Ethnicity And Education Sociology Essay Ideas

Assess the extent to which home based, rather than school – based factors account for social class based differences in educational achievement (20)

Focusing on home background initially, we can look at how material and cultural factors might affect a child’s education.

The lower classes are more likely to suffer from material deprivation at home which can hold children back in education because of a lack access to resources such as computers, or living in a smaller house means they would be less likely to have a quiet, personal study space. In extreme situations, children may have a worse diet and a colder house, which could mean illness and time off school. According to Gibson and Asthana, the effects of material deprivation are cumulative, creating a cycle of deprivation. This would suggest that home background influences a child’s education.

Also, the amount of money one has and the type of area one lives in affects the type of school a child can get to. Richer parents have more choice of school because they are more likely to have two cars or be able to afford public transport to get their children to a wider range of schools. Also, house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools can be up to 20% higher than similar houses in other areas – richer parents are more able to afford to move to these better schools. At the other end of the social class spectrum, those going to school in the most deprived areas may suffer disruptions in school due to gang related violence. All of this suggests that location, which is clearly part of your ‘home background’ in the broader sense of the word, is a major factor in educational achievement.

Cultural deprivation also has a negative effect on children at home. Bernstein pointed out that working class children are more likely to be socialised into the restricted speech code and so are less able to understand teachers at school compared to their middle class peers who speak in the elaborated speech code. The classes are also taught the value of immediate rather than deferred gratification, and so are less likely to see the value of higher education. In these theories, home background influences children all the way through school.

Although the concept of cultural deprivation is decasdes old, more recent research suggests it is still of relevance. Fenstein’s (2003) research found that lower income is strongly correlated with a lack of ability to communicate, while research by Conor et al (2001) found that being socialised into poverty means working class students are less likely to want to go to university than middle class students because they are more ‘debt conscious’.

Cultural Capital Theory also suggests that home background matters to an extent – this theory argues that middle class parents have the skills to research the best schools and the ability to help children with homework – and to intervene in schools if a child falls behind (as Diana’s research into the role of mothers in primary school education suggested). However, cultural capital only advantages a child because it gets them into a good school –suggesting that it is the school that matters at least as much as home background. There wouldn’t be such a fuss over, and such competition between parents over schools if the school a child went to didn’t have a major impact on a child’s education!

In fact, one could argue that probably the most significant advantage a parent can give to their child is getting them into a private school. To take an extreme case, Sunningdale preparatory school in Berkshire costs £16000/ year – a boarding school which confers enormous advantage on these children and provides personalised access via private trips to elite secondary schools Eton and Harrow. In such examples, it is not really home background that is advantaging such children – it is simply access to wealth that allows some parents to get their children into these elite boarding schools and the schools that then ‘hothouse’ their children through a ‘high ethos of expectation’ smaller class sizes and superb resources.

Similarly, the case of Mossborn Academy and Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius programme show that schools can overcome disadvantage at home – if they provide strict discipline and high expectation.

Although all of the above are just case studies and thus of limited use in generating a universal theory of what the ‘major cause’ of differences in educational achievement by social class might be, many similar studies have suggested that schools in poorer areas have a lower ethos of expectation (from Willis’ classic 1977 research on the lads to Swain’s research in 2006). It is thus reasonable to hypothesis that the type of school and in school factors such as teacher labelling and peer groups might work to disadvantage the lower classes as Becker’s theory of the ideal pupil being middle class and Willis’ work on working class counter school cultures would suggest, although in this later case, Willis argues that the lads brought with them an anti-educational working class masculinity, so home factors still matter here.

Finally – Social Capital theory also suggests that home background is not the only factor influencing a child’s education – rather it is the contacts parents have with schools – and later on schools with universities and business – that are crucial to getting children a good education, and making that education translate into a good job.

