The functionalist approach is one of several sociological viewpoints on education. Functionalism is largely derived from the work of sociologists such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons. Broadly speaking, functionalism is an approach which explains social institutions primarily in terms of the functions they perform. Functionalists treat societies as systems of interacting and discuss the functions of something relating to its effects on a particular institution or on society as a whole.
For Durkheim (french sociologist), the process of education was to be understood in terms of its contribution to the maintenance of the social order. He saw the major function as the transmission of society's norms and values. He was one of the major contributing sociologists putting forward new ideas and establishing many themes which continue to be immensely important in influencing modern sociology. Durkheim believes that social solidarity is vital - a unitation of individuals creating an all round feeling of commitment and a sense of belonging to society as a whole.
He believes that in particular the teaching of history links the individual to their society and if this happens they will become more aware of the fact that they are involved in something larger than themselves and will therefore develop a sense of commitment to their social group. He sees the school as carrying out a function that the family or peer group are unable to provide, this involves interaction and cooperation with others in which Durkheim compares school as society in miniature - a model of the social system.