GCSE and A Level Sociology: Key concepts in education 4: Marxist and Functionalist approaches


The 4th blog in our GCSE and A Level Sociology series on Key concepts in education looks at two diferent approaches to education.

Marxist and functionalist approaches

We have already talked about some of the other key concepts in education in sociology, but now we will consider two of the important approaches to education – the Marxist Approach and the Functionalist Approach.

For GCSE Sociology, it is important to understand the following .

The Marxist Approach argues that the education system has a critical role in a capitalist society.  It claims that the education system benefits privileged groups and reinforces social inequalities.  The Marxist approach argues that education:

  • reproduces the class system;
  • breeds competition;
  • serves the interests of the ruling classes;
  • fosters secondary socialisation.

In the Marxist approach, the education system is thought to socialise children to accept their lower position with the capitalist society – they learn to obey rules and accept the hierarchy at school and later at work.

However, the Functionalist Approach views education as having a positive function in society.  It argues that education has positive benefits such as:

  • social control;
  • selection;
  • encouraging social mobility;
  • encouraging social cohesion;
  • serving the needs of the community;
  • secondary socialisation.

The Functionalist approach sees secondary socialisation in terms of education teaching future workers the knowledge and skills they need to work in a capitalist workforce within the global economy.

If you are studying AS or A2 level sociology, we will cover the Marxist and Functionalist Approaches to education in more detail in a later blog.

GCSE exams questions on the Marxist and Functionalist approach could be:

  • Describe and explain the functions of education according to the Marxist Approach.
  • Describe and explain the functions education is expected to fulfil in the modern day.

Tracey Jones

If your interested in studying  GCSE or A Level Sociology visit the Oxford Open Learning home page or contact a Student Adviser.

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