This assignment will be exploring and focusing into the educational inequalities that still exist today in our societies based on the social class system within Britain. There have been significant changes to the structure of the educational system throughout the twentieth century, from the compulsion of secondary Education (Education Act: 1944) to the government’s introduction of the tri-partite system of schooling and the beginning of the comprehensive system in 1988 and finally to the emergence of the National curriculum in 1998.
Even though there are many official statistics that suggests the overall rise of educational attainments through the changes made to the educational system it can be quite clear to notice the ever growing educational inequalities and the fall of attainment levels based on social class. As there are many official reports, researches, theories and evidence to suggest otherwise and will be looked into further within this assignment.
The term ‘social class’ is a complex and complicated term to define, as there can be many meanings to it. However social class is most commonly judged by money, occupation, education, accent and the residential area of an individual, that determines which ‘class’ an individual falls in, i. e. upper, middle or working class. (Meighan, R and Siraj-Blatchford, I, 2001). Also social class can be labelled in numbers for example social class 1 (SC1) (upper class) to Social class 5 (SC5) (mostly known as the working class).
It is well known and obviously clear that there is a strong correlation between a child’s performance at school and their social background, in other words the higher the social class of the child, they are more likely to achieve and perform well in school. One major factor that plays an important role in defining social class is based on money. It is a proven fact that the more financially well off a child’s family back ground is the more opportunities arise in the educational system for them, so therefore the more advantages they have in performing well within school.
As revealed in the report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Social inequality increases in Britain (Julie, H. 17 May 2000), which contains strong evidences to indicate the growth of social inequality in Britain over the last few decades “Social Inequalities”. Within the report, it looks into the effects of poverty and discusses children’s social class and their educational performances. A worrying fact that the government had actually cut public spending by reducing financial aid given for the welfare had a damaging effect in the growth of poverty.
According to the report children from disadvantaged families, who are defined as children who receive free school meals have overall lower exam result rates than their fellow pupils from advantaged households. The report states ‘In 1998, only a fifth of those 15- and 16-year-olds whose parents were employed in unskilled manual jobs achieved five GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) passes at grades A to C, compared to two-thirds of children of the professional and managerial classes. ‘ (Hyland, J. 7 May 2000)
From this it can be seen the amount of inequality faced upon a child due to their family background or in other words their social status. In the 1970’s it was found that children of SC5 had five times more problems with reading than those in SC1. In 1980 SC1 ; 2 achieved 3 times as many grades at GCSE than SC5 (Pat East). From this we can see the sad truthful fact of the huge gap in the educational achievements of those who are entitled to free school meals and of lower social class and those not needing that support.
Poverty has serious effects on a child’s well being and their health in general, where as a result of this can be seen in a child’s educational progress and success. As explored and stated in the Doctors report ‘Growing up in Britain’ (By Keith Lee 16 July 1999). The report highlights the inequality and social damages that cause the lowering of health of disadvantaged children, so therefore on the other hand, the better nutrition and housing of children lead to healthier, taller adults and higher educational attainment. ‘Growing up in Britain’ (By Keith Lee 16 July 1999)
The educational system and state schools also have their part to play in disadvantaging the already disadvantaged child. One major tool used in the process is the ‘Catchment area’, where instead of examiners selecting the children it is now selected by the estate agents (Davis, 2000), some may ask how is that possible? This is possible through polarising the catchment areas of schools, where the best schools are set in the high housing priced areas where its quite easy and simple for the middle class child to move into and settle at the school.
However on the other side of the coin not so possible for the poorer, less advantaged families to move into. So from this limitation based on their social class, most likely the family are left with no option but to send their children to schools that are worse off, where the child’s education faces the consequences. The explanation given from a structural functionalism perspective is that it can be argued, the reasons behind the variance of educational success between the social classes is solely based upon a child’s family background and home environment.
They hold the concept that; children from low class background tend to be underachieving due to their culturing and experiences they bring from their family background. From looking at this perspective it can be identified that by pointing the finger on the family environment and the child they rule out and conceal the educational inequality which blatantly exists. Also there is not sufficient evidence of this to prove it to be true. Although Douglas (cited in ) had carried out his research and surveys to back up the Structural functionalist idea.
He had based his theory on his research on parental interest (cited in ), as he believed that was the vital factor for a child’s educational success. His research concluded that the middle class parents showed much more interest in their child’s overall education than the working class parents had. This limited finding does not provide enough strong evidence to prove Douglas’s point, as firstly it is too vague and has been criticised heavily as the results had been calculated based on the parents attendance on school open days and the parents job differences.
Somehow Douglas may have not understood the term ‘working class’ as that life is not as easy as the richer higher classed parents who most probably have more spare time than the working class parents. Instead on merely blaming the child’s family background, another way of looking at the educational inequalities is by focusing more on the educational institute or school. This view is held by the ‘Action Perspective’, which clearly gives a more holistic picture of the inequalities within our educational system.
Holding the idea that the school itself is not equal and disadvantages particular children depending on their social class, the source of inequality is based on different components of the School from the teachers attitudes to the actual educational curriculum. The evidence to suggest this is indeed much more in depth and the arguments to support this is much convincing rather than the structural functionalism perspective. Teachers have certain expectations from certain students and it can be proven that some teachers hold an attitude towards particular children based on their social class, ‘The social class label’. Meighan and Siraj-Blatchford, 2001).
Research had been undertaken by (Rist 1997, cited in Meighan and Siraj-Blatchford, 2001) to demonstrate the theory into practice, as studies where carried out at a elementary school for black children in St. Louis, which overall demonstrated the teachers attitudes and views that somehow middle class children as being of higher attainment ability than working class children, and sadly treated the working class children with less effort in all aspects compared to the middle class children.
Through this Rist was able to show, that the children classified as being of higher ability by the teachers performed much better throughout their school years. This can be seen as a clear case that illustrates the results of the labelling theory, it can be gathered that through this the working class children are placed at a disadvantage. Throughout this assignment it has been demonstrated thoroughly how educational inequality exists in Britain.
Ranging from the government’s indirect methods of disadvantaging the lower classed societies to the artful catchment areas of schools and not forgetting the proven teacher’s attitudes of the social class labelling theory. By seeing both perspectives of the argument, it does not need further explanations to actually recognise which perspective stands firm with solid proof and which perspective cannot see the whole picture on children and their background.
Reflecting from the issues covered from this assignment it can be spotted, the shocking fact of the unfairness within the educational institutes that still carry on throughout the years and yet the government have not took this matter seriously enough to do something about it or more a less do not want to do something to resolve the stigma surrounding the social class system. This can be shown from the numerous reports included and explained, as the gap between the classes is expanding moving further apart and as the famous saying goes the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, which is indeed the reality of Britain today.