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December 27, 2008 / C H Thompson

Factors inside school (the interactionist perspective) and attainment

exam-resultsThe previous sections you’ve looked at have focused on material and cultural factors (factors outside school) affecting a child’s ability to get 5 good GCSEs at school. Now we’re going to examine factors inside school which affect at child’s ability to get 5 good GCSEs.

This perspective is known as an interactionist perspective, because the sociologists who conducted this research used the principles of symbolic interactionism (social theory) along with interpretivist research methods to create their findings. These methods include, observations (covert and overt); open-ended interviews; open-ended questionnaires.

Schools have been the subject of much continuing controversy about their purposes, responsibilities and effects on young people. It has been estimated that young people spend close to half their waking hours in school and inevitably their experience of school has the potential for positive and negative impact on later life.

So do schools make a difference?

Major early research raised doubts about whether education even made a difference. It was argued that the differences found between schools academic achievements were due to differences in the social class, family and other social conditions of the students (that is material and cultural factors we’ve just been looking at).

In a landmark study in 1979, Michael Rutter conducted research in a selection of comprehensive schools schoolbus-bigtitled Fifteen Thousand Hours – Secondary Schools and their Effects on Children identified substantial differences between secondary schools in a range of student academic and behavioural outcomes. He found the better the school the better a child’s level of attainment irrespective of cultural and material factors. His findings are summarised as follows Rutter’s research

As we can see the better the school environment, the better the chances of a child doing well. Recent ressearch has shown the effect of social-class on attainment at school is as important as ever. Read here.  Other research suggests that that what goes on in the classroom has a major impact on a child doing well at school to the extent they are more important than the immediate effects of material and cultural factors mentioned earlier.

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