So is it home background or school factors that matter? The research above suggests home background does have a role to play, however, you certainly cannot disregard in school factors in explaining class differences in educational achievement either – in my final analysis, I would have to say that the two work together – middle class advantage at home translating into better schooling, and vice versa for the working classes.

If you like this sort of thing – then you might like my series of five mind maps summarising the topic of differential educational achievement by social class. They are real perty.

Related Posts

The Effects of Material Deprivation on Education

The Effects of Cultural Deprivation on Education

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"Race", Ethnicity and Educational Achievement


[Click on the Education Link above for related information including some PowerPoint Presentations]

Page last edited: 28/02/2018 

  This document begins with quite a long discussion of the concepts of "Race" and Ethnicity followed by  data on patterns of ethnic educational achievement and an essay on Ethnicity and Educational Achievement. However students may  if they wish proceed directly tothe essay on Ethnicity and Educational Attainmentwhich is approximately 6 pages in length and can be used as a "stand alone" section. They may then refer back to the earlier materials for reference purposes as required Within the data section you may   click here for a brief exercise based upon the latest GCSE data .


I have been updating this document at intervals for the last 5 or 6 years and in this revised version I have  updated my sources of  data on ethnicity and educational achievement and added more information on educational achievement and the white working class .

In 2015 the Runnymede Trust published Race, Education and Inequality in Contemporary Britain. This report contains several concise but technical articles which teachers might like to recommend to their teachers for further reading. New link added February 2018

I am very conscious that I have not included information in this document on education policy and patterns of ethnic educational attainment and apologise for this omission. I hope that students will be able to find other sources on this important aspect of the topic. *****

A   new secondary school accountability system was introduced in 2016 and you may  click here    for DFE statistics relating to 2015/16 GCSE resultswhich are based on this new system. For data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender scroll down to pp16-25 of the statistical first release. Click here for further information in the accompanying Characteristics National Tables.

Also click here for DFE statistics relating to 2016/17 GCSE results For data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender scroll down to pp22-34  of the statistical first release. Further information can be found in the accompanying Characteristics National Tables where Table 2a is especially useful.Also click here for a brief exercise based upon the latest GCSE data ****** New links added January-February  2018

For relevant data prior to the introduction to the new accountability measures in 2016 students may use  This Sutton Trust  Report  [Class Differences: Ethnicity and Disadvantage published on  November 10th 2016] and students may also  click here for a detailed paper by Professor Steve Strand {Ethnicity, deprivation and educational achievement at age 16 in England ;trends over time .}. In this paper Professor Strand provides a clear comprehensive graphical description of relevant trends as well as detailed analysis. The charts and tables on pp40-50 provide the best description that I have seen of trends relating ethnicity, free school meal eligibility, gender and educational attainment at GCSE level

You may also click here for a recent DFE Report on destinations of pupils after Key Stages 4 and 5 which has useful information on access to Higher Education and ethnicity, free school meal eligibility , gender and special educational needs on pp 23- 28....and much more . New link added January 2017  

I hope that students will find the subsequent  essay on ethnicity and educational attainment to be useful for examination purposes.




Please note that I have currently written 7 essays on the Sociology of Education and intent to write a few more in the near future. Note that in each case these essays are far longer than could be written under examination conditions and that although they include points of knowledge , application and evaluation I tend to use separate paragraphs for each of these categories rather than to combine several categories in each paragraph  as in  the strongly recommended PEEEL approach whereby each paragraph should included Point; Explanation, Example: Evaluation and Link to following Paragraph.

I hope that you find the information in these essays useful but would strongly recommend that you write your own essays using the PEEEL approach or something very similar to it. Obviously your teachers will advise you as to appropriate essay writing technique.



Part 1: The Meanings of "Race" and Ethnicity

·         The meaning of "Race"    

1.UN Statement on Race and Racial Prejudice 1978

Any theory which involves the claim that racial or ethnic groups are inherently superior or inferior, thus implying that some would be entitled to dominate or eliminate others, or which bases value judgements on racial differentiation has no scientific foundation and is contrary to the moral and ethical principles of humanity.

