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Posts Tagged ‘differential achievement’

Aspiring to Succeed? Education and the New Right

Monday, June 3rd, 2019
"The influence of parents, places and poverty on educational attitudes and aspirations"
Summary Findings

One of the key features of New Right approaches to explaining social class differences in educational achievement is the attempt to frame the debate in terms of the qualities possessed by individual actors.

This reductionist approach – reducing complex social processes to their apparently simplest and most basic forms – sees success or failure (as measured by exam grades and entrance into the most prestigious Universities) as a consequence of how individuals apply – or fail to apply – themselves to their studies.

All things being equal within a “broadly meritocratic education system”, therefore, how do we explain the fact that social class has a strong correlation with exam success or failure: the lower the class, the more-likely the individual is to leave school with few, if any, qualifications?

While for some New Right theorists (such as Murray in the USA or Saunders in the UK) the answer is found in “natural” IQ class differences, for others the answer involves different orientations to education and, more specifically, the claim that those with higher educational and work aspirations are far more educationally successful than those with low educational and work aspirations.

The basic argument here, therefore, is that those who “aim high” for high-pay, high-status employment are much more likely to work hard in the education system to fulfil those high aspirations. Those, on the other hand, who have no great aspirations to, desire for or expectations of achieving, such work, see no great incentive in trying to achieve the required qualifications.

In both instances a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy takes hold: high aspirations lead to a strong desire to work towards and achieve high qualifications; low aspirations results in a lack of effort and a consequential lack of educational success.

On the face of things, this argument seems to make some sense – if you want something badly enough the chances are you will work diligently towards trying to achieve it – and, as St Clair et. al. (2011) note, there has been a great deal of social policy interest in the possible relationship between aspirations and achievement:

Politicians and policy-makers are very interested in aspirations. The strong assumption is that raising aspirations will increase educational achievement, while contributing to greater equity and the UK’s economic competitiveness, and that public policy has a key role in ensuring that these ends are attained. Aspirations were a theme of many of the Labour Government’s policy papers on children and young people. They were a key component of The Children’s Plan (2007) and in Aiming High for Young People (2007), and the concerns raised helped to shape the 2009 Inspiring Communities programme. The coalition Government (2010) has continued this interest in raising aspirations, again based on the assumption that aspirations are too low among disadvantaged groups”.

Sociologically, however, taking the theorised relationship between aspirations and achievement at face value is rather more problematic and one way to evaluate it is to examine the key question of “aspirations”.

• The good news here is that there has been a lot of research focused specifically on the role of “aspirations” in educational achievement, particularly as it relates to social class.

• The bad news – at least as far as New Right approaches are concerned – is that this research has found little or no evidence to suggest that aspirations play any significant or meaningful role in explaining social class achievement differences. St Clair et. al. (2011) for example, summarise their findings with the observation that:

Low aspirations among young people and their families in disadvantaged areas are often seen as explaining their educational and work outcomes. This study challenges that view. It demonstrates that barriers to achievement vary significantly among deprived areas as different factors combine to shape ambitions, and shows that the difficulty for many young people is in knowing how to fulfil their aspirations”.

Both the full report and a handy summary of its findings are available from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website.

In addition, if you want to dig a bit deeper into areas like aspirations, attitudes, behaviour and educational attainment there are three further Research Reports and Summaries you might find helpful:

Carter-Wall and Whitfield (2012): The role of aspirations, attitudes and behaviour in closing the educational attainment gap.

Goodman and Gregg (2010) Poorer children’s educational attainment: how important are attitudes and behaviour?

Hirsch (2007) Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage.

School Climate: Narrowing the Gender Gap?

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

In a UK context, the relationship between gender and educational achievement – whereby girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of the education system – is both well-known and persistent. More-interestingly, per

Canford Public School: school climate may be affected by a range of external factors, such as the public perceptions of a school and its value.

haps, this situation is not, as Legewie and DiPrete (2012) note, confined to the UK, given that “boys generally underperform relative to girls in schools throughout the industrialized world”.

