Essay on Discuss the View That Parental Attitudes to Education May Vary Within and Across Class

Published: 2021/11/09
Number of words: 3137


This essay will disseminate the question above, by exploring a multitude of variables: race, class and educational attainment, whilst adopting a critical stance at all times. A comprehensive analysis of other factors intertwined with class will explain how parental attitudes to education may vary within and across class. Sustained criticality will be exuded throughout the essay to inform its composition and a myriad of theoretical perspectives will be consulted, in accordance with the requirements of this assignment. Various empirical literature sources will be scrutinised, including those which are directly related to this field of study (i.e. Irwin and Elley, 2011), whilst theoretical perspectives on the issue will also inform the structure and content of this essay. This essay will attempt to discern whether parent attitudes towards education is homogenous and uniform across all classes or if differences exist between them and the extent to which this can be assessed. It is sometimes unwise to make sweeping generalisations, due to the plethora of contradictory evidence that is in existence that applies to this broad and wide-ranging topic. This assignment will also tread carefully in terms of the sources that it examines, assessing their validity and only selecting contemporary and authoritative sources that are appropriate for inclusion in this essay. There may be a multitude of factors which influence children’s educational attainment: class is one of them (as already identified in this assignment), but culture, environmental and locational differences can also all play a part in dictating the educational attainment of children. These will be explored throughout the essay, in conjunction with the dominant issue of class, which is a recurrent theme explored throughout this assignment.

Emotional Support and Class

Class may not be the only variable in influencing educational attainment. Reay (2001) notes that emotional support is also very relevant in ascertaining the levels of educational attainment which children achieve. This seems to be a plausible supposition: it could be surmised that if children have access to a greater emotional support network in the home, then this can pay dividends in their educational attainment: their well-being is catered for, they have parents to assist them in homework tasks and other out-of-school activities and a support network they can draw on whenever they are experiencing emotional turbulence (a common theme through childhood). However, intertwining this with a discussion on the impact of class upon a child’s educational attainment, it seems a suitable argument to consider that class can impact on the level of emotional support a child receives. ONS (2012) report that the number of lone parent families in the UK is increasing (something which could perhaps be attributed to a deviation away from the traditional ‘nuclear’ family structure favoured by traditionalists), particularly in deprived areas, where the class of the inhabitants of the area is presumably lower. ONS (2012) also elaborate that 92 percent of families in the UK with lone parent families have the women as a solitary parent who is present, again making the distinction that there is a higher proportion of these families in deprived areas. There may be a stereotype which exists in society that the majority of single parent families are from impoverished areas, whilst this may be true to some degree; further evidence is needed to ratify this fact in full. Regardless of whether this is a valid point or not, the psychological impacts of the matter need to be heeded and their impact on a child’s educational attainment discussed.

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Bowlby (1958) notes that a child’s attachment to their mother is paramount, as they are the primary caregiver in their upbringing and there is a close bond between them. Furthermore, he enunciates that if this bond is broken, then this can cause significant distress to the child and cause ructions and disturbances in their emotional state. This point is valid to the discussion provided in this assignment, although it needs to be critically appraised to a certain extent. In a sense this seems not to be relevant to the point made above, due to the fact that the majority of single parent families are female. This seems to infer that children will not be emotionally deprived by living with their mothers as they are the primary caregivers in their life. However, the absence of a father could have derailing impacts on a child’s education. Unicef (2007) published a report on the well-being of children in ‘rich’ (economically developed) countries. They articulated that although many attributes were cited as being responsible for poor educational attainment, such as community, gender and economic environment, the prominent factor which had the greatest impact on well-being was the absence of the father. When a father was absent (or had limited contact with their offspring), then children were found to be more likely to truant, misbehave and achieve less in their education. Whilst this is an unsurprising finding, it does not seem to be given enough attention in literature and certainly applies to the discussion on class which this assignment is communicating. Supposing that the original point made earlier that single parent families tend to be more frequent in more deprived areas, it could be surmised that the absence of the father leads to poorer educational attainment in these areas, compared with their more affluent counterparts.

