ED9 - Class And Educational Achievement

We will be discussing how class affects educational achievement. Specifically, we will look at external factors that relate to education and class, and how they impact trends in education. As we've mentioned before, middle-class students generally do better in school than working-class students. We will explore why this is the case by analysing sociological theories and studies.


The concept of social class is a complex and multifaceted one, posing challenges for its quantification and use in research. Traditionally, social class has been characterized using terms such as working class, middle class, and upper class, based on measures of wealth, occupation, and education. However, these measures have limitations as they do not necessarily reflect an individual's complete socio-economic status. For instance, one may have a high level of education but a low income, or vice versa. Additionally, one may have a significant amount of asset wealth but little liquid cash. Consequently, the traditional class system can be difficult to navigate, leaving some individuals unsure of their place within it.

To address these limitations, the British Social Attitudes Survey introduced a new classification system in 2007 called the "plastic pluses." This system identifies seven distinct classes: the precariat, emergent service workers, traditional working class, new affluent workers, technical middle class, established middle class, and the elite. The classification is based on measures of economic capital, social capital, and cultural capital. Economic capital includes factors such as income, savings, assets, and homeownership, while social capital considers an individual's network of social relationships and status. Finally, cultural capital looks at an individual's interests and hobbies, including both mass and high culture pursuits.

Although sociologists use the term social class, when examining educational achievement, what they are actually referring to is the advantaged versus the disadvantaged. Disadvantaged students include those who qualify for free school meals, children in care, previously looked after children, and children with parents in the armed services. While these students may not necessarily be economically disadvantaged, their circumstances may impact their educational achievement. In essence, when sociologists talk about working class, what they are really referring to is those who are classified as disadvantaged versus those who are not.




One approach used in sociology to measure advantages and disadvantages is the examination of free school meals and pupil premium. However, this raises the question of whether it is the most effective approach. Some sociologists argue that it provides a standardized measure across different populations, which ensures equal treatment. The eligibility for free school meals is determined by the household income, which should be below £16,000 per year. This criterion is applied uniformly across the country, irrespective of ethnicity, state status, or geographical location. By utilizing such a standardized criterion, sociologists can compare and analyse the data consistently.

However, this approach is criticized for being reductionist as it does not account for the reasons why certain individuals are eligible for free school meals. For instance, individuals who are asset-rich, but cash-poor may be eligible for free school meals, or those who are eligible may choose not to take them. Despite their particular circumstances, they are still considered disadvantaged. Therefore, this approach simplifies the complex class system by reducing it to a single criterion to determine one's social status.