Social Class – Media

Lesson objectiveTo explore how social class is represented
Lesson outcomes• Assess difference in representations of social class
• Evaluate the impact
• Explain how social class is represented

Social class remains the strongest predictor of educational achievement in the UK, where the social class gap for educational achievement is one of the most significant in the developed world (Perry and Francis, 2010).

The NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) is key in understanding how social class can affect educational achievement. It is recommended that you read the main points of this document to understand how. 

Theorists have also added to the conclusions of the report. Sodha and Margo (2010) “NEET individuals are disproportionately more likely to have truanted or been excluded from school, have few educational qualifications, misuse drugs and alcohol, be a teenage parent, and have mental health issues”. 

Cassen and Kingdon (2007) “They are also more likely to become involved in crime”.


External Factors

Material deprivation

This is where students lack materialistic tools impacting their learning. 

Feinstein (2003) argues that difference in class between students is apparent from nursery. 

National Equality Panel (2010), “by the age of three poor children have been assessed to be one year behind richer ones in terms of communication and, in some disadvantaged areas, up to 50 per cent of children begin primary school without the necessary language and communication skills”.

Poverty and home circumstances.

  • Cooper and Stewart (2013), linked money and educational achievements. The poorer the students, the less they succeed.
  • Waldfogel and Washbrook (2010) looks at living conditions and success. Poorer students live in more difficult conditions, such as smaller and busier accommodation. This makes studying harder to do.
  • Poorer families are less likely to pay for tutors or extra teachers meaning less chance of support and success.
  • Books, internet, computers, phones, trips etc are all hidden costs and may not be able to be afforded.
  • Poorer families may encourage their child to work, meaning less time for studying.

Cultural deprivation

This is where students lack the norms and values that are needed to succeed in education (therefore cultural capital is the opposite). One of the biggest influences for this is ‘the home’ as this is where most primary socialisation occurs. Examples of cultural deprivation is where parents do not value school and thus the child doesn’t. There may also be a culture clash, such as when family values clash with schools, similar to the previous sentence in fact, but rather than simply not caring, the family actively is opposed. 

Parents’ attitudes to education impact students greatly as supported by Douglas (1964) who found that it was the biggest factor in shaping a child’s support for education.  Douglas (1964,1970) argues that the role of parents in the early years is crucial and that lower-class students do not receive the same levels of attention and stimulus from their parents that other classes do. 

Middle-class parents are much more likely to take interest and encourage their child’s interest in the school’s culture and system.

Barry Sugarman (1970) claims that the working class has a particular culture that comprises four characteristics that prevent children from doing well in education. These are:


Brown, David, et al. AQA Sociology for A Level Book 1, Hodder Education Group, 2015. (P14)

Parents’ level of education is key is shaping a child’s success. Working-class families generally are not as educated as higher classes meaning that they are much less likely to understand and be able to challenge the education system. Working-class parents may avoid parent’s evening in an attempt to avoid this confrontation meaning that the child has less support. Goodman and Gregg (2010) and Gorard, See and Davies (2012) identified in their findings that higher parental involvement within the school process generates greater success. This is supported further by, the National Equality Panel (2010) who shows students who come and live in more affluent areas succeed more.

Language (Bernstein).

Language is key to success in education. Students who are weaker at language find it harder to succeed.

Bernstein (1971) developed two key terms, Elaborated code and Restricted Code. These can be found under your key terms. Bernstein argues that the elaborated code is used in schools and therefore, students who are brought up with a restricted code will struggle. Especially with the new GCSE and A level changes, emphasising exams and essay writing – this is key.

Bernstein’s work, however, has been subject to criticism.

There is little evidence to support that all lower class and all middle-class use those speech codes and not a combination, therefore, it is too deterministic and cannot be generalised.

Rosen argues that there is little evidence to support this and simply stating it, does not make it true.

Labov (1973), states that although this may be true, there is little evidence to suggest that the elaborated code is more effective. Actually, it usually includes much waffle and doesn’t get to the point as the restricted does.

Bourdieu’s theory of social capital. 

Bourdieu (1971) was a Marxist who saw education obviously as a negative establishment. Each social class has its own social framework which is called a habitus. This framework consists of norms and values. The dominant class imposes its culture on lower classes called hegemony. Robson (2003), found that having higher forms of cultural capital increases success as it can be turned into the educational capital (a positive culture that exists in the education system). Therefore, upper and middle-class students have an ability to succeed that the working class does not. Bourdieu suggests that whilst education seems to consist of meritocracy, this is a myth as different students obtain different culture. Social capital is linked to cultural, economic and educational capital and refers to how we use our culture to socialise. 

 In School Factors

There are various factors which affect attainment in education. 

Ball (1981), states that students are mostly set on their perceived ability, not their actual ability. 

Lacey (1970), highlights the effects of labelling. When students are set according to a category, Polarisation occurs.This is where students at both ends of the spectrum. 

These polarised ends result in two subcultures being formed. Those students who achieve will form pro-school subcultures and those who do not will form anti-school subcultures. This links to the self-fulfilling prophecy whereby students believe these labels (internalisation) and act accordingly. 

White (2005) argues that the curriculum places great emphasis on middle-class knowledge. For example, in history, students study middle- or upper-class figures rather than working-class people.

Bernstein (1972) – (Cultural Deprivation).

Bernstein (1972) highlights that different classes have different speech patterns. Two types of speech were recorded:

1) Restricted speech (simple in structure and language), which was used among the working class.

2) Developed speech (more complex and harder in language), which was used among the middle and upper class,

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