Explanations of Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement: -Introduction and Links

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

For Sutton Trust Report on  COVID 19 and Social Mobility : School Shutdown April 20th 2020 - Click Here

For DFE data relating to 2018/19 GCSE results Some data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and  gender can be found on pp7-12  in the main text document  but for more detailed information click on the third link [ Characteristics National Tables]  and then to find Tables CH1 and CH2   which are especially useful - Click Here New link added February 2020

For DFE publication December 2019: Widening Participation in Higher Education - Click Here

For Guardian coverage of DFE analysis of 2019 GCSE results - Click Here

For documentary : Poor Kids - Click Here NEW link added December 2016 

For a podcast in which Professor Diane Reay discusses Education and Class - Click Here

For a summary of recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which illustrates that many of the social class disadvantages mentioned by researchers as early as the 1950s are still prevalent nowadays - Click Here

For an article from the Times Educational Supplement by Mary Bousted. "Schools cannot fix the impact of poverty alone." - Click Here NEW link added October 2018

For an article from The Conversation By Gill Main entitled "Parents and children living in poverty have the same aspirations as those who are better off" - Click Here NEW link added September 2018

The Childhood Origins of Social Mobility - Click Here
For a BBC summary of this  report - Click Here Links added June 2016

 

Part  Section List

•             Introduction

•             Part 1: Explaining Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement: IQ Theories - Click Here

•             Part 2  Sociological Explanations of Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement: Cultural Deprivation - Click Here

•             Part 3 : Sociological Explanations of Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement: Cultural Difference - Click Here

•             Part 4 Sociological Explanations of Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement:  Material Economic  Differences - Click Here

•             Part 5: Sociological Explanations of Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement. Some More Recent Studies - Click Here

Learning Objectives

To understand  four different main approaches to the analysis and explanation of social class differences in educational achievement [ Unit 4a];

1.            IQ Theories [ Part 1];

2.            Theories of Cultural Deprivation  [ Part 2 ];

3.            Theories of Cultural Difference  [ Part 3];

4.            Theories based upon Differences in Material Circumstances [ Part4];

5           To consider the findings of some recent studies [Part 5].

 To gain familiarity with the key concepts used in this area of Sociology.

 To discover the main conclusions of a range of relevant sociological studies.

To evaluate some of the strengths and weaknesses of the studies used in these Units.

Please note that the fifth sociological approach focusing on the organization of the schools themselves will be outlined in the following document.

 

Introduction

In a previous document it was shown that significant social class differences in educational achievement exist at all levels of the UK education system. Thus from the 1950s onwards sociologists have regularly pointed to the progressive under-representation of working class students in:

higher streams in primary (i.e. middle schools);
numbers passing the 11+ examination in the era of Tripartite Secondary Education and currently in local education authority areas where selective secondary education continues to exist;
numbers in higher streams in grammar schools and subsequently in comprehensives;
numbers remaining in school after the minimum school leaving age;
numbers passing O levels, gaining high grade GCSE passes and passing A levels;
numbers enrolled on undergraduate courses;
numbers involved in post graduate study.

Click here for IFS data indicating some narrowing in social class differences in access to higher education between 2004-5 and 2009-10 . Nevertheless social class differences in access to Higher Education remain considerable

My aim in the following 5 Units is to trace the development of the sociological debates around the causes of social class differences in educational achievement via the consideration of several of well known sociological studies ranging from the 1960s to the early 21st Century. I have included materials from some relatively early studies partly to enable students to appreciate the historical evolution of these debates and partly because , on a more practical level, references to the early studies do often appear both in current Sociology textbooks and ,occasionally, in recent research papers suggesting that some familiarity with these earlier studies is still desirable.

Because of the complex and controversial nature of Sociology and the possible limitations of sociological research methods it may be difficult or indeed impossible to state sociological conclusions objectively and with certainty. Controversy certainly abounds in this area of the Sociology of Education but I have tried to present a summary assessment of the relative importance of the different theories and studies which would be widely accepted among most [but not all] sociologists.

Activity. Please answer briefly the following preliminary questions.

1. Consult a dictionary and write down your dictionary’s definition of “Intelligence”.

2. Briefly state how the dictionary definition might be extended to provide a fuller explanation of the meaning of “Intelligence”.

3. Give two examples of positive attitudes that might promote educational achievement.

4. Give two examples of negative attitudes which might inhibit educational achievement.

5. State briefly how levels of household wealth and income might affect educational achievement.

  • Explaining Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement.

Five broad types of theory have been used to explain social class differences in educational achievement. They are:

  • so-called IQ [Intelligence Quotient ] theories  in which it is argued that social class differences in genetically transmitted intelligence contribute significantly to the explanation of social class differences in educational achievement;
  • theories in which it is argued that social class differences in educational achievement may be explained in terms of social class differences in cultural circumstances which, on average, operate to the relative advantage of upper and middle class students in the education system. It will be important here to distinguish between
  • theories based upon cultural deprivation
  • and theories based upon cultural difference;
  • theories in which it is argued that social class differences in educational achievement may be explained in terms of  social class differences in material or economic  circumstances which ,on average, operate to the relative advantage of upper and middle class students in the education system;
  • theories which suggest the individual schools and the UK education system as a whole may well operate to confer relative advantage, on average to upper and middle class students. These latter theories will be considered in the following document entitled “Educational achievement and social class: the schools.”

   For Part 1: Explaining Social Class Differences in Educational Achievement: IQ Theories - Click Here