Asses the Functionalist view that ‘education works by bringing people together’ - Casey-Rae Kingsland


Casey-rae Kingsland is a student at Sussex Downs College studying Sociology, Psychology and English Lang&Lit.

Introduction to Functionalism

Education has many stages; these include Pre School, Primary education, Secondary education, Further education and Higher education. Functionalists believe that education provides unity and togetherness and has a positive impact on society. They also believe that education prepares people for the work environment in later life and teaches important skills.

Functionalists such as Parsons and Durkheim believe that education has a positive impact on society and provides a sense of solidarity that allows the students to form vital friendship groups. As the item says, education provides solidarity, unity and togetherness allowing society to have a bond of consensus. They also believe that the school environment is a microcosm (small version) of the adult occupational world and therefore prepare students for their future. It does this by providing children with the skills required by employers and also prepares them with norms and values to operate outside of the family. They suggest that there are two types of skills learnt during education: national curriculum and hidden curriculum. National curriculum is the legal requirements that must be done such as English, Maths and Science, homework, tutor etc. However, Functionalists say that is the skills learnt from the hidden curriculum that prepares children for adult life. The hidden curriculum is the skills that are informally leant, these skills include: patience, authority, punctuality, organisation and creativity.

Furthermore, a Functionalist named Parsons came up with the idea of role allocation. This is where young people are sifted and sorted in terms of their talents and abilities and then allocated a particular role in society. An example of this would be those with academic talents being pushed towards jobs such as doctors, nurses and lawyers. Role allocation is evident in schools through the use of setting and streaming within classes. This is where students are put into different groups/sets based on their abilities; there are usually upper band classes, middle band classes and lower band classes.

The idea of role allocation also links with Davis and Moore’s idea of meritocracy. This is where rewards gained are proportional to the amount of effort put in. This suggests that someone who puts in lots of effort into education such as revising and getting homework done will be rewarded by gaining a good job. It also suggests that those who put minimal amounts of effort into their education will only receive the lowest jobs in society. This is also known as stratification.

Moreover, as the item says, Functionalists believe education is a key component in the construction of society, they also believe that it is one of the most important institutions and plays a major role during secondary socialisation. They also believe that without education, society would not be able to continue functioning. This links to the idea of the ‘human body analogy’ which suggests that society is like a living organism, the institutions are like organs in a body and must work together in order to function.
Functionalist sociologists also say that due to everyone going through the process of education it provides a common ground for people and provides a sense of solidarity based on shared experiences.

On the other hand, there have been many criticisms made about the Functionalist view on education. People have made criticisms such as the theory assumes that all pupils start at the same level whereas, in reality, everyone starts at different stages. Also there is evidence that certain groups underachieve in school such as the working class and ethnic minority groups. This therefore suggests that pupils do not have an equal opportunity and that their talents have not been effectively recognised. It also suggests that the system of role allocation is not very efficient. Another main criticism is that certain subjects within schools only reflect a white middle class view, this mainly occurs in history. This may discourage social solidarity and many ethnic minority groups are now demanding that history teaching includes their history and historical viewpoint. This has been put into effect in the USA as African-American history is now part of the curriculum.

Other sociologists such as Marxists criticise the Functionalist view as they believe that it focuses only on the positives in education and ignores the negative factors. As the item says, they believe that education actually causes a divide in society rather than bringing people together. Marxists such as Bowles and Gintis criticise the Functionalist view by saying that there is a link between the unfairness in schools and the unfairness of power in the workplace; this is known as the correspondence theory. They say that schools are based on hierarchy and contain layers of authority. Pupils have to obey teachers and are expected to follow orders leaving the pupils little control; this corresponds with the lack of control in the workplace in later life. Also they say that school rewards punctuality, obedience and hard work yet discourages creativity and independence. Once again this closely relates to the type of people employers look for. Therefore Bowles and Gintis believe that education does not bring people together but causes a divide due to hierarchies.

They also reject the idea of role allocation as they found that the students with high grades tend to be harder working, obedient and conforming rather than creative, original and independent. These characteristics are rewarded with high grades as they are the qualities that are needed for a disciplined workforce that will obey orders from the ruling class.

Moreover they say that the upper classes can get the best education due to their higher position in society. The upper classes have more money which enables them to afford better education such as private schooling; they can also afford private tutors. Furthermore, the upper classes have a set of personal contacts known as the ‘old boys network’ which allows them to get in touch with others (such as head teachers) who can provide them with better education for their children.

Another Marxists called Bourdieu criticises the Functionalist view by saying that not all the pupils have an equal opportunity. He believes that the more upper class values and mannerisms a person has (their ‘cultural capital’) the better they are treated and viewed within education. This creates a divide in education as those who are seen to be upper class are treated better than the working classes and therefore receive a poorer standard of education. This creates unfairness as ‘cultural capital’ works in favour of the upper classes and against the working classes.

Marxists also criticise the idea of meritocracy as they believe that not everyone who puts minimal amounts of effort in will only achieve a low paying job. There are many examples where people who have achieved low grades at GCSE and A level but have gone on to be very successful, these examples include people like Alan Sugar and Simon Cowell.

Feminists also believe that education causes a divide in society. They believe that education benefits males more as society is patriarchal. Feminists such as Oakley believe that education benefits males more because it is a patriarchal organisation. She believes that there is a hierarchy within education which is male dominated at the top. This teaches pupils that males receive the highest jobs and females do not. Another Feminist called Sharpe believes that females often prioritise family over education so this impacts their learning. This is through years of society promoting that women should stay at home and care for their children and should not necessarily educate themselves. It also promotes the idea of the male ‘bread winner’ which suggests that men should have the job and provide an income for their family.

Feminists also believe that most educational textbooks are designed for male pupils. Kelly believes that textbooks often contain images of cars and football throughout. Stanworth also said that teachers are more likely to give their time and attention to male pupils. This creates a divide as females are left out in the classroom and could receive a poorer standard of education. She also said that girls often underestimate their ability and lack confidence in themselves.

In conclusion, Functionalists believe that education brings people together and provides a sense of solidarity and consensus. It also establishes certain skills needed for the future in the workplace and has a positive impact on society. However, Marxists and Feminists criticise this by saying education doesn’t bring people together yet causes a divide due to unfairness of social class and society being patriarchal. They also say that the Functionalist view ignores the negative impacts that education has on society and only focuses on the positives.


Emile Durkheim


Alan Sugar - Working class success