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Melissa Braithwaite

Assess the view that working class children under achieve

because they are culturally deprived.
Cultural deprivation theorists argue that most of us are taught the
attitudes and skills needed for educational success during primary
socialisation. However, there are a percentage of students who do
not have cultural capital, and are therefore deprived of what is
needed to be successful at school this percentage, according to
cultural deprivation theorists, are the working-class.
There are three main aspects of cultural deprivation: intellectual
development, language, and attitudes and values. Cultural
deprivation theorists argue that intellectual development plays a big
part in the educational failure of the lower classes, because of cost
constraints working-class parents are less likely to buy educational
toys, which would in turn stimulate their childs mind, and help with
intellectual development. This stimulation of the mind is vital for
when a child begins their educational journey, as many middle-class
mothers would say.
J.W.B Douglas found that working-class children tend to score less on
tests of ability than middle-class students because working-class
parents are less likely to support their childs intellectual
development even by simply reading to them. Bernstein and
Young also found that middle-class mothers are more likely to buy
toys, which encourage thinking and reasoning skills that are
needed for educational success.
However, although intellectual development may seem like a major
aspect of an individuals life, which could affect their educational
achievement, it is more likely to affect the start of the educational
journey rather than the entire experience - school can teach and
encourage the skills the child needs.
One other aspect of a childs primary socialization, which is said to
cause an individual to under-achieve, is language. Bernstein
identifies the differences between the languages used by the
working-class the working-class use the restricted speech code,
whilst the middle-class uses the elaborated speech code.
The restricted speech code consists of limited vocabulary and short,
often unfinished, simple sentences. When using this speech code,
the speaker assumes the listener shares the same set of
experiences, so they tend to be more descriptive rather than
However, the middle class use the speech code, which is used in
schools a speech code, which consists of wider vocabulary and
longer, more complex, sentences. In contrast to the working-class,

Melissa Braithwaite
by using the elaborated speech code, the speaker does not assume
that the listener shares the same set of experiences; therefore, they
are more analytic and mention little yet significant details to
allow the listener to clearly imagine the event being described.
Language is an important factor determining the educational
success, or under-achievement, of an individual.
The middle class is at a higher advantage because they tend to
speak the way teachers do, and the textbooks and exams are
written in. Rather than feeling inferior at school being introduced to
an entirely new way of speaking, the middle class feel at home. This
sense of comfort makes it more likely for them to be successful in
However, despite recognizing these differences, Bernstein is critical
of cultural deprivation theorists they believe that it is the home
which influences childrens achievement, when the school can also
be important as it can teach the students how to speak the
elaborated speech code. Schools failure to do so puts the workingclass at a disadvantage, and produces educational inequality
amongst the working-class and the middle-class pupils.
As well as the inadequate primary socialisation cultural deprivation
theorists say working-class parents give their children, the attitudes
and values of the parents can also influence the educational underachievement of the working-class. For example, Douglas found that
working-class parents place little value on education, and are not as
ambitious for their children as middle-class parents. He also found
that working-class parents were frequently absent from parents
evenings, and were unlikely to discuss their childs progress with
teachers. Similarly, Feinstein found that working class parents
lacked interest in their childs education, and this de-motivated the
child. He found that middle-class children were more successful
because their parents provide them with the necessary motivation,
discipline and support.
Cultural deprivation theorists argue that lack of parental interest in
their childrens education reflects the sub-cultural values of the
working class. Hyman agrees with this he argues that the values
and beliefs of working class are a self imposed barrier to
educational and career success; therefore, the lower class believe
that they have less opportunity to be successful, so they see no
point in education.
Barry Sugarman argues that working class sub-culture has four key
features that act as a barrier to educational achievement: fatalism,
collectivism, immediate gratification, and present-time orientation.
Fatalism is the belief in fate that whatever will be, will be and
there is nothing you can do to change your status.

Melissa Braithwaite

On the other hand, the middle class emphasise that you can
change your position through your own efforts. Collectivism is
valuing being part of a group rather than succeeding as an
individual. The middle class are higher achievers because they
believe that an individual should not be held back by group loyalties
(group loyalties can bring distractions and cause educational
Immediate gratification refers to seeking pleasure now, rather than
making sacrifices for the future. The middle class make sacrifices
now so that they can embrace their rewards in the future. Presenttime orientation is when the working-class see the present as more
important than the future, and therefore do not make any long-term
goals. The middle-class find themselves in a better position rejecting
this view they tend to succeed at school because they make plans
for the future, giving them something to work towards, rather than
having the same frame of mind as the working-class pupils, that
education has nothing to offer them.
However, to overcome cultural deprivation, the social policy of
compensatory education has been introduced, meaning extra
resources are provided to schools and communities in deprived
areas. They help to intervene early in the socialisation process to
compensate children for the deprivation they are experiencing at
home. An example of a programme set up to tackle the issue of
cultural deprivation is Operation Head Start in the USA, which
includes Sesame Street. The aim of it is to reach young children, and
provide them with the values and attitudes needed for educational
In conclusion, we can see that programmes like Operation Head
Start show that cultural deprivation can be overcome, and does not
have to be something which holds back a working-class individual
from being successful in education. Cultural deprivation, in
comparison to material deprivation, could be said to have a small
effect on childrens educational achievement, even if it does have
an effect. Both of these aspects of a childs life (material and
cultural deprivation) could lead to their under-achievement. In other
words, there can be more than one factor affecting an individuals
life, which leads to under-achievement in education. In a sense, this
is evident in cultural deprivation, because a working-class student
who speaks the elaborated speech code may have parents who put
little value on education, and do not support their child leading to
their under-achievement.