov 2012].