differences in outcome are accepted because all have the opportunity to succeed (see section 1 above). This notion is of a meritocratic society where the rewards someone gets in terms of status and money is determined by their efforts and abilities rather than what they have through the family they were born into. The process of a society moving towards a meritocracy is in three stages, as Michael Young outlines. (Please note that, rather confusingly, this is not the Michael FD Young featured in the key figure 3 section). Remember, this is a ‘macro’ theory in that it considers society as a whole rather than just a given individual: 1. During industrialisation, the link between peoples’ social origins and their educational attainment weakens over time, as all human resources are developed to maximise economic productivity. 2. The link between educational attainment and class destination strengthens over time as ability and motivation become dominant criteria for selection to the best paid and most prestigious positions, and achievement prevails over ‘ascription’, that is, social status at birth 3. The link between class origins and destinations weakens over time, so society becomes more meritocratic. As noted above this Increasing Meritocratic Society (IMS) view dominated social policy in the second half of the twentieth century, for example, underpinning the New Labour Government’s view of education during its time in office (1997-2010). As suggested above it also dominated the sociology of education; Dale (2001) for instance called it the discipline’s ‘dominant project’. Work such as that of Halsey’s (1980) Origins and Destinations study was highly influential to thinkers and policy makers alike, and remains so today. This approach is also known as Political Arithmetic. The model is so powerful because education itself is; the whole of the rational, enlightened, industrial society requires an educated population, and for society to perform to its full potential requires everyone to have an equal opportunity to benefit from it fully. So, has it worked? Is Britain a more meritocratic society now than it was before the major post-war educational reforms? The short answer is yes, but not by much or to the extent most people would hope. Returning to the three point approach above, British research has failed to reveal any consistent movement to greater fluidity. As Halsey (1980: 205) suggested, ‘(i)f the hereditary curse upon English education is its organisation upon lines of social class, that would seem to be as true in the 1960s as it was in 1932 when Tawney wrote’. And this phenomenon continues since then, just look at league tables for school performance or the social background of those accessing the most prestigious universities today. In both cases a clear link exists between economic advantage and higher performance, so education has not significantly removed the effect of class origins on destinations.
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