Unit 5: Education

What do you need to know about Education in Sociology? Here is our revision stream.


(a) What is the function of education?
• Informal and formal education.
• Education as an agency of socialisation and social control.
• The relationship between education and social mobility.
• Different types of schools, including state, private, single-sex and faith schools.

(b) What factors help to explain differences in educational achievement?
• Patterns in educational achievement and experience in relation to gender, ethnicity and social class.
• Material, cultural and linguistic influences of family background on educational achievement.
• The influence of school, teachers and the peer group on educational achievement.
• Measuring intelligence, selection and its relationship to educational achievement.
• The roles of the official curriculum and the hidden curriculum

Functions of education

Education & Social Mobility

Functionalists believe the education system permits social mobility. If there is equality of opportunity people are able to reach the level they deserve based on their natural ability and the effort they make to succeed. This is called meritocracy.

Sociologists using other perspectives, however, challenge the idea that a meritocracy exists and the possibility of social mobility, pointing to evidence that sex, class and ethnicity play a bigger part than ability in children’s achievements, and that therefore schools reproduce ascribed inequalities.

Marxists believe that the capitalist system recruited the most able of the working class and this made the system stronger. Most working-class children were still, however, unable to escape their situation. Marxists therefore reject the idea that the education system is meritocratic; success depends less on talent and effort than on class background.

Types of School

Two main types of school
1. State schools, which are run directly, or indirectly, by national or local governments
2. Private schools, which are not.

Selective education means a system in which schools select their pupils, usually by ability.

Comprehensive schools are those that cater for all the children in a local area. In England and Wales comprehensive schools were introduced from the 1960s onwards. They replaced an earlier system with three types of secondary schools:

  • Grammar schools: for ‘academic’ children, selected by a test at age 11 years or afterwards. Grammar schools taught the classics (Latin and Greek).
  • Technical schools: specialised in technical education, helping prepare students for manual occupations.
  • Secondary modern schools: for most children, offering a basic education with often few opportunities to take exams

Patterns in Achievement: Gender

Patterns in Achievement: Ethnicity

Patterns in Achievement: Social Class

Material, cultural and linguistic influences

Influence of school, teachers & peer group

Measuring Intelligence

Official vs Hidden Curriculum