Perspectives on education

Functionalist views of education

Image result for functionaLIST VIEW OF EDUCATIONFunctionalist are concerned with the links between education and other social institutions for example the family. The perspective considers education as one part of the larger picture of society and functionalist are interested in how this part, education, helps the whole system function. Functionalist view education as an important agency of socialisation, given it makes up a huge amount of our lives it could be considered the second major form of socialisation within society. Education helps young people understand the functions of society and to discover their place within that largImage result for functional perspective on educationer system. It prepares children for adulthood by teaching social norms, conformity and compliance. It allows, not only identification of place within society but also social mobility, the movement of groups or individuals up and down the social hierarchy. Durkheim and Parsons identified four basic functions of education.

  1. Passing on societies culture & building social solidarity
  2. Providing a bridge between the particularistic values (attachment to ones own group) & ascribed status of the family & universalistic values & achieved status of contemporary advanced societies (meritocracy).
  3. Developing human capital through learning skills, increasing the workforce value
  4. Selecting & allocating people roles in society & reinforcing social inequality.

Keywords & Researchers

Social cohesion     Social mobility     Functional prerequisites     Hidden curriculum     Social Solidarity     Particularistic values     Universalistic values     Meritocracy     Human Capital     Division of labour     Durkheim (1858-1917)     Talcott Parsons     Schultz (1971)     Davis & Moore (1945)

New Right view of Education

The New Right perspective is similar to the functionist perspective in that it reinforces the idea that education should nurture students for the workplace. This means giving the right opportunities to the right people for them to succeed and aid society’s function. This means they are not promoting equality but more promoting everyone has a place in society and the educational institute should function as a way to socialise the right people into the right roles.

The New Right perspective supports the idea of specialised schools to meet societies needs and that the current government controlled, nomothetic approach to education does not support individual communities. This means the New Right would support a free market educational system and would encourage marketization of education. They feel this would serve the workplace more effectively.


Marxist view of Education

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The Marxist perspective on education is that schooling is a form of social control. The education system reinforces conformity and ensures young people comply and accept their social position. Marxist’s feel that education blames the individual for their position and it doesn’t recognise the constraints that children come into education with for example poverty. This constraint impacts through labelling, health etc. and almost forces the child to conform to their existing status given by the primary socialisation of the family (habitus).

Althusser (1971) saw education as a form of control which strongly supports the capitalist society by providing an efficient and obedient workforce which will support the ideals of the ruling class, this is referred to as hegemony. Althusser saw education as socialising children into a false consciousness in which they accept the ruling class ideology and importantly accept their place in societies system, this is referred to as hegemonic control. Education therefore is just another ideological state apparatus, an institute which supports and spreads the ideals of the ruling class. Others being the family, religion and the media.

Bowles & Glintis (1976) argue, like Althusser, that the major role of education is to support the ruling class and the capitalist framework. Education according to Bowles and Glintis is way of conditioning a submissive, hard working labour force. They argue this is done through the hidden curriculum and through legitimising inequality and the class structure.

See the source imageThe hidden curriculum supports the ideals of the workplace for example dividing and honouring responsibilities supports the idea of respecting elders/managers. School rules encourage conformity, different streams and setting used in schools reinforces the idea of divides and place in society. Many of the procedural, work and rules within schools mirror that of the workforce so from an early age we learn what is expected and acceptable. So what we overtly see of the education system is not the full picture of the purpose of schools in society.

Bourdieu (1977) uses the word habitus to explain the how every class has its own set of ideas and framework. This framework contains what counts as good or bad taste, books and newspapers to read. For example one assumption is that working class read tabloid papers whereas the ruling class read the broadsheets. This socialisation is passed on through families, what they access to. This is referred to as cultural capital. Bourdieu argues that it is this cultural capital and habitus ideals that are reinforced in the education system and because the ruling class have the biggest influence in education it is their ideals that dominate education therefore giving their own an advantage, as they have access to this capital and understand it whereas the working class don’t have access so are therefore at a disadvantage in understanding the language of the education system therefore are forced into accepting their place and less than the ideal.

Illich (1985) argues that schools are repressive and encourage and reward conformity therefore forcing acceptance of inequality. Labelling and therefore determining children to fit into boxes that best suit them. It doesn’t allow for the individual, on this basis Illich would suggest deschooling as the only way to discourage this production line into expected jobs due to class.


It is worth noting however that the conflict theories lack detailed and empirical research to support their argument. It would be rather difficult to prove intent – that is that the hidden curriculum is purposeful and people are overtly aware what they are doing by confirming and supporting school systems such as streaming, hands up and assemblies. It assumes very much that pupils are passive and school is something that is done to them rather than the pupils influencing the system. This is a rather deterministic view and assumes people have no freewill. The conflict theories do not refer to subjects and the influence they may have on producing critical thinkers they look mainly at the overall school system which may not reflect the full picture and influence of the education system.

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Paul Willis adopts a Marxist, conflict, approach but also draws on the interactionist perspective. This means he sees the system as oppressive but recognises the individuals as having an impact on the system as well as just being systemed! This can be seen in our disobedient students – there are many that challenge the system and do not just passively go along with it. The following link takes you to a Prezi summarising Willis’s work –

In Year 2 Sociology we will look at comparison essays. These essays require us to evaluate, through comparison, the relevance and usefulness of the perspectives on our topics, in this case education. The table below summarises the similarities and differences between the two perspectives on education.

Similarities Differences
Functionalist Marxist Functionalist Marxist
Both see schools as schools legitimising social inequalities. Education serves industrial society Education serves capitalist society & reinforces the divide in classes
Both are Macro approaches Education serves society in socialising the next generation into societies rules and norms Education reinforces the ruling class ideology
Both see education as serving the needs of industrial and capitalist society. Hidden curriculum helps prepare students for the workplace and society (value consensus) Hidden curriculum persuades pupils to accept the ruling class ideology and accept inequalities.
Both see the influence on students that lead to conformity & acceptance of social values and rules(norms) Education gives access to social mobility Education reproduces the class system
They both place too much emphasis on school as a socialising tool
Apart from Willis they don’t consider the individual and the influence they have on the system
They both use terminology which indicates the role of education is provide an obedient and conforming workforce.

Key words/researchers

False consciousness     Ideological state apparatuses     Habitus     Cultural capital     Althusser (1971)     Bourdieu (1977)     Hegemony     Hegemonic control     Illich (1995)     Freir (1996)     Bowles & Gintis (1976)     Willis ( 1977)     Subculture     Anti-school     Counter school subculture     Sexism         

Vocational Education – human capital

Human capital refers to the knowledge & skills possessed by a workforce that increase increase that workforce’s value & usefulness to the employment market. This is were vocational education comes in, it is education aimed at young people, which concentrates on particular skills needed for employment. For example catering, retail, childcare and health practitioners to give just a few examples. The new right & functionalist view this as beneficial education that will boast the economy as it is providing skilled workers for a trade. However Marxists see vocational education as a second rate education. They see vocational education as aimed at the working class with the aim being to exploit & create an obedient workforce.

One of the main focuses of vocational education is to provide a skilled workforce who have basic skills & qualifications. However if you look at it from a political point of view you could argue it is simply a tool for reducing the unemployment figures. Especially since the introduction of education being compulsoryup to the age of 18.

A further focus with vocational education is remove the stigma of it being a second rate education. Employers need to see them as valuable qualifications regather then just an easy option compared with A-levels.

Ultimately what vocational education aims to do is to help us compete globally in the world economy. It means when we are compared with other countries we can show that a significant percentage of young people are educated to a high standard; we just have to convince employers & students that vocational education is valuable and well regarded.