The education system is mostly controlled by white middle-class people. Those who share these characteristics may well be viewed more positively and be more likely to succeed in the tests and examinations created to assess their abilities. Many working class and ethnic minority pupils may feel undervalued and demotivated by an education system that does not recognise their qualities, class or ethnic culture. The Marxist idea of “Cultural Capital” (Bordieu) also determines a student’s ability to excel in the education system. Schools are middle-class institutions run by the middle-class.
The forms of knowledge, values, ways of interacting and communicating ideas that middle-class children possess are developed further and rewarded by the education system. Working class and ethnic minority children may lack these qualities and so do not have the same chances to succeed. Studies have shown that middle-class parents are able to use their cultural capital to play the system so as to ensure that their children are accepted into the schools of their choice. However, ethnic minority parents are disadvantaged when trying to get their children into better schools.
The parents, especially if born abroad, may not have much experience of the British education system and may not be able to, or confident enough about their English skills, to be able to negotiate the system. Some sociologists have argued that the curriculum disadvantages pupils, particularly the working class and ethnic minorities. The knowledge that they encounter at school does not connect with their own cultural experience. Working class experience is almost invisible in the school curriculum. History, for example, tends to deal with the ruling classes rather than with the vast majority of ordinary people.
Coard (1971) showed how the content of education also ignored black people. The people who are acclaimed tend to be white, whilst black culture, music and art are largely ignored. Coard argued that this led to low self-esteem among black pupils. Since the 1970’s some effort has been made to make the curriculum “Multicultural”, but it is still criticised for only looking at “Saris and Samosas”. The National Curriculum has still been criticised today for being ethnocentric – emphasising white middle-class culture at the expense of other cultures – especially in its focus on British History and literature.