Interactionist perspective – school organisation

17120198-5cf8-4377-8721-0c135d634c3fThe interactionist perpsective, postmodern era is interested in individual differences. It takes a micro approach concentrating on how individuals respond to education. It aims to answer questions such as why some underachieve in school whilst others excel. What is the fundamental difference in a pupils experience which determines their fate in education and then on into employment opportunities. Here we will consider relationships, in particular the relationships between students and teachers. We will talk about relationships as the explicit (overt) and implicit (covert) messages that are delivered to students in an educational institute. For example through the ethos of the school and through the hidden curriculum. When we consider how education influences people and groups we refer back to our core themes in sociology. For example how does the hidden curriculum, those implicit messages, determine our identity.


A teacher may determine a student’s identity by labelling them as delinquent. This stereotyping then leads to a student being treated differently, expectations may lower, language used may change, ultimately determining identity and social differentiation. Stereotyping doesn’t always have to be negative a teacher may equally label a child as expected to do well and equally behaviour, expectations and language differences may be found. This effect is called the halo effect. The halo effect is a product of stereotyping but determines how all subsequent behaviour is viewed by the teacher and pupil. For example if a student is labelled as disruptive all their behaviour may be viewed to support that original first impression. Therefore this child is more likely to get the blame for disruptive behaviour in class as it is expected due to their metaphorical halo. Of course the consequence of this is then the student becomes that impression and lives up to through the self fulling prophecy.  The following video outlines this phenomenon.

There is lots of interactionist research to support the interaction of student and teaching in shaping the education experience. Of course by this we mean, qualitative, in-depth, subjective, case studies, longitudinal research and secondary data comparisons.

a355aacb-f2df-4411-a696-5909d7601a3e8b3a32c0-a326-42cf-bc61-426408691f77The most significant study to be aware of in this section is Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968).

The following video is a teachers Flipped classroom – prep before lesson. It is useful in summarising this section which may be good for both initial notes or revision.

Banding, streaming and setting in schools

In schools banding, streaming and setting are ways to organise students into groups based on ability. Ability is measured by key stage assessments which determine your predicted ability and attainment.

Banding – sometimes used to refer to when schools organise bands of pupils with mixed abilities. This is particularly true in large comprehensive schools. More commonly it is seen as another word for streaming on ability.

Streaming- is when students are set on ability, too, middle or bottom groups and remain in these groups for all of their subjects.

There is always mixed opinions on the potential benefit and harm that this can do to a students confidence. Equally the relationship between student and teacher is seen to noticeably change depending on the set they are teaching. Ball researched this in Beachside comprehensive schoo, (1981) and found that top sets were ‘warmed up’ by encouragement to achieve highly. On the other hand bottomsets were ‘cooled down’ and encouraged to follow lower status vocations. Smith et al (2006) found that children in bottom sets had a much more negative view of school compared to other sets or streams.

The Sutton trust (2010) found that streaming was a good way to stretch and challenge bright pupils from poorer backgrounds however not enough of those disadvantaged children were reaching the top sets. This may be due in part to labelling, stereotypes and expectation of the ideal pupils.

Educational triage