As you might expect, numerous explanations for the “gender gap” in achievement have been put-forward – biological, psychological and sociological – that variously focus on:

• outside school factors, such as poverty, innate intelligence or family background.
• inside school factors, such as teacher labelling or different types of pupil subculture.

More-recently, however, there’s been a tentative shift in (sociological) focus towards a more-integrated, holistic, approach to understanding the precise mechanics of differential achievement, one that places the concept of school climate centre stage.

School Climate

One of the benefits of a standardised secondary education system is that all students, regardless of social attributes like class or gender, follow the same basic curriculum, sit the same exams and are evaluated to the same basic standards. All things being equal, therefore, we might statistically and sociologically expect a fairly random distribution of achievement across a general population.

The fact there is a distinctly non-random distribution – higher socio-economic status (SES) groups achieve more than lower SES groups, girls generally achieve more than boys in each SES grouping – suggests things are far from equal. The problem, as we’ve suggested, is how to explain these skewed achievement distributions?

The concept of school climate involves the idea that a combination of material and cultural factors, centred in and around “the school”, inhibit or foster academic achievement.

The school, in other words, is the place where a range of processes – from social class backgrounds through pupil subcultures to pupil-teacher interactions – meet and interact and the main question to resolve, in terms of differential achievement, is whether or not schools are simply conduits through which wider social and economic inequalities pass. In other words, do schools simply reflect and refine wider inequalities or are they capable of mitigating and transforming them?

The Male-Female Gender Gap…

Legewie and DiPrete’s (2012) research in Berlin, Germany, suggests that school climate may be a significant, if largely-overlooked, factor in differential achievement, at least in relation to gender (although the research does have wider implications for both class and ethic differences).

Drawing on a range of research from Willis (1977) onward, they argue that one of the crucial variables in both achievement and underachievement is the concept of “gender differentiated adolescent cultures”, developed and reinforced in peer groups, that are “important influences on how children view school, whether they take school seriously, and how hard they work as students”.

In a nutshell they argue that adolescent constructions of masculinity in contemporary industrial societies generally foster a range of anti-school attitudes and behaviours that impact on boys’ levels of achievement relative to girls. While it’s not necessarily the case that these attitudes are overtly hostile to schooling, per se, Legewie and DiPrete argue there generally exists a “peer culture that constructs resistance to schools and teachers as valued masculine traits”. To put this another way, Younger et al (2005) suggest there’s strong evidence that, in the UK at least (and very probably elsewhere), the most valued ways of “doing boy” tend to be “anti-school”, with academic work closely associated with femininity “and effortless achievement as the ideal”.

While this resistance appears in male peer groups right across the class spectrum – upper-class girls, for example, generally show greater levels of achievement than upper-class boys – its effect diminishes the higher up the class structure we look: upper and middle class boys, for example, consistently outperform lower class girls.

One reason for this, Legewie and DiPrete suggest, is that “High-status parents generally foster an orientation for their boys that is at least instrumentally focused on high performance in school. These parents also have resources to intervene in their children’s lives to counter signs of educational detachment or poor performance”.

For lower-class males whose families lack such resources the types of successful interventions common among their higher-class peers necessarily fall on the school. Or not, as the case may be. Female peer groups, on the other hand, “vary less strongly with the social environment in the extent to which school engagement is stigmatized as un-feminine”.

In other words, female peer groups right across the class structure don’t see “resistance to authority and disengagement from school as core aspects of feminine identity”. One important consequence of this non-association, therefore, is that girls don’t see “attachment to teachers and school” as unfeminine.

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GCSE Sociology Guides: Family and Education

Friday, August 17th, 2018

GCSE Sociology resources tend to be a little thin on the ground, so it’s always nice to come across decent teacher-created material such as these two bang-up-to-the-moment Revision Guides created by Kate Henney.

The Family Guide is a 25-page document that packs in a whole range of resources covering family types, diversity, alternatives, perspectives, roles and structures (plus some stuff on exam questions and a knowledge organiser…).

