Evaluate sociological explanations for working class underachievement.

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Claire Newby, Sociology Essay.

Evaluate sociological explanations for working class underachievement.

During the twentieth century, numerous changes were made to the structure of the education system. These changes include the 1944 Education act which made secondary education obligatory and the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988. Official statistics state that all these measures have served to amplify the overall levels of educational attainment, but both official and sociological evidence indicates that class-based inequities in educational attainment have shown no inclination to decline.

Sociological explanations have suggested many different reasons for the class base differences in educational achievement. It is suggested that the diversity in educational success between different classes are due to home and family factors. This approach is based on the belief that those from different social classes have significantly differing home lives.

 It is possible to split home and family based factors into three main categories, material factors, cultural factors and sub-cultural factors. Each factor serves as an explanation for working class underachievement but material, cultural and sub-cultural factors are all outside school justifications and therefore inside school justifications also have to be taken into consideration when clarifying reasons for working class underachievement.

Cultural factors include both cultural deprivation and cultural capital. Cultural deprivation means to be deficient in the skills and values required to be successful in education. This explanation points out that working class children are short of stimulus in the home due to lack of parental interest, restricted amounts of books, limited amounts of educational toys and a lack of educational outings such as visits to the museum. Theorists such as Douglas have investigated cultural deprivation in dept to find out if this explanation does actually apply to the underachievement of working class children. Douglas created the Plowden Report in 1967 argued that working class parents offer less encouragement and support towards their children's education. The effect of studies like that of Douglas was to 'blame the victim’; working class culture was seen as problematic. One result was the idea that certain students needed 'compensatory education' and gave rise to Educational Priority Areas as a result of the Plowden Report of 1967.

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 Also the cultural deprivation explanation for working class underachievement clarifies that working class children are also linguistically deprived. Sociological theorist Bernstein deliberated this theory. The core of Bernstein's original intuition, "an obstinate idea in me which I could neither give up nor properly understand" as he calls it, is that there is a difference between working class and middle class speech, and that this difference is fraught with educational consequence. Restricted and elaborate codes are Bernstein’s description of the two distinct speech codes. Bernstein’s theory states that middle class families promote elaborated codes and that elaborated codes are the currency ...

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