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The ways in which educational policies may reproduce and justify social class inequalities

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The Macro, Structuralist theory of education is said to be meritocratic from a functionalist perspective, creating equality of opportunity for all. The Marxist perspective challenges this and sees education as part of societies ideological state (Althuser 1972), controlled by policies. These policies have, in effect contradicted the theory of equality of opportunity. Over the past several years sociologists have investigated how social class affects people’s success and opportunities throughout education. Their finding clearly show students are treated differently dependant upon their class.

The higher your class the more success you will have. When looking at social inequalities the first areas to consider are the processes within the school itself, in particular the labelling imposed upon students primarily by teachers. Ball (1981) studied labelling within schools and found that teachers have different expectations from students of different classes; in particular they had higher expectations of middle class students and looked more favourably upon them. This was further supported by Keddie (1971) and Becker (1971).

They proposed that negative labelling of students can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy of failure. Teachers evaluate pupils in terms of an ideal student by looking at appearance, personality, speech and social class. It was also found that students from higher classes were put into top bands at schools as they were more highly regarded by teachers. This is simply reproducing the Marxist ideology of education creating further social divides and limiting the opportunities of lower class students when they leave education and enter the workforce, preventing them from moving up the social ladder of stratification.

Although labelling is not an actual educational policy it is an indirect result of such policies, particularly the Education Act introduced by the Government in 1944. By the time of the Second World War there was a huge divide between the type of secondary education available for the upper classes and the lower classes. The Education Act, or the Butler Act as it commonly known, was set up to try and combat these inequalities and make education equal and available to all regardless of their financial status.

Secondary education was made free and the age of leaving school was raised to 15. The idea of the Education Act at first glance seems to successfully overcome the issue of inequalities within education however the introduction of the tripartite system completely wiped this out. The tripartite system and the introduction of the 11+ simply created more social divides. The Act aimed to improve the education of all children but it did the opposite. The 11+ did not necessarily measure intelligence. It was culturally biased and suited the middle class generation more than the working class.

The introduction of technical schools failed miserably as there were few schools built and students who did attend these schools were taught a specific trade and no other skills. Having limited skills and knowledge effectively limits your mobility to the lower end of the social ladder, thus creating yet another potential social divide. The three types of schools created in the tripartite system (Grammar, Secondary Modern and Technical) created further social divides in themselves. The government argued that schools had parity of esteem, however within society itself grammar schools were seen as the best.

Pupils who passed their 11+ and went to grammar school were automatically seen as being upper class, regardless of their mental and academic capabilities. Children who failed their 11+ had to attend one of the other two schools and they were seen as failures because they failed their exam. This links back to the negative labelling theory and directly implicates the Education Act as the culprit for social inequalities and also psychological harm to children labelled as a failure. In addition to the in school factors it is worthwhile considering out of school factors. The main factor would be material deprivation.

Halsey (1980) found that the most important factor preventing working class students staying on at school was lack of financial support. Once children reach the age of 15 they are able to leave school and it is no surprise that many working class children do leave school as they do not have the money to continue. This is clearly a result of a rigid Marxist society. Society makes it easy for people to leave school if they have no money so they can enter the workforce as obedient, docile workers, leaving room for the rich and middle classes to fill the high powered positions within society, fitting the ideological state theory.

The government opened its eyes in 1965 and realised the educational policies imposed were not working as originally intended. The Labour Government insisted that Local Education Authorities reorganised their schools, focusing back on equality of opportunity. With this in mind they introduced Comprehensive schools where everyone supposedly got the same “deal”. There was no 11+ which immediately solved the problem of social divides being created from this point of view; however pupils are still streamed into group’s dependant upon their ability so they can still be seen as a failure without the need of the 11+, thus creating divides.

It was also found that schools in working class areas had lower pass rates than those in middle class areas. This implies that the teachers in middle class areas are more interested in their students than those in working class areas. So the idea of everyone getting the same deal is not entirely true. Therefore yet another educational policy created more social inequalities and divides. Other policies have been instated including Vocational Education in 1976 but this simply produced even further inequalities, similar to that of the technical schools in the tripartite system.

It is an opportunity for the Government to train under privileged kid’s specific skills to function in society, but the skills that society wants them to learn rather than what the individual wants to learn. This supports that view that education is a macro theory and the institution itself is more important that the individual. On the other hand new Vocationalism is a more positive policy as it does generate opportunities for children and provides them with the skills they need to get a job and earn a wage to live on.

It is fair to say that the Educational Policies are reproducing social class inequalities yet the new Labour Government has acted greatly to overcome this. Since 1997 they have implemented many different ideas with the introduction of third way politics. Their efforts are fair and somewhat admirable but they still reproduce inequalities. Money and ambition play the largest role in whether students can continue their education once thy reach 15. Government funding and EMA have recently been introduced but for some it is still not enough money to support themselves therefore the idea of entering the workforce is more appealing.

It is comforting that the government takes education so seriously but what they are indirectly doing is removing the people from lower class backgrounds from education as quickly as possible and leaving middle class “respectable” citizens in education so that they can enter the workforce and fill the high powered, top positions. Hyman (1967) suggested that the values of the working class are a self imposed barrier to improving their position. He said that the working class tend to place a low value on education.

Whereas Sugarman (1970) said that pupils from non manual backgrounds and manual backgrounds have different outlooks on life. Manual background pupils lived for immediate gratification and pupils from non manual backgrounds were ambitious and deferred their gratification by spending time studying and planning for the future. Is this true or is it simply due to the fact that we live in a Marxist society where the government imposes strict educational policies to push out the working class and concentrate on their precious ideology of a society ruled by middle class, rich powerful citizens.

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