The Education Pack Is a 20-page resource covering perspectives, types of school, class, ethnicity and gender, factors in achievement, marketisation and educational policy (plus exam questions and a knowledge organiser).

Although the resources are in PowerPoint format it’s easy enough to save each file as a pdf document using the Export function if you want to give your students copies.

Education PowerPoints: Part 2

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Part 2 of the Education Presentations gives you more of the same, only less of it.

More PowerPoints, in other words, but fewer of them than in Part 1.

Most of these are fairly straightforward “Teaching Presentations” but some contain YouTube videos (again, I’ve converted the links so they will play directly inside the Presentation) and one, the Social Class revision exercise, is a simple “sift-and-sort” activity designed to help students clarify “inside” and “outside” school factors in class differential achievement.

The Presentations, in no particular order:

1. Marketisation (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
2. Social Class – revision exercise
3. Ethnicity and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
4. Material Deprivation (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
5. Anti-School Subcultures (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
6. Feminist / Postmodernist Perspectives (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
7. The Purpose of Education

Education PowerPoints: Part 1

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Alongside the Revision Guides I seem to have collected a large number of Education PowerPoints that, while not explicitly geared towards revision, could be used in this way. Alternatively, they could just be used as part of your normal classroom teaching.

The Presentations are by a mix of authors (where known) but the majority are by Leigh Rust-Ashford, so they have the same “look and feel” and follow a similar format – clear teaching points, a few questions and simple exercises, a couple of illustrative YouTube videos (the only changes I’ve made to the files, apart from deleting dead links, is to format the video links so they use the PowerPoint video player) and so forth.

I’ve split the Presentations into two parts, in no particular order:

1. Meritocracy
2. Functionalism (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
3. Interactionism (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
4. Organisation of Education
5. Postmodernism4. organisation-of-the-education-system (N Sharmin)
6. Working Class Culture and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
7. Locality and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
8. Gender and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
9. Class and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
10. Postmodern education (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
11. Marxism (Leigh Rust-Ashford)

Leave Nothing to Chance: An Education Simulation

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

“Leave Nothing to Chance” is, unless I’m very much mistaken (and I probably am), my first real attempt at a “proper classroom simulation”.

I’d like to say I’m excited about it, but when all’s-said-and-done it’s only a simple simulation.

On the other hand, I very much hope you like it, use it, develop it and share it.

Not necessarily in that order, but you probably get the idea.

Aside from this, if you need a bit of convincing about the content, the sim is designed to illustrate differential educational achievement and uses the mechanism of a lottery – or to be more-precise, a series of Key Stage lotteries – to explore how differences in achievement are, for sociologists, the result of material and cultural factors that occur both inside and outside the school.

The lotteries, although a central feature of the game (there can only be one winner. Unless you decide otherwise), are the device through which students are encouraged to explore, with your help, direction and guidance (you know, the teaching stuff), how and why different social groups achieve differently in the education system. They are, in other words, the glue that holds the lesson together.

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School Climate: A different dimension to differential educational achievement?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

The relationship between social class – or socio-economic status (SES) if you prefer – and differential educational achievement is well-known at A-level and students are expected to discuss and evaluate a range of possible factors / explanations for this relationship; these are usually grouped, largely for theoretical convenience, into “outside school” and “inside school” factors, each involving a range of material and cultural factors. The latter, for example, conventionally include things like:

  • Type of School (private, grammar, comprehensive…)
  • Teacher Attitudes that involve ideas about labelling and self-fulfilling prophecies
  • Ability grouping – practices such as streaming, setting and banding.
  • Social inclusion / exclusion – for example, physical exclusion / suspension as well as self-exclusion (truancy).
  • Pro-and-anti school subcultures.

  • Although each of these is arguably significant, they reflect a rather piecemeal approach to explaining educational achievement differences, particularly those of social class.

    One way of pulling some – if not necessarily all – of these strands together is through the concept of school climate; this encompasses a range of material and cultural organisational factors focused on “the school” that, proponents argue, foster academic achievement.

