According to Nicholas,' the weight of the sociological literature embraces meritocracy as an ideal concept and thus uses it as a yardstick against which to measure social change. While a perfect match between occupations and ability is a difficult criterion against which to judge social mobility, sociologists have adapted the concept to something that is measurable. The dominant standard is whether each individual has an equal chance of being elevated into any occupation within the class system regardless of their social origins.'(1999.p4)
In Young's meritocracy, if ranking of individuals is simplistically based on IQ + Effort, then the ones who achieve good academic scores will inevitably get the best status jobs with opportunities for social mobility and those who fare poorly, and will end up doing unskilled, menial jobs. Although literature often views qualifications or IQ+Effort as the same, there are inherent differences, as good exam scores are usually linked to intelligence. However, confusion has arisen when trying to distinguish between 'achieved' and 'meritocratic' characteristics and the changing definitions of these terms over time.
In the research article Education, Meritocracy and Redistribution, Souto'Otero (2010) agrees that meritocratic arguments hold that both IQ and effort determine levels of educational attainment. He argues that in current meritocratic debates, mainly effort is highlighted and focused on, when explaining good academic achievement in relation to positions in the income distribution. Furthermore, the role of education is not linked to and cannot guarantee equality because of its links to rewards in the labour market. Therefore a good education with good academic achievement will more likely make the person more marketable and consequently of more value to the labour market.
The way we view education and how it affects the labour market, leads to other controversial issues associated with meritocracy and Lampert(2013) argues that there are several problems with Young's theory. Young acknowledges that meritocracy is not a skills based division of labour, and because of this, it is implied that we should be ruled by the skilled and intelligent . This leads to questions such as: 'Who are the skilled and intelligent?' Lampert further goes on to argue that, it is very difficult if not impossible to define the term 'skills' adequately. Secondly, is the question of how skills are assessed for various tasks which need to be performed or whether in fact, people are born with these skills. Thirdly, he identified a wide range of jobs where no skills are required, except the will to perform the job e.g. mopping floors. He questions whether a true meritocratic society can exist.
According to Breen and Goldthorpe (2001) the controversial issue of 'meritocracy' can be addressed more effectively if the way it has changed over time is taken into consideration along with several other factors such as good academic attainment, the amount of effort which is put in, as well as natural ability. These factors play an important role in the way a person is shaped to suit their role in the process of social selection as they progress into their future labour roles in society, Similarly, Lampert defines Meritocracy as 'a social ideaology of education, which on some level could be egalitarian but is ultimately meant to groom the 'excellent' for positions of influence, scientific development, decision making and leadership. He believes that the role of educations is a long process whereby the most talented remain to take up the most important roles in society.'(2013 p2)
In Allen's (2011) Philosophical Critique of Michael Young's 'Rise of the Meritocracy' , which infact coined the term 'meritocracy' , he questions whether meritocracy exists in everyday society or whether it is simply an idealistic notion to which just and advanced societies strive. Allen further claims that the theory of 'meritocracy', has since been promoted as a positive ideal, and used quite loosely, much to Young's dismay, by political leaders such as Tony Blair (Young, 1994/2006, 2001). The idea of meritocracy has also become increasingly difficult to define as some theorists have claimed that it has and still is evolving over time. This lack of clarity may relate to the fact that the concept of "merit" is deeply contingent on our views of society and the criteria used to allocate status to different groups of people.
M.Jackson (2001),argues if ascriptive criteria are to be superseded by achievement criteria, and future job roles in society are given to achievers based on merit, then how does one actually define merit and what would be the criteria we base these decisions on? The difference between an achievement culture and an ascriptive culture is not difficult to understand. Achieved status refers to doing whereas ascribed status refers to being. Achievement refers to judgements which are based on accomplishments and on a track record assigned by teachers in secondary reflected in reports and summative exams. Ascription on the otherhand is a natural status which is attributed by birthright, kinship, gender, age, interpersonal connections, or educational record. Achieved status in essence, refers to doing whereas ascribed status refers to being. Despite the fact that status has become more achievable, Lampert (2012) believes that it is wise to appoint people to positions based on merit; however, not when people are judged to have a certain kind of merit, which means that they belong to a certain class where there is no room for anyone else. Similarly, American sociologists Talcott Parsons (1940) and Daniel Bell (1976) British Journal of Sociology of Education 767 Downloaded by [The University of Manchester Library] September 2013 advanced similar theories that as societies modernised, social selection would be based on achievement and not ascription.