2.M.Banton and J Harwood [The Race Concept 1975 quoted in "Race in Britain : Continuity and Change edited by Charles Husbands 1982]

As a way of categorising people, race is based upon a delusion because popular ideas about racial classification lack scientific validity and are moulded by political pressures rather than the evidence from biology

2. Robert Winston [Human Instinct]

Scientists believe that over 90% of all genetic difference can be found within a given "race" rather than between "races", so that, biologically speaking, a white Londoner is likely to be just as similar to or different from his or her white neighbour as he or she is to a neighbour from Jamaica or Kuala Lumpur.

As social contacts increased between Europeans and the peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia , China and Australasia following the so-called voyages of discovery, the expansion of international trade [including the egregious slave trade] and increasing imperialist colonialisation, European   people turned increasingly to the modern concept of race to understand the clearly observable physical differences between themselves and the people of far off lands.

The word "race" had apparently entered the English language in 1508 and the precise meaning and usage of the term has varied considerably since then Prof. M Banton's Racial Theories 1987?] but the modern concept of race was formulated in so called theories of scientific racism which developed in the course of the C18th and C19th in the work of writers such as Georges Cuvier and Arthur de Gobineau. Broadly speaking these theories contained the following elements.

1.      The world population could be classified into a limited number of distinct races on the basis of differences in observable physical characteristics  such as skin colour, head shape or cranial capacity, hair texture and  facial characteristics such as eye shape and lip thickness. It was agreed also that there could also be physical variations within these   broadly defined races.

2.      Different theorists suggested different classificatory schema but the following table outlines  one well known schema indicating 3 broad races with considerable variations within them. Here, .for example Chinese , Japanese and other South and East Asians and Northern and Latin American Indians are all classified as "Mongoloid" while Indians , North Africans, Middle Easterners as well as Europeans are all classified as "Caucasoid" . Remember also there are noticeable physical differences  as between Southern and Northern Europeans.

Racial Group





Main locations



Black, tightly curled

Dark brown-black

Broad nose, wide nostrils, thick lips, sparse beard

Sub-Saharan Africa


Brown, slanted

Black, straight

Yellow-reddish brown

Flat, high cheek bones, sparse beard

South and East Asia, North and South America, Pacific Islands


Light blue-dark brown

Straight, wavy or curly; balding more common

White-dark brown

Narrow nose, thin lips, more facial hair

Europe, Middle East, North Africa, India


       3. These physical differences among the races and especially the racial differences in cranial capacity were presented as evidence biologically determined differences in intellectual abilities and moral and cultural tastes among the races.

      4.  Of the three races in the above schema the Caucasoid race was recognised as the intellectually, morally and culturally superior race and within the Caucasoid race White Europeans were recognised as especially intellectually, morally and culturally superior. although not if they happened to be Jewish or Irish.

      5. Since the intellectual, moral and cultural capacities of the different races were biologically rather than socially determined there was no possibility that the supremacy of white Europeans at the top of the racial hierarchy could be overturned.

These conclusions, apparently based upon the best that contemporary scientific method had to offer coalesced with a longer history of British prejudice especially against Black people but also against the Jews and the Irish reaching back into the 16th Century even if prior to the 18th Century the word "race" was not actually used in relation to such prejudices. Examples of sources of British prejudice against Black people include the following sources which in their time were considered highly authoritative.

  1. David Hume [1771] "I am apt to suspect the Negroes..... to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There never was a civilised nation of any complexion other tan white, or even any individual eminent in either action, or speculation. No ingenious manufactures among them, no arts, no sciences. There are Negro slaves dispersed all of Europe, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity."
  2. The Encyclopaedia Britannica [1884 edition] "No full blooded Negro has ever been distinguished as a man of science, a poet, or an artist, and the fundamental equality claimed for him by ignorant philanthropists is belied by the whole history of the race throughout the historic period."

