Educational inequality is the difference that students experience in their education compared to other students. Educational success is measured based on grades, test scores, drop-out rates, college entrance numbers and college completion rates  . In Britain there is increasing concern regarding the fairness of schools and the levels of inequality. A number of studies show that class, race and gender are crucial factors in determining how British pupils succeed at both school and after. Boys are behind girls in 11 out of 13 different learning categories by the young age of 5, black pupils who are from a Caribbean descent are at least three times more likely to be excluded, children from the poorest families are over half as likely to achieve good GCSE grades and four out of five young people who have special needs are being bullied  .
In terms of gender, it is apparent that boys are the “underachievers”, this has been a key topic in education for a number of years. This starts from a young age as shown in reports that show by the age of 5 53% of boys compared to 72% of girls reached the expected level in writing, followed by boys being less likely to achieve a 2:1 or a first at university with a large number failing to go to university. There are three main explanations for the underachievement of boys. Changing masculinities as boys have poorer verbal reasoning skills, mature later and parents do not talk to them as much as their sisters etc. The teacher and classroom, with criticisms that female teachers impose female values on pupils, spending less time with boys compared to girls and boys being seen to bring another agenda into the classroom by being jokers and risk-takers being noisy becoming the focus of classroom activity. The third reason being assessment and the school curriculum, for example the dominance of literacy-based exams as this can be seen as a highly gendered activity as girls are keener readers who are more likely to be “devoted” to their books  .
As far as class is concerned, although the class gap has narrowed a large gulf still exists. Bourdieu (1973) argued that the system of structural reproduction is a cause of class inequalities. He argues that the education system is biased towards those of the higher classes through the “hidden curriculum”, this includes values, attitudes and language which n individual gains through the curricular subjects and the aspects of school life that all contribute to that persons socialisation through their education process  . An individual’s ability to acquire the right language, values, attitudes and qualities through their socialisation will determine their success or failure in the education, this is advantageous towards those of the higher classes as subsequently this will lead to them enjoying a higher culture capital such as better pay and/or social status in their adult life. It can also be argued that both the 11 plus tests and IQ tests are middle class biased with their content through the use of middle class cultural references as well as their language and vocabulary, putting individuals of the middle class and upper class at an advantage compared to those of a lower class.
Another cause for concern is the inequalities associated with race and ethnicity with people from certain ethnic minorities still underperforming in school compared to those from majority populations. At 16 years-old both Asian and white young people seem to perform at a similar level however African Caribbean’s especially males are significantly underperforming. However, those from an Indian origin slightly outperform those from a White ethnicity whilst Bangladeshis are much less likely to achieve a good standard of qualification  . In terms of attainment it has been shown that compared to those of the white population, Indians tend to have a much higher level of attainment whilst blacks and Bangladeshis were significantly worse  . Studies have also shown that people from particular minority groups are more likely to be suspended from school or permanently excluded due to bad behaviour. African Americans were seen to be the majority of people who are excluded  .
It is clear that there are inequalities in education, which in the long-term will put individuals of the groups that are affected by these at a disadvantage in the future. In terms of gender it is clear that boys are at a disadvantage from an early age, this will inevitably affect their success in the future starting with getting into good schools after the 11 plus, through to higher education and employment. However although boys are clearly the victims of this inequality, girls are also at a disadvantage, especially those from the working class. Girls’ scores for the 11 plus examination are adjusted down as they are outperforming boys’ achievement. This means that thousands of girls who did pass the 11 plus should have gained a place at grammar schools but were prevented from doing this because of downgrading. The reason behind this downgrading was because of the fear that all schools would be filled with far more girls’ than boys’  . Those of different cultural backgrounds are also at a disadvantage with varying performances for each ethnicity and a large difference in numbers of those who suffer suspension or exclusion. However it can be argued that different ethnicities have a different working culture which results in a different approach towards work and school, as demonstrated in the difference in attendance statistics. Class is one of the main focuses when looking at the problem of inequality in education. Bourdieu argues that social and cultural inequalities are caused by cultural reproduction and then through the education system. Working-class children are disadvantaged through access to education, the nature of the school knowledge, through the tests and the cultural contents. The language, cultural references and values of the middle-class are favoured in the education system and the culture of schools.
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