Another problem with meritocracy according to Daniel Bell(1972), is the issue of meritocracy versus equality. In this scenario, the two types of equality namely: opportunity and result, have to be understood in the context that equal opportunity can lead to an unequal result. Bell understood that societies' views on equality and equal opportunity were changing and he also realized that even if an environment was equal, the results in terms of salary remuneration, wealth and status might not always be achieved. Furthermore, if society wanted to achieve a true Meritocracy, then it would need to relook at the way children were assessed and the weight that summative examination results carried, when deciding if the education system and the process itself was equal. Generally with regard to this issue, the definitions of merit are split between two opposing views. The first one is that merit should be awarded when high scores and good attainment reflected in school records have been achieved and this would show an aptitude or potential of a student toward a certain high status job or particular role in society. The second places its emphasis on the role of IQ and how its role in the 'OED' triangle.
Poverty and low attainment
When exploring Meritocracy and its relation to poverty and low attainment, it is evident that one's origin does influence the occupation or function you will perform in society in later life. The 'OED triangle' theory has been strongly debated more recently where one's will impact and influence, not only the type of education you will receive but it can also play apart in the progress you will make and how well you will do. Consequently, it will impact and have a knock on effect as to the type of job opportunities you will be exposed to as you fulfil your role in society as an adult. There has been a growing consensus that education attainment does in fact play a major role in occupational destinations. According to recent research been done in this area, much consideration has been given to whether the changing relationship between OED in Britain, exhibits general long-term trends or is the product of cohort-specific effects. Furthermore, research done by Bukodi and Goldthorpe(2011) supports this further, when they found that education has a strong effect on destinations. Origins affect destinations, although less strongly than education, and this association has not decreased over time. They also investigated the impact of changing jobs regularly and found that this actually had a strong effect and impact on the way people were able to get promoted to higher positions in their work places. This social inequality widens over time as a result of educational attainment and was found to be linked to high status jobs.
In the primary education setting, social inequality is often explored by results from examinations such as SATS and Common Entrance and then drawing comparisons of various groups of children and other monitoring data. This has proven to be reliable and can reveal long-standing patterns of unequal outcomes between students from affluent backgrounds and those who are not. For example it has been widely accepted that, as a group, primary school children from poorer backgrounds are less successful than their more advantaged peers in tests across a range of subjects. On the other hand, it cannot be assumed that children from more privileged backgrounds will perform better when taking exams as other studies have shown that there are certain drawbacks, when solely using the results from summative exam tests to mark academic achievement. Several factors can influence the test results such as emotional stress and personality type, which also play a role in one's performance on the day of the test thus providing a scewed result. However, this is only the case in a very small percentage of the population. According to the OECD, 'this is a widespread international phenomenon, with social disadvantage having a negative impact on attainment in all 30 developed countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development' (OECD ,2006) .
It is well known that in general, primary school children growing up in poorer families, do not achieve as well as those from more affluent backgrounds. It is viewed that from the very start, they are not starting out on a level playing field. Parents from poorer communities often encourage and push their children to work as hard as they can at school, as is the case in Kenya, where a good education is often the only way they can break the poverty cycle. In many third world countries, receiving a good education, results in social mobility and thus a huge emphasis is placed on children to perform well at school to ensure good educational attainment, which will result in better life opportunities. Such 'achievement gaps' which begin in primary school, are a major contributing factor to patterns of social mobility. The UK has introduced several interventions such as the 'Sure Start' intervention, which attempts to correct social inequalities before birth. According to the Research Report DFE-RR067 which discussed The impact of Sure Start Local Programmes on five year olds and their families, 'The ultimate goal of Sure Start Local Programmes (SSLPs) was to enhance the life chances for young children growing up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Children in these communities are at risk of doing poorly at school, having trouble with peers and agents of authority (i.e., parents, teachers), and ultimately experiencing compromised life chances (e.g., early school leaving, unemployment, limited longevity).'
Similarly, a 2007 Rowntree Foundation report elaborates on these points further by stating that: 'Children from poor homes are nearly a year behind when they start school and two years behind by age 14', and these children 'tend to have a far less positive view of learning, of school and of themselves'. The report continues further by highlighting the fact that statistics should not be the only yardstick by which we measure children's academic progress. The fact that children, who at the start of their academic lives, are already placed at a disadvantage should not yield surprising results when they underachieve at school and end up in low paying jobs as adults. The report established that children with low attainment tend to come from poorer families where they lived in utmost poverty and had to contend with health issues and overcrowded homes and widespread unemployment. It is interesting to note that for example on certain inner city housing estates with many Asian owner-occupiers, Year 6 SATS results are above what was expected and predicted because of social issues and poverty. However, more recent research has also shown that poverty is not the only factor which affects educational attainment.
