Social class differences in pupils’ home background play a key role in causing differences in educational achievement. The material factor with the most impact on differences in achievement is poverty and this is the lack of the physical necessities in life, such as adequate housing, diet and income. It causes children to achieve badly academically and it most affects the working class. Poverty can cause working class underachievement in that a poor living environment could consist of overcrowding, and so pupils don’t have a quiet place to study and work efficiently.
Also, the lack of a balanced diet can lead to absences from school and it also falters their concentration in class due to hunger. Little or no income at all sums up the above mentioned factors that affect a pupil’s achievement level. Having a low income affects educational achievement in several ways e. g. lack of educational materials such as books and computers with internet access, lack of the appropriate uniform, and inability to afford school trips that develop a pupil’s achievement positively.
Cultural deprivation and material deprivation are different; however, they have a common link that explains how they affect educational achievement. Item A indicates that children of parents in the higher social classes are already further up the scale of educational development from as early as 22 months. Bourdieu shows how both factors link together to produce class inequalities in achievement using the cultural capital theory. The argument is that middle class pupils are more successful than working class pupils because their parents possess more ‘capital’.
This capital comes in two forms i. e. wealth and values. The middle class use their greater economic capital to provide their children with an advantage, thus reproducing the advantages of the middle class from generation to generation and so there will always be a significant difference in educational achievement, with middle class children exceeding working class children with regard to educational achievement. Poverty tends to lead to bullying, and because it is usually pupils from working class homes that experience poverty, they find other distractions from which they derive pleasure.
These distractions and factors are, however, within the school environment. Focusing on the interactions between teachers and pupils, sociologists identified a number of causes of social-class differences in educational achievement such as; labelling, anti-school subcultures and streaming. Labelling, the most significant one, is the act of characterising pupils to make sense of them or their behaviour. There is an image in schools of the “ideal pupil” and Becker argued that middle-class pupils tend to fall under this category than working-class pupils and this begins the process of a pupil’s underachievement.
Labelling brings about social-class differences in educational achievement because when pupils are labelled, their interactions with their teachers are based on that label. For example, a working-class pupil can’t afford the right uniform and so he doesn’t fit the image of the “ideal pupil”, a teacher might label him a rascal and when the behaviour of the teacher changes due to the label, pupils sense this thus the development of a self fulfilling prophecy.
Working-class pupils are labelled “unintelligent” and therefore fail, whereas middle-class pupils are labelled “bright” and likely to succeed. For these factors, there will always be a huge difference in educational achievement amongst different social classes. However, the labelling theory is too easily agreed upon because not all pupils who are labelled as failures fulfil the prophecy. Some students reject the label and choose to succeed; also it is not all teachers that label working-class pupils negatively.
Streaming is also a process within the school environment that affects educational achievement. With reference to Item A, as mentioned earlier, studies show that working-class pupils usually end up in lower streams and middle-class pupils end up in higher ones. Sometimes, this is as a result of teacher labelling, thus widening the achievement space between the classes. Douglas identified that the IQ of pupils labelled as less able and placed in the bottom stream decreased over time, while that of pupils put in top streams increased.
Differences in educational achievement aren’t just a product of processes within schools; they are also greatly influenced by government policies such as marketisation which increased the amount of streaming in schools. All these factors are interconnected and mutually dependent and so, they all lead to social-class differences in educational achievement with working-class pupils generally achieving less than middle-class pupils mostly because middle-class parents have more cultural capital that enables them get their children into schools ranked highly in the league tables and so on.