Formal and informal education

You need to distinguish between formal and informal education.

Formal education Informal education
What students are taught from the syllabus. Consists of the norms and values acquired from the school environment, such as doing what you are told and acceptance of a hierarchy. Sociologists often call informal education the “hidden curriculum”

You must state and explain the role and purpose of schools. There are two main theoretical explanations to consider;

    • Functionalists argue that schools socialise children into the norms and values of wider society. This enables children to play a useful role within society when they leave school.
    • Marxists believe that schools merely reinforce class distinctions, which enables the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat in a capitalist society. Schools encourage children of the proletariat to accept a passive role within society, taking instructions from (mostly middle-class) teachers.

Whatever your view on education, it is clear that schools are one of the most important agents of secondary socialisation. Peer groups and teachers have a major impact upon the socialisation of schoolchildren. In the case of the former, such groups exert “peer pressure” which influence students to conform to various norms and values. These values often take the form of a subculture within a school. For example, one of the reasons why boys under-perform at school is due to “lad culture” – where it is considered cool to act in a boisterous manner. Boys can sometimes form a subculture which turns the wider norms and values of school on their head.

You also need to know something about the impact of labelling. Teachers often label students in terms of either good or bad, which can result in a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. This occurs in two ways;

  • Students labelled as ‘good’ often perform well at school. They tend to respond well to the high expectations of teachers
  • Students labelled as ‘bad’ may think they have little hope of being seen in a good way. As such, they rebel against the culture of the school and behave in a rude and disruptive manner.

There are various factors that might influence labels, such as ethnicity and social class. For example the sociologist Albert Cohen identified “status frustration” amongst working-class boys. This occurs when boys wish to gain the approval of their friends, rather than the approval of their teachers.

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