Other factors in educational attainment
It is also widely accepted, that it is not just the levels of poverty in these areas, which play an important role and have a definite impact on primary schooling, but also the types of areas the children's schools are located in e.g. low income housing estates and areas with high unemployment rates. Several studies link underachievement not only with background, but also with location of the primary school, quality of teaching at the primary school, and the general mix of gender and ethnic culture as factors to be considered. Furthermore, other studies view low attainment in terms of a complex association of factors at individual, family, community and societal levels, which reinforce each other, like low education, poverty, poorer health, poorer diet, unplanned pregnancy, poor housing and living conditions, lack of investment in leisure facilities, social fragility, crime and violence, low self-esteem and social stereotyping. More recent research has also explored the role of parents attitudes.
Linked to this, another factor which is often overlooked, is the attitude of parents in relation to both primary and secondary schooling. Many theorists agree that parents would much rather, that their children learn a trade or get a job, albeit it low paying job, than 'waste' money on a secondary or University education, which very often does not guarantee a job. In areas of social deprivation, parents place very little value of tertiary education and it is often seen as too great a risk if a child was interested in further studies. If a child from a wealthy background underachieves at university and drops out for example, the parents are not financially dependent and thus the financial implications and loss are not as great, as a child from a low income family where they could possibly have been the breadwinner. The role and view of parents are therefore important and can also contribute to the cycle of poverty not being broken. Prof Ball (2004) suggests that 'Rather than blaming teachers for low expectations or parents for lack of aspiration, we need to think about the social conditions that make effective learning possible, at home and at primary school. Once those conditions are met, we can further explore, the role of expectations and aspirations.' Furthermore, Prof Ball(2004), at his inaugural lecture at the University of London, spoke about this issue, which forms the basis of his latest book (Class Strategies and the education market: middle class and social advantage) and his most recent work. Spencer (2004),argues that Ball has positioned himself as, and has become viewed by some, as the latest intellectual to support the ideas of a 'revolution' of the 'violent' deconstruction of social order and moral consensus characterized by the systematic victimization of anyone belonging to the privileged class.(p.T29). When interviewed, one proud to be middle class mother 'confesses' the crimes of her class. She condemns parents who think that education is a waste of time and are happy for their children to truant, commit crimes, disrupt the learning of their companions, use drugs and sell them to others and most crucially, to use violence and intimidation towards children whose families do not share their values (p.T28). However, it is often easier from parents coming from middle class families to take this stance, especially as their child might not necessarily be the financial provider in the family. Functionalism supports the idea that class can be achieved and maintained at a primary school level. They also believe that schools are socializing agents, which equip children with specified skills, which consequently leads to high or low status jobs in future.
The school class as a social system at primary school level
Many of the previous areas visited in this essay have focused mainly on social factors in relation to primary educational attainment. In contrast to this, T.Parsons (1959), wrote in his literature regarding The School Class as a Social System (Harvard Education Review ), that the primary function of school is to act as 'an agency of socialization and allocation'. When analyzing this issue, he views the school class as separate to the school as a whole due to the fact that children at primary schools usually come from the same background and belong to the same status group. It is when they are put together in one class under one teacher that a dual problem arises. Schools on the one hand serve as in institution which results in commitment and success and yet on the otherhand serves as a divisive tool, which allocates people into groups, which prepare them for their future roles in society. Despite the fact, that it is the secondary school educational attainment which determines higher education, it is in fact the primary school record of achievement, which forms the basis for success in secondary school. The primary school selective process, therefore occurs through differential school performance in primary school and the 'seal is placed on it in junior school' The process is assertive and both ascriptive and achieved factors influence the outcome.
Similarly, a central assumption of the Institutional Approach is that education shapes society by classifying children and the statuses they attain as they go through their academic lives, begin with statuses gained whilst at primary school, from teachers who place an emphasis on grades achieved and behavioural expectations. However, as they progress to secondary school, some of them achieve 'special' statuses, for example ' in the fields of Accounting, Psychology and even the business world, where the degrees they achieve as a result of formal education guarantee a premium market value and status.In these fields, they will often be viewed as experts of whom there are only a limited number, which makes their job status even more in demand. (see Meyer 1977, 1980, Meyer and Rowan 1983). Despite the fact that less value is placed on underachievers, who might possess a different range of skills for which there is also a place in society, such as plumbers, the difference between salary remuneration and status, remains a debatable issue. .
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