In all social groups class plays a major role in the attainment of children in education. At all age groups in the education system it is apparent that working class children achieve lower attainment than children from a middle class background. It is suggested that the system is biased and designed for white, middle class children disregarding the needs of the working class and ethnic minority children. However most researchers believe that there is a similar ‘range of ability’ in every social class which could mean that class differences in educational achievement are not due to class differences in intelligence but more to do with other factors in society such as low expectations and low aspirations, lack of deferred gratification and economical issues all of which are more apparent in the working class.


Children from working class backgrounds tend to experience economical hardship more so than any other class; this is often linked to material deprivation which these children are exposed to throughout their life. Material deprivation in social class five has been closely linked to the underachievement of working class pupils in schools since the 1960s when sociologists claimed that a child’s attainment could be linked to a lack of something which was then found to be a kind of deprivation. A lack of money and the things that money could buy combined with a lack of skills and the absence of a good attitude contributed to a child’s achievement in school. These children are unable to acquire much needed educational items such as a computer with internet access, desks and reference and revision books which also help to disadvantage them.


Differences in primary socialisation (Parsons) is also understood to be another factor in the educational achievement among pupils from different social groups. Middle class children are believed to receive more attention and encouragement from their parents from a young age which then provides them with a foundation for high attainment as they enter primary school this theory suggested by J.W.B Douglas (1964) is in contrast to the primary socialisation experienced by most working class children who generally have parents who do not understand what their children require in order to succeed in education. The amount of interest displayed by parents in their children’s education was seen by Douglas as the most important factor in any child’s attainment in the education system. The attitudes of parents on the topic of education can also become apparent to teachers and this may then encourage the teacher to treat one pupil differently from another.


Subcultures within the school also aid in the differences experienced by children from different classes in the education system. A British sociologist (Barry Sugarman) described working class culture as; fatalistic, present time orientated and concerned with immediate gratification only. This, in comparison to the subculture of the middle class, is different as this class is more concerned with non fatalistic ideas, future time orientation and were concerned with deferred gratification. These differences can also prove a disadvantage to working class children as their attitude to education will lack enthusiasm to succeed and their mindset will discourage sustained effort for examination success.


Finally, one other process which allows schools to produce different educational achievement among pupils from different social groups is the different speech patterns apparent from different classes. The cultural deprivation theory followed by the two main speech code founded by Basil Bernstein disadvantage working class children from middle class children. The Cultural deprivation theory suggests that the speech patterns of those at the bottom of the class system are inferior. Bernstein proposes that children from working class backgrounds adopt a restricted speech code which is a kind of short hand speech and cannot be fully understood outside the speech code and the education system adopts a elaborated speech code through the way teachers teach pupils. The teacher sometimes fails to understand the pupil and the students also fails to understand the language spoken by the teacher, there is therefore a language barrier restricting the teacher from teaching their working class pupils appropriately and restricting the pupil from learning sufficiently.


In conclusion there are many areas to cover when trying to discover the role of processes in schools in producing different educational achievement among pupils from different social groups therefore after taking these into account it is apparent that class is the biggest factor as it dictates a child’s opportunities in the education system and the way that they are educated whether it be appropriately and to their advantage or not.


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

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