Raymond Boudon believes that class position and educational attainment are very much interlinked. Boudon believes that parents educated to a professional level will require their child to study at the highest level whereas a working boy’s parents would settle for a lower-level course.
Boudon also claims that is a working class boy were to become a barrister and follow the required courses, he would consequently weaken his attachment with his family and peer group. On the other hand an upper-middle class boy would strengthen his attachment with his family and peer group as his peers would be likely to be following the same path, and his future status would be likely to be the same as his fathers. So again, position in the class system affects the individual’s educational career.
In a complex analysis, Boudon tries to assess the relative importance of the primary and secondary effects of stratification on educational attainment. He found that when influences of primary effects are removed, although class differences in educational attainment are ‘noticeably reduced’, they still remain ‘very high’. Therefore if his analysis is correct, it would mean that secondary effects of stratification are more important.
Even if positive discrimination worked and schools were able to compensate for the primary effects of stratification, much inequality of educational opportunity would remain.
Boudon believes there are two ways of removing secondary effects of stratification. The first involves the educational system. If there was one compulsory curriculum for all, the element of choice in the course selection and duration of stay would be removed. He also argues that the more branching points there are the more likely working class children are to leave or choose lower-level courses. This was proven correct as he compared the USA with European countries. There are fewer branching points in the American educational system, in comparison to the European systems. Statistics suggest that inequality of educational opportunity is lower in the USA.
Boudon’s second solution is the abolition of social stratification. He believes that moves in the direction of economic equality as the most effective way of reducing inequality of educational opportunity.
Boudon concludes: “For inequality of educational opportunity to be eliminated, either a society must be unstratified or its school system must be completely undifferentiated”. There isn’t much chance of this happening in the Western societies in Boudon’s eyes; therefore he is rather pessimistic about the elimination of inequality of educational opportunity.
In ‘Education, Opportunity and Social Inequality’, Boudon argues that inequality of educational opportunity is produced by a two-component process.
First component: primary effects of stratification. This involves subcultural differences between social classes, produced by stratification system. Although he argues that secondary effects of stratification are more important. Secondary effects stem from person’s position in class structure- hence Boudon uses the term “positional theory” to describe his explanation. He says that even if there were no subcultural differences between classes, the fact that people are in different positions in the class system, means there will be inequality of educational opportunity.
For example, if a middle class boy chose a vocational course like catering, it would probably lead to “social demotion”: the job would be of lower status than that of his father. If a working class boy were to choose the same course, it could quite possibly lead to “social promotion”, compared to the occupational status of his father.
Pressures are compounded by the boys’ parents. Upper-middle class parents would put more pressure on their boy to choose a course.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex