The Equality of Opportunity in the Education System Essay

There have been a number of changes made to the education system to increase the equality of the learning of the students and their opportunities. There have been many acts passed, but there is still not full equality throughout the education system.

In 1988, the Education Act was passed and this resulted in many changes being introduced, which aimed to increase the equality between pupils. In September 1989, The National Curriculum and testing were introduced in all state schools. Students aged between 5 and 16, had to study, to Key Stage 3, the core subjects-science, maths and English, and had to study a number of foundation subjects such as history, sociology, art etc. At the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16, at the end of the Key Stages, students progress was assessed by the teachers and National Tests in the core subjects. This has provided more equality as students are learning the same subjects. Also, parents are allowed to choose the school their child attends, instead of going to the local school, so that children have the opportunity to have the best education at the best schools.

Vocational education was introduced because of the Education Act, which meant that students, who left school at the age of 16, could attend training programmes for vocational skills and work experience to gain qualifications. This gave all students an equal opportunity to get a job even if they were not academic.

Although these changes have been made, this hasn’t stopped the inequality in education. It has decreased the problem, but it still exists. The home and school can affect student’s achievement in many different ways.

The home environment is a factor that affects students’ achievement. If they live in poor living conditions with lack of privacy and no quiet places to work than the child can not do their homework to the best of their ability. This applies mainly to working class children, who may begin to fall behind in class, and they are more likely to have the highest absenteeism among the school. These children may have lacked pre-school facilities such as nursery schools and playgroups where the basic learning is taught. These factors result in underachievement among working class pupils and they are more likely to leave school at the first opportunity, than middle class pupils.

Parental attitudes in the working class are usually very different from that of the middle class. Each class are socialized into a different set of values. Middle class parents are more likely to encourage their children to achieve higher, contribute to the development of ambition and disciplined study. These values are highly thought of among teachers as if the children are not encouraged at home, they tend not to work hard and become successful. Middle class parents expect more from their children and are more interested in their progress.

Cultural deprivation is another reason for the underachievement of pupils. Middle class families are more likely to go out to the museum or the library as this will encourage interest in learning and will introduce children to key elements of general knowledge and research skills more quickly. The middle class home tends to have books, CD-ROM’s and educational toys. The working class child is less likely to receive this kind of upbringing.

At school, teachers can affect a child’s achievement by making judgements and classifying the students. If for example, a student behaves well, the teacher is more likely to label them as ‘intelligent’, whereas a badly behaved student is more likely to be labelled negatively. This is called the ‘halo effect’. This can result in the teacher concentrating more on the bright pupils and making them achieve higher. This may lead to self-fulfilling prophecy. This is when, for example, if the child is labelled wrongly as a ‘bad’ child, then he or she may live up to their expectations and underachieve.

Streaming students into different-ability groups can be seen as an ideal way to meet the educational needs of individual students. However, it can have negative affects. Students in the lower stream tend to lack confidence and they don’t try to improve their position. It can lead to pupils being put off any form of learning and school subcultures can be formed. Teachers may not show as much attention to the students in the lower streams and so they can underachieve. Streaming is often linked to social class, so the lower classes tend to be in the lower streams. It is also very hard and rare for students to move between streams.

Boys are more likely to underachieve than girls. They are thought to be suffering from low self-esteem and poor motivation. They are less willing to struggle to overcome difficulties in understanding the work. They are less likely to work consistently hard than girls, and are more easily distracted. Boys are less organized and do not spend so much time on their homework and they seem less concerned about their futures and qualifications. Girls however, are more hard-working, they put more effort into their work, and they care about their achievement and marks.

Students from some ethnic backgrounds tend to underachieve educationally. A study by Inner-London Education Authority of O-Level results in 1987 showed that children from Greek, Indian, African and Pakistan backgrounds tend to perform above average, whereas, groups performing below the average, were that of English, Irish, Welsh, Turkish, Bangladeshi, and African-Caribbean backgrounds. This may be a result of the home background and social class. For many ethnic groups, English is their second language and so find it harder to learn if they are not being taught in their original language. Parents of ethnic groups such as Indian and African-Caribbean, feel their children are underachieving in class as they are not English and so pay for extra tuition and send their children to Saturday schools. The parents also put a lot of pressure on their children to succeed.

Other factors for children from ethnic backgrounds underachieving is that the subjects of the hidden curriculum may be biased. For example, History is taught from a European point of view. Also, the teacher and other students may be racist and hold racist attitudes. Students from different ethnic backgrounds may experience discrimination within streaming and entering into lower-level papers in exams. Black people can be made to feel rejected in class, and so this may lead to the student not achieving their full potential. There is also a lack of black teachers. As well as this, they are less likely to be in positions of importance. This can affect the school experiences of ethnic minority students.