Significant Sociological Research In Relation To Educational Change Education Essay

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1st Jan 1970 Education Reference this

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The Educational changes in United Kingdom are basically the tripartite system, comprehensive education and the changes that have taken place since 1979 to 1988. The “tripartite system” was introduced in Britain in 1944 which set up three types of schools: “grammar, secondary modern and technical school” for pupils up to the age of 15. Each schools ordering a different type of education, was based on the idea that there were different kind of intelligence, each needing a different kind of schooling. Grammar school offered an academic education leading to qualification; secondary modern gave pupils a practical education with few opportunities to get qualification. Pupils were allocated to school via the 11+, better pupil were creamed off to grammar school while the rest attending secondary modern schools. The system was more bipartite than tripartite. [Gidden, A. p482]

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Comprehensive school were introduced in 1965 by labour along with grammar school. The aim of the government is to remove many of inequalities of the tripartite system and to end the selection at 11+via the 11+ exams and to break down the class barrier in society as one schools for all pupils in a particular area meant that all social classes would be brought together. Pupils would have more opportunities to gain qualification.

The biggest changes in education took place in 1988 under Thatcher regime. They saw that education was failing to provide a sufficiently skilled workforce. They also believed that schools were failing pupils and needed to raise the standard of education. The education policy that took place under Thatcher regime were National curriculum in England and Wales, The Act also brought Standard Assessment Tests [SAT] at 7, 11, 14 and 16. School could opt out of their LEA and become Grant Maintenance School, Parent empowerment to choose school for their children, formula funding of schools and vocationalism education such as NVQ, GNVQ CTC and New vocationalism.

In conclusion, “tripartite system shows a class division in schools for creaming off the bright student in school to grammar school and the rest to secondary modern and technical school. Eleven + culturally favoured the middle class and majority of student in grammar school came from middle class background. Grammar school received more money per student than other types of school and girls have to achieved higher pass than boys before they can get to grammar” whereas comprehensive school remove the inequalities that existed under the “tripartite system” and higher proportion of pupils gained more qualification and GCSE and A level rate have all risen and brighter pupils are not held back. According to Ball et al [1994] “the government education policy encourage the parent choice, creation of new types of school- Grant Maintained, CTC’s, Technology college status, publishing of the national testing and league tables of exams results and decision for a school “to opt” of LEA control was given to parents of pupil at school. The New Right thinking is about competition and choice”[Haralambos and Holborn p616-621]


The Interactionist view on processes of schooling and the relationship between teachers and student seems to be very important for the effectiveness of education since social class influence in educational attainment. Teachers tend to share an image of “ideal pupils” whereas teachers perceived middle-class pupils as close to the idea, and lower working class pupils as furthest from it. Label is a major feature placed on a person by others. Teacher tends to label middle-class as “good student” this may discourage working -class pupils. When pupils labelled as bright others will tend to respond to them and interpret their actions in term of this label, there is a tendency for a self-fulfilling prophecy to result.

The “hidden curriculum” refers to the message schools transmit to pupils without directly teaching them or spelling them out, it consists of values, norms, beliefs and ideas which are embedded in the normal routines and procedures of school life. In functionalists view, the transmission of society core values can be seen as part of hidden curriculum such as the value of individual achievement, pupils are encouraged to achieve good grades, qualification, it prepares them to achieve as individuals in the wider society. In Marxists view, the hidden curriculum of schools is the transmission of ruling class ideology, producing next of generation of workers schooled to accept their roles in the society. [ Haralambos and Holborn p603]

Marxists are very critical of the role played by the education system. They do not agree with functionalists and others that it is a meritocratic system but rather it keeps the inequalities found in capitalist society going. It does by pretending to give everyone an equal chance but the reality is that those from middle class background do better at school than those from working class background. This is why Marxists often talk about “the myth of meritocracy” [Haralambos and Holborn p 604].

In functionalists view, education is a “meritocratic” that is a system in which social positions are filled on the basis of individual merit and achievement, rather than ascribed criteria such as inherited wealth, sex or social background. [Haralambos and Holborn p601].

In conclusion, Each of the theories have their own view on education but no one theories can stand on his own and we cannot blame the structure of schooling underachievement to outside influence. Functionalists think that education is needed and if it wasn’t there, society wouldn’t function properly and they teach the skills and knowledge needed in people’s future lives. Marxists think that education reinforce class divide and that it maintains inequality in society. Feminist thinks that education is bad as it clearly divides and separate girls from boys. They think it is more suited for boys.