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    Sociological Detectives: Evidence Summary Sheet

    Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

    sctv_evidenceTo complement the Theory Summary sheet you can combine it with the Evidence Summary sheet that performs a similar function within the Sociological Detectives sim. In this respect it provides:

    1. A basic structure for students to follow when making notes about the different kinds of evidence they can use to support or question theoretical explanations for differential educational achievement.
    2. A standardised format for sharing information around the class electronically (using Padlet / Google Drive for example).

     

     

    The Sociological Detectives: DEA

    Monday, October 31st, 2016

    In splashthis sim students take the role of “sociological detectives” investigating the reasons for differential educational achievement. Broadly, the sim involves:

  • identifying a range of theories that can be used to explain differential educational achievement across and within categories of class, gender and ethnicity.
  • identifying and collecting evidence that can be used to test (support or refute) the various theories examined.

  • The accompanying PowerPoint is designed to help you develop this structure and while it’s not essential it can help to both set and explain the scene by introducing the idea of suspects, theory development and evidence gathering at the core of the sim.

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    Seven Sims in Seven Days: The Introduction

    Monday, September 26th, 2016

    I’ve long been interested in the idea of using simulations (and games – see Disclaimer below) as teaching tools – there were a couple of online efforts I created many moons ago when the Internet was still young and frames seemed such a good idea:

    1. Education and Differential Achievement: The Sociological Detective was an attempt to embed the idea that “studying sociology” at A-level can be a bit like being a detective – you identify “suspects”, develop theories to explain social phenomena and collect / evaluate different types of evidence. I’ve since had to retire the original version, but it’s spirit has since been resurrected here if you’re interested.
    1. Crime, Deviance and Methods: The Great Chocolate Bar Theft, also long-since retired, was an online crime and methods sim that I might, at some point in the future, resurrect (but don’t bet on it).

    One of the problems, aside from having the time and ability to think them up, has always been the difficulty of finding materials that not only delight, surprise and occasionally befuddle students but which also have teaching content that repays all the time and effort required to set-up and use them effectively in the classroom.

    The Internet has, to some extent, made this easier in terms of finding stuff and it has to be noted that just about everything that’s presented here has been invented by someone other than myself. Where I know who created the materials they’re given appropriate credit but in some instances I don’t have the first idea about the identity of their creator, so if you are that person I’d just like to say “Sorry”, “Thank You” and “I’ve hidden all my money in off-shore trusts, so don’t bother suing”.

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    Differential Educational Achievement: The Home, The School and Emotional Labour…

    Monday, April 4th, 2016

    Explanations for differential educational achievement across different class, age, gender and ethnic categories are many, varied and complex, so it’s unlikely any single explanation taken out of the context of the lived experiences of different social groups can fully explain these differences. However, this is not to say it’s not a useful exercise to get students to consider (and evaluate) “single-issue” explanations.

    In this respect this article – White children ‘falling behind other groups at GCSE’ – suggests that parental engagements (what parents actually do to support their children’s education) are a more-significant factor in achievement than “parental aspirations” (what parents hope and encourage their children to achieve) and it can form the basis for a some useful classroom exercises: 

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    Differential Educational Achievement

    Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

    One aspect of the debate surrounding explanations for differences in achievement is the idea of material deprivation – and while this has, in recent times, fallen out-of-favour (particularly with politicians and media organisations, a new report from the Children’s Commission gives a new impetus to the idea that poverty remains a hugely-significant factor in any understanding of achievement differences. You can download:

    1. The full report
    2. An executive summary covering the main findings
    3. Guardian article

    The Marketisation of Education (Part 2): Differential Achievement

    Sunday, January 25th, 2015

    The Report highlights an interesting snippet that can be applied to educational achievement.

    “Converter academies” (schools that voluntarily changed their status under policies introduced by the Conservative government post-2010) performed less-well than “Sponsored Academies” – those schools identified as “underperforming” in terms of exam results and converted to Academies under the previous Labour government.

    This suggests that where time, effort and money is applied to particular schools and students, exam results are more-likely to improve – and while this is only one dimension of “educational achievement” it provides some useful evaluative material for exam questions on this topic.