ED7a - Pupil Identities
Let us now shift our focus towards examining the ways in which schools influence the formation of pupil identities. Pupil identities refer to how students perceive themselves as learners, which can impact their self-concept throughout their lives. For instance, a student who is placed in a low maths set may view themselves as incapable of excelling in mathematics, a belief that may persist into adulthood. This phenomenon is not unique to maths but can be observed across subjects.
The notion of pupil identities, particularly in subcultures, aligns with Cooley's concept of the looking glass self, which posits that individuals construct their sense of self based on how they believe others perceive them. Within the context of education, pupils' identity formation is shaped by labels that are attributed to them, such as being a high achiever or a low achiever, which can influence their beliefs about their abilities.
We will now explore the mechanisms and factors that operate within schools to shape pupil identities. The first concept to consider is symbolic capital, which pertains to an individual's status, recognition, and sense of worth as attributed by others. Symbolic capital is interconnected with Cooley's looking glass self, in that it is primarily regulated by peer groups. In school, peer groups can reinforce gender-appropriate behaviour and punish deviations from gender norms. Louise Archer's research highlights how working-class girls may acquire symbolic capital by conforming to a hyper-heterosexualised feminine identity, which emphasizes physical appearance and socializing with boys over academic pursuits. Such behaviour can result in conflict with schools, which view a preoccupation with appearance as a distraction from learning. Girls who seek to gain symbolic capital may flout school rules on dress and grooming, which can lead to negative labels, such as being seen as incapable of academic success. Archer characterizes this process as othering, which involves marginalizing certain individuals based on their perceived inability to conform to school expectations.
Symbolic violence is a concept introduced by Bourdieu. It refers to the way in which certain groups maintain an advantage over others, not through physical force but through the power to make others feel inferior. The higher status group possesses symbolic capital, which is derived from the labels they wear and the cultural values they embody. This advantage is particularly evident within the education system, which is dominated by the middle class and therefore seen as culturally superior. As a result, subcultures such as the working class, hypersexualized feminine, and anti-school subcultures are viewed as inferior and incapable of achieving success in education. This can create a sense of hopelessness and a belief that academic achievement is not possible.
Diane Reay has also explored the role of the school environment in perpetuating these inequalities. Specifically, she has examined how the public image of schools, as portrayed in marketing materials and other forms of publicity, can discourage working-class students from attending high-achieving schools. These students may feel unworthy of attending such schools and instead see themselves as only capable of attending poor-quality schools. This perception can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which students believe that they are bad students simply because they attend a bad school.
In examining the curriculum, it is necessary to also consider the concept of ethnocentrism. This refers to a curriculum that places emphasis on a specific culture or ethnic group. In the context of the United Kingdom, the ethnocentric curriculum primarily focuses on British history and culture, thereby reinforcing it. Ball referred to this as "little Englandism," which leads to feelings of rejection by ethnic minority groups who do not feel represented in the education system. The school calendar and the meals provided also reflect British cultural norms, and uniforms often do not accommodate cultural variations such as hijabs or longer skirts. This type of ethnocentric curriculum conveys to ethnic minority students that they are unworthy of education, and that their inability to relate to the curriculum is due to their supposed lack of intelligence, rather than cultural differences. It is important to note that while such generalizations are made, change is occurring. Nonetheless, an ethnocentric curriculum may result in students feeling inferior due to their inability to connect with the material taught.
Subject choice at GCSE and A level can serve to reinforce gender stereotypes and identities. This phenomenon is evidenced by the tendency of girls to select more expressive subjects such as English, drama, music, and sociology, while boys tend to favor more instrumental subjects, such as computer science, technology, law, history, and politics, which are viewed as more practical and masculine. The association of certain subjects with gender can reinforce narrow notions of what it means to be masculine or feminine, which may impact how students perceive themselves and their potential. However, contemporary efforts to promote gender-neutral approaches to subject selection have emerged, such as the GIST (Girls in Science and Technology) and WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) initiatives aimed at encouraging girls to pursue science and technology. Furthermore, examples of successful individuals in various fields, such as actors, musicians, hairdressers, and chefs, are promoting the idea that boys and men can excel in traditionally "feminine" subjects.
The wearing of uniforms is closely linked to the construction and reinforcement of gender identity, whereby standards of dress are utilized as a means of shaping such identity. The Boys Uniform Code stipulates a straightforward dress code consisting of a tie, shirt, jacket, smart suit trousers, and appropriate footwear. In contrast, girls are offered a greater degree of choice; however, their dress is heavily regulated with strict guidelines governing skirt length, neckline, and the type of sleeves that can be worn. The policing of these standards is reflective of a societal expectation of what it means to be female or feminine, and what it means to be male or masculine. Failure to conform to these dress standards often results in punitive measures. Symbolic violence is at play, whereby failure to adhere to the highest standards of dress results in a sense of inferiority and subordination. Girls are particularly susceptible to this type of violence, whereby failure to conform to dress codes results in social censure and punishment. Such processes are reflective of the ways in which society enforces gendered norms and perpetuates gender inequality.
subcultures play a significant role in shaping a student's identity. The anti-school and pro-school subcultures, in particular, have been observed to impact how students perceive their worth and how they gain symbolic capital. Sociologists Fuller and Willis have delved into the connection between subcultures and symbolic capital, which influences a student's status among their peers and within their school. Furthermore, labelling can have both positive and negative effects on a student's self-esteem and self-image. If a student is labelled negatively, they may believe that academic success is beyond their capabilities, while a positive label may encourage them to strive for academic excellence.
In the field of sociology, the discourse surrounding pupil identities and subcultures highlights the significant impact of school processes and roles on student behaviour and attitudes. Examples of these factors include the school uniform, hidden curriculum, labelling and groupings, which may influence the formation of Pro and anti school subcultures. Furthermore, the aforementioned elements play a critical role in shaping a student's self-perception as a learner. As a consequence, students may identify themselves as academic achievers, pro school individuals, underachievers, or view school as a waste of time. It is essential to understand these complex dynamics when discussing the construction of pupil identities and subcultures in a school setting.