In the 21st Century, inequality should be something of the past. Health, Education, Employment and Housing is essential for society to function, but these four areas are more unequal than ever. According to The Guardian, the school year of 2012/3 saw “64.8% of pupils not eligible for a free school meal obtained at least 5 A*-C grades including maths and English” this statistic from afar is impressive but when you look further “percentage drops dramatically to just 38.1% amongst pupils who are eligible for free school means” (The Guardian, 2014). Even though we would rather neglect the idea social class does play a huge part in education, the statistic proves that successful education is depended upon which social class you reside in.
Education is arguable one of the most important aspects for society. Talcott Parsons (1961) said, ‘education acts as the focal socialising agency in modern society’ (Revise Sociology), to further breakdown this statement; school takes over primary socialisation which is the social interactions you receive at home from parents and family members. Parsons is backed up by Emile Durkheim (1893) who said, ‘school is a society in miniature’ (Revise Sociology). Both theorists are Functionalists who claim inequalities are inevitable because as whole society is far too complex for there to be an equal society. According to Parsons (1961) children are judged to particularistic standards that are set by the parents but in society people are judged by universalistic standards which means the same exams and laws. However, exams and laws are applied equally to every person, regardless of the situation of the individual. Functionalism also state that education is an important tool to allocate people, (irrespective of social class) to certain jobs using examinations and qualifications.
An individual’s situation can affect how well they do in examinations at school. For example, somebody from ‘middle’ class will go to private school; whereas somebody from ‘working’ class will go to public school. A public secondary pupil has £6,200 spent on them per year; in comparison to private sector of £15,000 per year (Schools Week). These statistics proves there is a social differentiation in education, but Functionalism believe education is equal based upon everyone has the same chance of success and those who succeed do so by their own efforts aka Meritocracy.
Meritocracy is the belief that institutions such as education reward individuals on – work, effort, talent, ability and achievement. They maintain that a Meritocratic society stems from rewarding people of the above five behaviours regardless of social-class background. Where does the unequal society come from then? Inequality comes from the divide between those who get degrees from universities/colleges and those who do not possess a degree or anything above GSCE. People such as Giddens and Diamond (2005) ‘suggest that Britain is a fair and open society which all social groups are given the potential to unlock their talents’ this credence is called Egalitarian. They believe all human beings are judged by their talent and ability rather than social class background. They argue that Meritocracy is on the rise because social class is on the decline.
One of the main arguments as to why Meritocracy is on the rise is because young people are going to higher education. The Independent (2016) said ‘students who received free school meals – are less than half as likely to enter higher education’ this tells us that if you received free school means which normally applies to children in households which are in poverty are less likely to enter higher education which disrupts the argument for Meritocracy. The Independent further states there is a ‘difference of 16.7%’ between young people coming from low income families and working-class families. This is record low. Britain is currently under the govern of the Conservative party; who are known for supporting people who come from middle class or upper-class backgrounds rather than the working class and the ‘poor’. PM Theresa May and the Tory government scrapped student maintenance grants for low income families which is why young people who have received Free School Meals are rarely going to university.
Free School Meals (FSM) are given to children from age 7 and onwards. To qualify for FSM, one parent or both parents must receive state benefits. FSM is supposed to measure how many children come from the lowest income families and how this affects children in education. However, this method does not fully measure the number of children in poverty because sometimes both families are in full time employment therefore, the child does not receive FSM. According to the website TES (2016) only 22% of pupils receiving FSM will go onto higher education. This figure is so low for multiple reasons however, Smith and Noble (1995) suggested multiple explanations relating to Material Deprivation. They think lack of funds to pay for uniforms, trips, transport and school supplies; children from low income families have poorer health therefore, the attendance at school is low; unable to access computers or does not own a computer at home and they are unable to pay for private school fees however, young people from working-class families cannot pay for private school fees but the percentage of young people from this class type going to higher education is significantly higher at 32.8% (The Independent 2016). If Functionalists believe everybody in society is working towards Meritocracy and Egalitarian’s believe Meritocracy is already here and taking over the class system but there is evidence to prove there is still an unequal barrier between the poorest families and the more advantage families. However, Marxism say that Meritocracy is a myth.
Bowles and Gintis (1976) both Marxism theorists said, ‘Meritocracy was created by Functionalists to justify inequalities in society.’ They argue that pupils are led to believe everybody has an equal chance and if they were to succeed, they do so on own merit rather than influence of social class background. Functionalist created Meritocracy to cover up the reality of pupils from working-class backgrounds and ethnic minorities have lower chance of success because society works against them and works more in favour of the bourgeois. Therefore, the working-class cannot move up the social ladder because if they fail society encourages them to accept defeat and accept dead-end jobs and low paid jobs. All Marxism supporters have the same point of view; they believe education is used to control the population and Capitalism is used to persuade people that inequalities are the norm.
Marxist French philosopher, Louis Althusser (1972) said ‘main role of education is to persuade young people to accept their place in the capitalist system’ – Althusser argues that capitalist societies are unequal and believe the ruling class maintain power through ideological control. This is through mass media and the education system. This would suggest that teachers are employed to teach young people that the capitalist system is normal and health for the society; regardless of the inequalities. If a young person was to fail school, it is because of lack of knowledge and motivation. This is how a capitalist society would see it. Marxism believe society is controlled and maintained through education, then Feminism suggest that education is used as a tool to prepare girls for future roles.
In the 1970s ‘twice as many males as females gained university places’ (OCR A Level). Feminist have campaigned in the masses since the 1960s/70s to destroy the hidden curriculum of teachings young girls to take subordinate roles. An example of this is headteachers and cleaners. The Guardian said, ‘38% of the workforce are male and 62% are female. But when you look at headteachers, the numbers are reversed: just 36% are women’ A majority of headteachers are male. Whereas, most cleaners and catering staff are females. However, Feminism has started to break down the inequality boundaries since then which is proven by Sue Sharpe (1975). She did a study on working-class girls in London, she found they focused more on ‘love, marriage, husbands and children’ then education. However, she went back to the same schools in 1994 and found girls were more concerned about careers and having financial independence.