Applying this specifically to class, Francis and Perry (2010) verbalise that social class remains the strongest indicator of educational attainment. Expounding upon this further, Goodman and Gregg (2010) conducted an authoritative study on how class impacts upon educational attainment. They rationalised that children in more affluent areas achieved better than their disadvantaged counterparts due to factors such as: richness of the home environment, parents’ cognitive abilities and also the access to an infrastructure of education that they had. They also articulated that those from a poorer background were likelier to exist in a more volatile home environment, where parents were less likely to read to them at an early age (if children are read to from an early age, this is commonly cited as something which is conducive to both educational attainment and progressing into a mature and responsible citizen: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, 2012). However, the arguments communicated above do seem to be making sweeping statements and fail to delve deeper into the minutiae of what social class constitutes. Such a point has been briefly touched upon in this assignment, which infers that there are a myriad of other attributes which can affect educational attainment, which will subsequently be explored throughout the course of this essay.

Environment and Class

The environment which a child exists in can affect their educational attainment. Again, this seems to be something which is indicative of class, as it is noted that school quality is typically lower in disadvantaged areas than it is in more prosperous localities (Lupton, 2012). Again, like many of the facts unearthed in the course of completing this assignment, this is unsurprising as schools in disadvantaged areas may not have access to some of the facilities and resources that more privileged educational institutions may have, thus rendering the educational provision they provide to be inferior of schools in more advantaged parts. However, this again is too simplistic of an analysis and further variables need to be taken into account. Firstly, it is commonly documented in literature that aspirations of young people in disadvantaged areas tend to be lower than those who are brought up in more affluent surroundings, partially due to the stigmatisation that they may face because of where they live. Howarth (2002) cites the example of Brixton in his work. As it was well known as a place where rioting was present, as well as other anti-social behaviours, this led to a culture of low aspirations as the inhabitants of the area faced stereotyping and other such hurdles from mass media coverage. Howarth (2002) elaborates that this created a self-fulfilling prophecy, where pupils believed that there was no hope of them reaching their desired position in society and were therefore reluctant to attempt to rectify this by studying hard at school.

If this culture of underachievement became endemic, it may lead to pupils feeling apathy if they thought that their ambitions were not to be fulfilled, leading them to perceive their schoolwork negatively. They may lack intrinsic motivation to do well due to the fact that they see the environment around them as being one which they will struggle with for the rest of their lives and may feel trapped. However, it could be argued that they may gain extrinsic motivation from wanting to achieve well at school to escape the environment from which they live in, if they deem it to be anathema to their ambitions (Coon and Mitterer, 2010). This may take considerable maturity and insight from pupils, which it is questionable that they possess. Their views of schoolwork may also be clouded by their families and peers’ opinion of education and the value of it. In evaluating the poor educational attainment of white, working-class pupils, Parliament (2014) were vehement that family influences were a key determinant of this. They expounded that, as the majority of pupils spend their time outside of school (in the home environment or surrounded by friends), these will be the greatest influences on them. The report compiled by Parliament also noted that if family aspirations were low (as is common in working class areas), then this could lead to their children’s aspirations to be correspondingly low. Furthermore, it has widely been documented in literature of the influence of peers on children’s behaviour and educational attainment. Stretching as far back as to the 1980s, Bandura (1977) emanated that social interaction was conducive to learning and that the dialogues that children have with their peers is crucial to determining both their behaviour and their attitudes. Vygotsky (1978) also documents the clear relationship between social interactions and behaviour. However, the impact on pupils’ educational attainment has to be explicitly identified to put this point in context.

The impact of peers on educational learning has long been of interest in the literature and has formed the main basis of numerous educational debates. In a surprising take on matters, Harris (2009) communicated the controversial viewpoint that children are actually more influenced by their peers rather than by their parents. Given the amount of time which children spend with their peers, this seems like a reasonable assumption to make and Harris has received critical acclaim as both a researcher and author, which further validates such suppositions. Applying this to this assignment, it seems likely that educational attainment is indeed impacted by the influence of peers, in either a positive or negative light. It could be negative in deprived communities if gang cultures exist and there are numerous divisions and fractions in society. A lack of provision of services for young people and support for families may also result in disengagement of pupils from education. Loughborough University (2007) discovered that if pupils participated in an extra 2 hours of sport a week this could calm their behaviour and make them pay better attention in school. This could presumably offset the negative impacts that peers may have upon their behaviour. However, these points still need to be critically appraised. Peers are not the sole influence on educational attainment, and neither is class.