Education Attainment refer to as been able to complete a course successfully and obtain a qualification that may lead to employment. Children educational attainment from various background can be influenced by in school factor [human, physical, financial resources] and out-school factor [poverty, parental interest, language difference, cultural capital, positional theory] are related to background of the child’s parent.

Studies found that some student performs better than others. Evidence shows that class position; gender and ethnicity play an important role in determines the educational achievement of some and failure of others. The following sub section will explain those aspects in full details.


Social class differences in educational achievement are not purely the outcome of cultural factors, such cultural deprivation and cultural difference. There are many factors that contribute to the determination of why working class student tend to achieve less. Cultural deprivation is one of the reasons why working class student are generally achieving less than middle class student. It attributes to working class underachievement to the fact that they have often been brought up with a negative attitude towards education. According to J.W.B Douglas [1964] “which focuses on the key role of parental aspirations, claiming that working class parents are less interested in formal education of their children and hence in their success”[Haralambos and Holborn p629-630].

Boudon positional theory [1974] “suggest that it is harder for working class children to aspire to university and high status professions because there is no parental role model to follow, hence expectations of parents, teachers and peers are lower”[Warren,K. et al p242].

Cultural difference theorists, however suggest that there is a natural difference between working class culture and middle class culture, inevitably placing working class children at a disadvantage in schools. For example, Peter Bourdieu[1977] argues that middle class culture is more closely linked to that of the school, meaning that pupils are more likely to understand what is being taught. The point is about cultural capital the taste, ideas and knowledge of parents more closely matches that of teachers so their children are on the same cultural wavelength and are therefore rewarded with greater educational success. This was further back up by evidence carry out by Alice Sullivan [2001] “who showed a close relationship between cultural capital and social class in terms of reading, access to TV, newspaper, participation In cultural activities and vocabulary used”[Haralambos and Holborn p636].

Basil Bernstein [1990] support this idea with his study into speech codes, which suggested that middle class children’s knowledge of a more elaborated vocabulary allowed them to understand the teacher better than working class children, who were confined to a more restricted speech code. Bernstein view is that the middle class language structure is the same that used by teachers in contrast to the working class language structure code, which is far more restricted. Hence, the school system is culturally biased in favour of the middle class.

According to Paul Willis [1969] in his study into sub-culture also limits student educational achievement as the student can only do as well as their label allows. Labelling of student by teachers is a theme that was developed by Keddie [1971] “he concluded that the educational outcome for different classes becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy. The labelling is of course based less on actual performance than on stereotyped expectation”[Warren,K. et al p242-243].

Functionalists believe that an individual academic success depend upon his IQ and effort they apply to their studies. They also believe society works in a meritocratic system. Marxists believe that this is due to social class and that in education only the ruling class values are transmitted. This means that working class people find it difficult to get along with the education system.


Girls outperforming their male counterpart from primary to university level and the dramatic change happen across culture and continent. In 1970 research focus on “girl’s underachievement” within the educational system. According to Oakley [1974] a radical feminist argued that primary socialisation plays an important role in shaping, conditioning boys and girl and help to reinforce existing gender stereotype. This also have impacts on the educational aspiration of girls who are socialised to become passive, submissive and future nest builders. Furthermore, Sue Sharpe [1976] “support this view and claims that lower class girls priorities and aspiration is to be in love, get married, have a husband and children are in conflict with their educational success”. Radical feminist emphasised on reading materials and the content of textbooks as being sexist in nature and these reinforce gender stereotype.

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Michelle Stanworth [1983] interviewed teachers and student from seven different classes in the humanities department and found that teachers both male and female displayed certain stereotypical attitudes towards their students. Girls, who were not in the lot of submissiveness, silent and unresponsive, were seen as having the potential to break through a professional career. Moreover, teachers themselves often saw marriage as the outcome of most girls. In term of classroom interaction, it was seen that boys were more assertive and took part in class discussion while teachers gave girls lesser attention, although they outnumbered boys.

Functionalist argued that there is tendency to exaggerate over the issue of patriarchy impacting on school curriculum. They pointed out that feminist’s studies are not enough to rely on and not valid because there have been inadequate samples and weak methodologies to support their claims and make representative generalisation. Statistics have shown that boys and girls do achieve equally well at school and in different fields. Moreover, free and compulsory education has opened door for girls and they are able to compete on equal terms. Later, research by Randall [1987] “criticise of Stanworth’s study by arguing that latter’s research are bias and unfounded. He also found that in laboratory classes girls are more forthcoming to interact with their teachers” [Haralambos and Holborn p642-649].


Britain is a multicultural society and educational attainment of ethnic minorities has become nature of debate for a long time. The Swan Report [1985] “found that there were several significant difference between the achievement of ethnic minorities and whites in Britain” [Haralambos and Holborn 2000].

