Teacher stereotyping, pupil identities and the halo effect – Education

Lesson objectiveTo explore teacher stereotyping, pupil identities and the halo effect in education
Lesson outcomes• Compare how the impact can vary from individual to individual
• Evaluate its significance
• Explain teacher stereotyping, pupil identities and the halo effect are

Teacher stereotyping, pupil identities and the Halo effect 

Teacher’s impact on students and their success cannot go unnoticed. They can have an impact, both positive and negative on pupil’s self-concepts, identity and success. One of the many ways teachers do this is labelling. 

Labelling is a process of classification and is related to many different areas, some of them mentioned above. The process of the Halo effect is where teachers label students (stereotype based on expectations. This view is mostly simplified and generalised. An example of this would be whereby a student who is labelled as smart and bright and the result of this process means they would get more support and have a better chance of succeeding. 


Waterhouse (2004), used case studies assessing four primary and secondary schools. He suggests that teacher labelling of pupils as either normal/ average or deviant types, as a result of impressions formed over time, has implications for the way teachers interact with pupils.

When these labels are applied they become ‘pivotal identities’ for students, which means they act as a tool for interpreting events and student behaviour. 

For example, a student who has the pivotal identity of ‘normal’ is likely to have an episode of deviant behaviour interpreted as unusual, or as a ‘temporary phase’ – something which will shortly end, thus requiring no significant action to be taken; whereas as a student who has the pivotal identity of ‘deviant’ will have periods of ‘good behaviour’ treated as unusual, something which is not expected to last, and thus not worthy of recognition. This runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby students believe the labels and as such act accordingly. 

Becker (1971), discovered that teachers evaluate students according to how closely they fit the idea of an ‘ideal student’. Hempel-Jorgensen (2009), added qualities to the ‘ideal student’ such as hard work, concentrating and listening etc. Read the full paper here to use in your 20 or 16 markers. The concept of labelling and its importance is supported by Becker (1971), Rist (1970), Cicourel and Kitsuse (1971), Keddie (1971), Hargreaves (1976), Hestor and Mellor (1975) adding credence to the notion that teachers directly affect student progress and identity. Becker (1971) and Rist (1970), concluded through their research that social class was that most important factor that influenced teachers in labelling. This is based on the idea that the way children not just act, but dress, speak etc all shape identity and however far from the normality line that identity is, results in the label. 

Harvey and Slatin (1975) discovered that teachers labelled students who were white and middle-class were more likely to succeed. Non-white, middle-class students were labelled as being more likely to fail. 

Gillborne (2011) developed Harvey and Slatin’s research adding that teachers offered fewer opportunities to these “lesser” individuals. 

Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) 

They researched the self-fulfilling prophecy in an elementary school in California using a random sample of 20% from the student population. 

A classic study which supports the self-fulfilling prophecy theory was Rosenthal and Jacobson’s study of an elementary school in California. They selected a random sample of 20% of the student population and informed teachers that these students could be expected to achieve rapid intellectual development. They misinformed teachers stating that certain students who sat an IQ test were smarter than the rest of the class. These students were in fact randomly selected and were not. When Rosenthal and Jacobson returned after some time, the group which was identified as the ‘Spurter’ group (the smarter ones) made 20% more progress than the others, as they were labelled as having more potential. 

Hartley and Sutton (2011), suggests that gender, parents, media and a whole other range of external factors also influence students and have the possibility of leading to the self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Criticisms of the labelling theory of education

  1. Negative labelling does not always result in bad consequences. Fuller (1984) proved that it can lead to positive consequences as students changed their work ethic and worked harder. This suggests that the research above is not 100% correct. 
  2. Labelling theory emphasises the impact of teachers whereas other labelling sources have equal importance e.g. school, parents, Ofsted etc.
  3. The labelling theory generalises too much as it includes all teachers, whereas this is not the case and nor is there any evidence to support otherwise. ​

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