If the prejudiced notions of Black racial inferiority and White racial supremacy received the support of eminent philosophers such as Hume and in eminent publications  such as Encyclopaedia Britannica it should come as no surprise that such prejudices were widespread in Britain as well as in Europe and the USA. It is also clear that such notions were used in attempts to legitimise a range of economic and social processes which operated to the advantage of the White race and against the interests of the Non-White races or against the interests of certain sections of the White race, most notably ,of course , the Jews. Such processes included:

  1. Slavery and the slave trade;
  2. European imperialist colonisation which may ,however, have aided the peoples of the colonised lands to some extent although they were certainly keen to regain their independence as soon as possible;
  3. The Apartheid regime in South Africa;
  4. The racially discriminatory laws operative in  the Southern States of the USA until the late 1960s;
  5. The persecution in Nazi Germany of the Jews who although they were White had come to be defined as a separate race in Nazi ideology.
  • Criticism of the Concept of Race

However especially from the 1940s onwards the notions that it was possible to classify the human population into separate races on the of physical traits such as their skin colour , cranial capacity and facial features etc and that these physical differences were  evidence also of differences in intellectual capacity and moral and cultural taste came under increasing attack as a result of important developments in population genetics. Population genetics is a highly complex discipline and I can only sketch  in  a non-technical fashion  some of its key findings which are undermine the concept of race as outlined above. Thus

  1. Individuals each have approximately 50,000 individual genes and the significance of many individual genes for the development of each individual person is as yet unknown.
  2. About 75% of all known human genes do not vary in any way as between different individuals.
  3. Differences in skin colour, facial characteristics and hair texture are influenced by the combined characteristics of a very small number of individual genes.
  4. It is likely that once  members of Homo Sapiens began to migrate northwards out of Africa about 70,000 years ago various environmental influences led to modification in the genes which over a period of many years resulted in a gradual lightening of the skins of people who had migrated to less sunny, colder climates. For example the lightening of the skin may have been a genetic response to the limited availability of sunlight or to the colder climate while the continued existence of black skin in Africa protects against the dangers of skin cancer and may also permit black people to work more strenuously in hot climates than would be possible for white people. It is likely also that the differing shapes of white and black individuals' noses derives from a long term evolutionary genetic response to colder European air.
  5. About 25% of known human genes do vary as between different individuals  and  population geneticists have drawn very important conclusions from their analysis of these variable human genes  which can be illustrated broadly in the following example.
    • It is clear that the genetic endowments of individuals within the entire population of the world do vary considerably.
    • If we now consider the white population of Britain [who we shall describe as a "white British tribe" of the "white race" in general] we find that approximately 85% of the genetic endowment  within the population of the entire world is present among the individuals of this "white British tribe".
    • Approximately another 5-10% of the total world variation in genetic endowments  is accounted for by the genetic variation between the "white British tribe" and other "white tribes" such as the Germans, the French, the Spanish and so on.
    • Finally the last 5-10% of the total world variation in genetic endowments is accounted for by genetic variation between the "white race " as a whole and the "black race" as a whole.
    • It follows that  the overall average genetic differences between say, white British and black African people are very small and , indeed, far smaller than genetic differences which exist within the white British population. Therefore Professor Robert Winston state that "biologically speaking, a white Londoner is likely to be just as similar to or different from his or her white neighbour as he or she is to a neighbour from Jamaica or Kuala Lumpur."

In view of these discoveries it has been widely argued that the concept of race can be rejected as biologically meaningless since although there are indeed observable physical differences say between African, Asian, Chinese and European people, these physical differences are trivial by comparison with the overwhelming genetic similarities between these groupings. Those who reject the concept of race in this way often write the word "race" in inverted commas to signify their recognition of its biological meaninglessness while at the same time they recognise that the socially constructed, widespread and inaccurate belief in the existence of different biological races [without inverted commas] has had and continues to have many very unfortunate consequences.