However, this phenomenon has not stagnated since other studies like The Studies Policy Institute’s Fourth Survey of ethnic Minorities [1994] reported that there was considerate improvement in educational qualification of ethnic minorities when compared to figure in the 1980s[Modood et al 1997]. Below is the explanation of some studies that tries to explain why ethnic minorities do underachieve in education.

Jensen [1974] and H. Eysenck [1971] both have sorted out that black were genetically less intelligent than whites while Herstein and Murray [1994] put forward that IQ scores are caused by both genes and environment factors, since black are more likely to live in poverty. They also found in their research that even if environment are equalised, that is when black and whites of similar income levels and occupational statuses blacks do have a slightly lower IQ test score.

The Swan Report [1985] found that linguistic factor in Britain might be responsible for some ethnic minorities since English is not their mother tongue and lack of fluency became an obstacle. Bernard Coard [1971] “saw that the British educational system made black children become educationally subnormal by making them felt inferior in every way. Racist stereotypes that exist in society are reinforced by teachers’ expectation; the latter would negatively label children coming from minority groups. The child comes to see him/herself as such and when he/she is only fit for manual and unskilled jobs”[Haralambos&Holborn. p649-653].

Bodmer[1972] criticism explained that sometimes it is impossible to control all environmental factors that can affect IQ scores as prejudice and discrimination against black people will always hinders equalisation of environment with whites. Pilkington[1997] challenge the idea of a genetic basis for IQ not fixed by genetics as IQ scores have increasingly been rising among ethnic minorities in many parts of the world and secondly, difference in socio-economic status largely explain educational differences. Coard’s view must be treated with care as he has over generalised over the issue, there is evidence of Asian children in Britain who have achieved well. However, according to Ken Pryce [1979] “Afro-Caribbean preferred to send their children back to their country to study because black are deprived of the value needed for school success”. [Warren, al p246].


Paul Willis [1977] developed a neo-marxist approach to education. Willis approach focus on how education prepare workforce and adopted a research method by using symbolic interactionism in his study and variety of methods at Midland school in England. He used observation and participation observation in class, school, leisure time and formal interview.

Paul Willis carried out his study by observing a group of 12 working class boys in one school in the Midland whom he observed for 18 month and followed them for the first few months at work. These 12 working class boys formed a group with a bad attitude towards school. Willis referred to them as “lads”. The “lads” form a counter school culture. They see themselves as superior to teacher and “earoles”. Having a “laff” is the most important thing and very sexist and racist, they also see themselves as a” real man”. Willis argued that the “lads” failed themselves deliberately in recognition of the inevitable manual working future that awaited them.

According to Blackedge and Hunt [1984] they criticised Paul Willis for using small group of 12 pupils to carry out his research and all of them were boys ignoring the aspect of gender [girl]. He did not considered children in society as a whole. Willis ignores other cultures within the school and since 1977 there are few jobs in manual work, therefore many such “lad” stay on longer and develop same attitude to work. [Haralambos&Holborn.p605-608]

Michelle Stanworth [1983] interviewed is based on the A level student and teachers of humanities subject. She found that teachers gave more time and attention to boys and expected more from them. Teachers both male and female tend to know the names and expressed more concern and interest in boys. Stanworth conclude that all the attention and interest shown by the teachers both male and female to the boys, the girls do better than boys in the exams. Stanworth research was unethical because the girls did not know that they were been observed.

Dale Spender [1983] the invisible woman claims women’s contribution is largely controlled by men who use their power to further their own interests. “The curriculum favour a male perspective women’s contribution to human progress are often ignored. Girls receive less attention than boys in the classroom. Boys are often abusive to girls but are not told off. Male dominance in society is the cause of girls’ difficulties in education but schools help to reinforce the dominance”.

According to Randall [1987] he criticised the method used by Stanworth and Spender. Stanworth’s work was based on interview rather than direct observation. Therefore, it cannot actually establish that teachers are giving less attention to girls. [Taylor, P. et al p306-307]

Mac en Ghaill [1992] studied African-Caribbean and Asian student in a sixth form college in Midland. “He found that the way student responded to schooling varied considerably and was influenced by their ethnicity, gender and class composition of their former secondary schools”. All of the ethnic minorities’ student experience problem in their educational system but in a different way depending on their gender and ethnic group.

The study is important because “it shows how class, gender and ethnicity interact with the school system” and Mirza’s study shows that negative labelling does not necessarily lead you to academic failure. [Kirby, M. et al p204-205]

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