A functionalist’s perspective on education is to have a consensus perspective: examine society in terms of how it is maintained for the common good. A functionalist will put an emphasis on positive aspects of schools such as socialisation: the learning of skills and attitudes in school.  Education helps maintain society by socialising young people into values of achievement, competition and equality of opportunity. Skills provision is also important: education teaches the skills for the economy.  For example, literacy, numeracy and IT for particular occupations. Role allocation is all part of this: education allocates people to the most appropriate jobs for their talents, using examinations and qualifications.


Durkheim views education as an entity creating social solidarity: community, cooperation. Education transmits culture: shared beliefs and values. Schools are a miniature society: cooperation, interaction, rules – universalistic standards. Specialist skills: division of labour – schools teach specialist knowledge and skills.


Parson views education as being part of a meritocracy. Education is a secondary agent of socialisation – bridge between family and society. Parsons believes that education instils values of competition, equality and individualism. In a meritocracy everyone is given equality of opportunity.  Achievements and rewards are based on effort and ability – achieved status. Parsons is supported in these views by Duncan and Blau who believe that a modern economy depends for its prosperity on using human capital – its workers and skills. A meritocratic education system does this best.


Davis and Moore examined role allocation. They believe that education selects talented individuals and allocates them to the most important roles in society. Higher rewards for jobs such as GP’s and pilots encourages competition. Davis and Moore believe that education sifts and sorts according to ability. The Marxist view on educational achievement is greatly influenced by social class background. Education transmits ruling class ideology. Melvin Tumin believes that jobs are considered important when they are highly rewarded. Dennis Wrong views pupils as puppets – that pupils passively accept and never reject their school’s values. The New Right argue that the state education system fails to prepare young people adequately for work.


A Functionalist’s view on education:


Structural consensus theory – agreement through socialisation; Macro theory; Society made up of interdependent and interrelated parts; Look at positive aspects and see education as being very important and beneficial.


Critics of Functionalism state that as a theory it assumes education is fair and that it rewards the best and ignores social inequalities that may restrict attainment.


Marxism believes that education teaches the values and norms of the bourgeoisie.


The New Right criticises the skills and knowledge taught in schools and believes that they teach things irrelevant to the world of work.


Positivists argue that natural science is a good thing because it offers the best way of obtaining knowledge. Positivists argue that Sociology can and should follow the natural sciences. That is, we should regard society as a real thing, develop theories about the laws of social development, and test those theories with quantitative data (data in the form of numbers e.g. official statistics). Positivists argue that quantitative data is best because it’s most likely to be valid (because it’s unbiased), reliable (because the research can be repeated) and representative (because it uses large random samples). An example of Positivistism would be ‘The Black Report’, which after research concluded that members of the working class had a greater chance of dying earlier when compared to the middle and upper classes.

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex