This Labelling Theory focuses exclusively on school factors and specifically classroom interaction between teachers and pupils. It argues that teachers judge or label pupils on the basis of factors such as race, behaviour, attitude, and appearance for example. Middle-class white pupils are seen as “ideal” pupils by the educational system and so they receive more positive teacher attention. According to Rosenthal and Jacobson, teachers communicate their labels and stereotypes to pupils through the Hidden Curriculum.
Pupils’ can then internalise these labels and this may result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when individuals live up to a label that has been placed upon them. Positive labelling may lead to white middle-class pupils being streamed more highly than working class and ethnic minorities. Keddie found that top stream pupils are treated more favourably than bottom stream pupils, in terms of teacher control and access to high status knowledge.
Bottom stream pupils pick up this Hidden Curriculum message that failure is their fault and so pupils develop a negative self-image, which Willis stated, may turn to deviant sub-cultures, as a result of labelling. Hargreaves notes that these pupil’s award each other the status denied to them by the school by carrying out anti-school behaviour. This, however, then confirms their failure in the school’s eyes. The Labelling Theory has been frequently criticised, however. Many sociologists argue that it ignores social influence external to the classroom, for example material disadvantages, biological disadvantages, ADHD for example.
Many have seen that a student’s behaviour is a result of conscious choice to reject schooling rather than a reaction to teacher labelling. Also, Fuller notes that pupils can resist teacher labels. A negative label may result in hard work to disprove the label. Much research into language has identified class differences in spoken and written language, which disadvantages working class and ethnic minority pupils. The middle-classes succeed not because of greater intelligence but merely because they used the preferred way of communicating.
Language has also been seen as a particular problem for West-Indian children, who may speak different dialects of English; and children from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Bernstein’s examination of language codes demonstrated the idea that working class children are generally socialised into a restricted language code, characterised by a limited vocabulary and context-bound speak, as two examples. This differs from that of the middle-class, who are generally socialised into an elaborate language code. The different language patterns people adopt affects their educability.
This is because the formal teaching in schools and examinations are carried out in the elaborate language code. Working class children are likely to underperform at school because the language code they learn or adopt clashes with the speech patterns used in schools – it is in effect inappropriate for educational success. All these factors help to determine a student’s educational achievement during their school life from such things as, not only their genetic ability, but their class, race, gender, capital, language and many more besides.