Many of those who use the term race will be unfamiliar with even the basic findings of population genetics and will believe that there are highly significant genetic differences between the races and in some cases the users of the term may believe that observable physical differences between the races also signify differences in intellectual , moral and cultural capacities as in the 18th and 19th Century theories of race. It is clear that such racial prejudice is widespread in contemporary UK society and that various forms of racial discrimination continue to exist in relation to political representation, employment, housing allocation and in the operation of the criminal justice systems.

We may note that not all of those who oppose racial prejudice and racial discrimination argue for the placement of the word "race" in inverted commas to signify its biological meaninglessness. The famous  Professor of Genetics at University College London Steve Jones agrees that genetic differences between the races are small but the fact that they exist at all means that the term race does have some usefulness .However he also emphasises that in his view there is no  valid biological evidence to support the view that any one race is intellectually superior to another.

However , old ideas die hard and some academics, sand as we shall see in Unit 13,some academics continue to argue that ethnic differences in educational achievement are influenced by ethnic differences in genetically inherited intelligence,  a view that has attracted widespread criticism. Click herefor  recent controversy surrounding these issues

·         The Meaning of Ethnicity

In Units 12, 13 and 14 we shall be analysing in some detail the relative educational achievements of Black, Asian, Chinese and White pupils.  These pupils are classified by sociologists not in terms of their "race" but in terms of their ethnicity and so it is important to distinguish carefully between these two concepts. It is recognised that there are observable physical differences between Black, Asian, Chinese and White individuals but these physical differences are far less significant than the overall genetic similarities between so-called "races". However ethnic differences between these groupings may be substantial and they may influence the relative educational achievement of the different ethnic groups in several ways.

An ethnic group is a group of individuals   whose members have several important similarities which influence their behaviour in various ways so as to differentiate them as members of their ethnic group from members of other ethnic groups. Thus  ethnic groups within a given society may differ for several inter-connected reasons.

1.      Members of a given ethnic group may be conscious of their own history which differentiates them in various ways from members of other ethnic groups.

2.      They may originate from  different parts of the world by comparison with other ethnic groups.

3.      They may follow different religions than members of other ethnic groups.

4.      They may speak different languages as their "first language" than members of other ethnic groups.

5.      They may feel that they are discriminated against in various ways if they are a relatively powerless ethnic minority group within a particular society. This may be especially likely to occur if members of an ethnic minority group share physical characteristics which mean that they are defined unfairly as a separate and inferior "racial " by the dominant ethnic group within a society.

6.      All of these factors may combine to ensure that members of a given ethnic group will develop their own distinctive values, attitudes and norms of behaviour which together define the overall culture of the ethnic group which is different in various ways from the cultures of other ethnic groups.

On the basis of these points we may distinguish between the following main ethnic groups within the UK: White British, Black African, Black Caribbean, Chinese, Indian,  Bangladeshi and Pakistani. However within the White British category many Roma, Irish , Scottish and Welsh people may regard themselves as members of separate ethnic groups as will many white immigrants for example from Eastern Europe .

There are also important variations within ethnic groups as well as between them : for example within a given ethnic group, not all members necessarily follow the same religion; there may be significant social class-based differences in attitudes and values within the White British ethnic group; there may be significant generational differences in attitudes and values within all ethnic groups and particularly in the younger generation many members of one ethnic group may be prepared to adopt the  attitudes, values and indeed the fashion accessories more often associated with other ethnic groups. It is also the case that individuals are prepared to define themselves as members of different ethnic groups at different times depending upon the circumstances.

Despite these complexities sociologists believe that the classification of individuals into separate ethnic groups does serve some useful purposes not least in the investigation of ethnic differences in educational achievement.

[A fuller discussion of Ethnicity can be found in "Sociology: Themes and Perspectives" [M. Haralambos and M. Holborn].


