Examine ways in which home background affects educational attainment


Many Sociologists have investigated the relationship between home environment and educational attainment. Herbert H. Hyman says that the different value systems of the middle and working classes create for the working class ‘a self imposed barrier to an improved position’. He cites the fact that many working class families place less value on formal education, have expectations which are limited to a ‘good trade’. He then says that not all members of the working class feel the same, many have higher expectations, particularly those whose parents have white collar jobs. This suggests that parental influence has an important effect on a child’s educational attainment.



Raymond Boudon claims that inequality of educational opportunity is inevitable in a class based society because people start their education from different positions in the class system. Also, middle class students may be more willing to go to university because this will maintain their position in the class structure while a working class student who goes to university would be moving out of their class structure and become alienated from their friends and family. There is therefore more social pressure for students from middle and upper class backgrounds to select higher level courses, creating inequality of opportunity. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu had the idea that there is a ‘dominant culture’ in society. This is possessed in a grater amount by people higher up the class structure. It is regarded as superior because those at the top of the class structure have the power to define its value. It is not actually superior to any other form of culture. Because it is defined as superior the culture of the school will be the dominant culture and therefore closer to the culture of the middle and upper class pupils, giving them an in-built advantage e.g. their language is closer to that of the teachers so they are more likely to understand what is being taught. Bourdieu states that the purpose of education is social and cultural reproduction, maintaining people’s positions in the class structure. Bernstein says that the forms of communication that working class pupils learn at home are not those required by the school. He identifies 2 types of speech, restricted and elaborated codes. According to Bernstein middle class children learn both restricted and elaborated codes while often working class children only speak in restricted code, this gives working class children a major disadvantage.


Cultural Deprivation theories disagree with Bourdieu’s claim that working class culture is equal to dominant culture and say that it is deficient in several areas which account for the poor educational attainment of working class pupils. Material deprivation is also seen as a factor in achievement. Also the fact that working class families usually have more children, meaning that pupils usually have less time and space to revise and do homework.


In conclusion, home background has been proven by many sociologists to have a significant affect on educational attainment. Working class children have a disadvantage over children from middle class homes. Their have been numerous factors suggested for this, and I think that all of then affect pupils to some degree, but the major factor is the use of dominant culture to maintain positions in society.