All credit goes to the 'AQA A Level Sociology Book One [Including AS Level]'. Any opinions expressed are the opinions of the sociologists mentioned. Author credits: Rob Webb, Hal Westergaard, Keith Trobe and Annie Townend
AQA A-Level Sociology: Gender Differences in Education - Identity, Class & Girls' Achievement
1 There are social class differences in girls' achievement.
1.1 For example, in 2013, only 40.6% of girls
eligible for free school meals achieved five
A*-C GCSEs, whereas 67.5% of those not on
free school meals did so.
2 SYMBOLIC CAPITAL
2.1 According to feminists such as Louise
Archer et al (2010), one reason for the
class differences in girls' achievement
is the conflict between working-class
girls' feminine identities and the
values of the school.
2.1.1 Archer did a study of
working-class girls and used the
concept of 'symbolic capital' to
understand this conflict.
22.214.171.124 Symbolic capital refers
to the status,
recognition and sense of
worth that we are able
to obtain from others.
126.96.36.199 She found that by
identities, the girls
gained symbolic capital
from their peers.
188.8.131.52.1 However, this brought them into
conflict with school, preventing them
from acquiring education capital
(qualifications) and economic capital
184.108.40.206.1.1 Archer identifies several
strategies that the girls
followed for creating a valued
sense of self. These included
adopting a hyper-heterosexual
feminine identity, having a
boyfriend and being 'loud'.
2.2 Hyper-heterosexual feminine
2.2.1 Many of the girls in Archer's study
invested considerable time, effort and
money into constructing the 'desirable',
'glamorous' hyper-heterosexual, feminine
220.127.116.11 One girl spent all her babysitting wages
on her appearance.
18.104.22.168 This involved constructing
identities that combined
black urban American
styles with 'sexy' clothes,
make-up and hairstyles.
2.2.2 The girls' performance
of this feminine
identity brought status
from their female peer
group and avoided
them being ridiculed.
22.214.171.124 However, it also brought them into
conflict with the school as they were
often punished for having the wrong
appearance; such as wearing too
much jewellery or make-up.
126.96.36.199.1 Teachers saw the girls'
preoccupation with appearance
as a distraction that prevented
them engaging with education
188.8.131.52.1.1 This led to the school
defining the girls as 'not
one of us', incapable of
educational success and
thus less worthy of
184.108.40.206.1.1.1 Bourdieu describes this process as
'symbolic violence' - the harm done
by denying someone symbolic
capital, such as defining their culture
220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168 Archer states that the school's ideal
pupil identity is a de-sexualised,
middle-class one that excludes many
2.3.1 While having a boyfriend brought
symbolic capital, it got in the way of
schoolwork and lowered girls'
22.214.171.124 Instead the girls' aspired to
'settle down', have children
and work locally in
working-class feminine jobs
such as childcare.
2.4 Being 'loud'
2.4.1 Some working-class girls adopted 'loud'
feminine identities that often led them to be
outspoken, independent and assertive, for
example, questioning teacher's authority.
126.96.36.199 This failed to conform to the school's
stereotype of the ideal female pupil
identity as passive and submissive
to authority, and brought conflict
with teachers, who interpreted their
behaviour as aggressive rather than
3 WORKING-CLASS GIRLS' DILEMMA
3.1 Working-class girls are faced with a dilemma.
3.1.1 Either gaining symbolic
capital from their peers by
conforming to a
3.1.2 Or gaining educational capital by
rejecting their working-class
identity and conforming to the
school's middle-class notions of a
respectable, ideal female pupil.
3.1.3 Some girls tried to cope with
this dilemma by defining
themselves as 'good underneath',
despite the teachers' negative
views of them.
188.8.131.52 This 'good underneath' self-image reflects
the girls' struggle to achieve a sense of
self-worth within an education system that
devalues their working-class female
184.108.40.206.1 Thus, Archer argues that
identities and educational
success conflict with one
220.127.116.11.1.1 Working-class girls' investments in
their feminine identities are a major
cause of their underachievement.
4 'SUCCESSFUL' WORKING-CLASS GIRLS
4.1 Although working-class girls in
general are likely to underachieve,
some do succeed and go on to
4.1.1 However, even they may be
disadvantaged by their gender
and class identities.
18.104.22.168 Sarah Evans (2009)
did a study of 21
form girls in a
22.214.171.124.1 She found that girls
wanted to go to
university to increase
their earning power.
Nevertheless, this was
not for themselves, but
to help their families.
126.96.36.199.1.1 Skeggs (1997) notes that
'caring' is a crucial part of
the girls' working-class
feminine identities, and
the girls in Evans' study
wished to remain at home
and to contribute to their
4.2 Cost and fear of getting into debt are
major issues for many working-class
students in deciding which university
to apply to.
4.2.1 However, while living at home
made higher education more
affordable, it also limited their
choice of university and the
market value of their degree.
188.8.131.52 Living at home was not just an
economic necessity; it was also a
positive choice and an aspect of
their working-class identities.
184.108.40.206.1 Louise Archer (2010) showed
that a preference for locality is a
key feature of working-class
habitus. The girls showed a
strong preference for the local
and familiar over the distant.