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The Cabinet Office (2008) identified ethnicity as another contributory factor towards educational attainment, citing the weakness of achievement in working class, white boys as a case in point (a sentiment which was also echoed by Parliament (2014), which was previously mentioned in this report). They also recognised the influence of community and culture on a child’s development, however they saw it in a more positive light. They unearthed that the Black Minority Ethnic (BME) Groups are likely to have high aspirations, regardless of the economic environment which they are situated in. This is quite an interesting finding as it exhibits the point that the indigenous population is affected by the economic environment that they are situated in, whereas the surrounding environment seems to have less of an effect on ethnic minorities, hinting that their culture is more of a fixed entity, whereas the White British culture is more malleable and affected by variables such as social class, environment and the level of affluence that they reside in. Certainly, this can lead to higher educational attainment in these cultures as they value the nature of education and everything which pertains to it. This point is reaffirmed by the findings of the Institute of Education (2014) which concluded that Asian pupils score much higher on PISA tests than their British counterparts. Critically expanding on this, efforts have been made to improve the attainment of pupils in the UK (particularly those whom are White British) and reduce the discrepancy between them and other ethnic groups and between more and less affluent pupils. Academies have commonly been cited as a method of reducing the attainment gap between ‘’disadvantaged’ and ‘advantaged’ pupils with the tailored and personalised curriculum they supposedly provide, although some studies (National Audit Office, 2010) they were actually seen to increase the gap between pupils dependent on the income.


Class undoubtedly has a clear impact on the educational attainment of pupils and the attitudes which parents exude towards education. The supposition that there is a positive correlation between the educational attainment of pupils and the income of their family seems hard to ignore. This therefore illustrates the clear relationship between class and educational attainment. However, the point should be made that there may be many things which affect educational attainment including the environment which pupils exist in (although this can be indicative of class), their ethnicity, their parents’ experiences of education (as these can be transferred to their children, in a positive or negative manner) and even the age of the pupils. Evaluating the determinants of educational attainment is a complex and challenging task, as class is not the only variable which will impact upon a child’s educational attainment. It is seemingly a surface level appraisal of matters which implies that class is the predominant factor upon educational attainment. To fully evaluate the question of the essay, one must go further than the statement and delve deeper into the intricacies which class consists of: such as parental attitudes and involvement in their child’s education, the environment that they live in and the personality of the child themselves. However, all of the variables above are affected by class, which shows that it is in an endemic theme in determining educational attainment, an indisputable and irrefutable fact. Ultimately, it could be conjectured that parental attitudes towards education mainly vary across class in that those of a higher class may value the importance of education more than those of a lower class and less affluent position in society. However, parental attitudes towards education do vary within class to some degree, as they are impacted by factors such as parental experiences of education, ethnicity of families and the culture that they live in. However, it seems undeniable that class is the main factor which impacts on educational attainment


Bandura, A. (1977) Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Bowlby, J. (1958) ‘The nature of the child’s tie to his mother.’ International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371.

The Cabinet Office (2008) Aspiration and Attainment amongst young people in deprived areas. Analysis and discussion paper. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

Centre for Longitudinal Studies (2012) 1970 British Cohort Study. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

Coon, D. and Mitterer, J. O. (2010) Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior with concept maps. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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Francis, B. and Perry, E. (2010) The Social Class Gap for Educational Achievement: A review of the literature. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

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Loughborough University (2007) Evaluation of the School Sport Partnership Programme. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

Lupton, R. (2012) Schools in Disadvantaged Areas: Recognising Context and Raising Quality. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

Office For National Statistics (2012) Lone Parents with Dependent Children. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

Parliament (2014) Underachievement in Education by White Working Class Pupils. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

Reay, D. (2000) ‘A useful extension of Bourdieu’s Conceptual Framework?’, Sociological Review, 52: 57- 74.

UNICEF (2007) Child Well-being in rich countries: A comparative overview. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 09 April 2015).

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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