  1. Explain the meaning of the concept of  race as it was used in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
  2. How did the findings of population geneticists undermine the concept of race as it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries?
  3. Why do many sociologists choose to pace the word "race" in inverted commas?
  4. Explain briefly  the differences between "race" and ethnicity.
  5. Give five examples of  ethnic tensions and conflicts which have troubled the world in recent years.

·         Part 2:   Ethnicity and Educational Achievement : Data

Please note that this data section has been revised  to focus more fully on the new GCSE  accountability measures introduced with effect from 2016

I have been collating information Ethnicity and Educational attainment for several years concentrating primarily on the proportions of different ethnic groups attaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades  originally in  in any GCE subjects but more recently using the proportions of students gaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and Mathematics . However from  2016 onwards student attainment and progress has been assessed in terms of new measures [i.e Attainment 8 and Progress 8] and in terms of the proportions of students attaining grades A*-C and 9-4 as appropriate in so-called EBacc subjects. I have therefore changed the Presentation of the Data in this document quite considerably to concentrate mainly on the most recent data although I  have retained some sources of data on pre-2016 ethic patters of achievement. It may be best for students to concentrate on analysis of the most recent data although some familiarity with longer term trends is also useful

  1. Links to DFE data for 2016 and 2017 which use the new measurement criteria.

  2. YCS data giving an indication of long term trends from1989-2004..

  3. A link to data from Professor Steve Strand providing more detailed data from to

  4. A link to data from the Sutton trust

  5. A link to data from the DFE for 2015 which show patterns of attainment for the final year using the 5 GCSE A*-C grades criterion

  6. Links to DFE data for 2016 and 2017 which use the new measurement criteria.

Links to DFE Data on GCSE Results 2016 and 2017 using the new Measurement criteria

You may  click here    for DFE statistics relating to 2015/16 GCSE resultswhich are based on this new system. For data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender scroll down to pp16-25 of the statistical first release. Click here for further information in the accompanying Characteristics National Tables where Table 2a is most useful.

Also click here for DFE statistics relating to 2016/17 GCSE results For data on ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender scroll down to pp22-34  of the statistical first release. Further information can be found in the accompanying Characteristics National Tables where Table 2a is especially useful. New link added January 2018

[Click here BBC item on technicalities of Attainment 8 and progress 8 and here for  a very  technical article]

Exercise on Ethnicity and Educational Achievement at GCSE Level in the 2017 Examinations

Let us investigate ethnic patterns of achievement using performance in EBacc subjects in 2017 as indicated in Table 2a of the 2018 publication. With regard to English and Mathematics I refer to attainment levels between 9-4 for all pupils. I have copied and pasted the relevant table here but students may also use the above link to refer to separate data for males and females and to  data on Attainment 8 and Progress 8 if they so wish.



Table CH2a: GCSE and equivalent entries and achievements of pupils at the end of key stage 4 by ethnicity, free school meal eligibility and gender

Year: 2016/171 (revised)              
Coverage: England, state-funded schools (including Academies and CTCs)2 Please select criteria below:    
      Measure: Percentage achieving 9-5 in English & mathematics (6)
      Gender: All
  2 35 68   2 35 68
  Number of eligible pupils3   Percentage achieving 9-5 in English & mathematics (6)
  Pupils known to be eligible for free school meals All other pupils(8) All pupils(9)   Pupils known to be eligible for free school meals All other pupils(8) All pupils(9)
All pupils9 69,261 458,598 527,859   21.7 45.8 42.6
White 46,985 359,357 406,342   17.4 45.2 42.0
   white British 44,106 334,002 378,108   16.9 45.4 42.1
   Irish 194 1,482 1,676   18.6 59.8 55.0
   traveller of Irish heritage 66 52 118   x x 9.3
   Gypsy / Roma 325 748 1,073   x x 4.7
   any other white background 2,294 23,073 25,367   29.1 42.6 41.4
Mixed 4,297 19,186 23,483   22.9 47.7 43.2
   white and black Caribbean 1,598

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