Functionalists see education as having 4 major roles:
1) Passing on societies beliefs and culture – Education is a functional prerequisite of society. Its passes on key values and beliefs via socialization, through both the national curriculum and the hidden curriculum. This helps creat social solidarity, it unites society in its morals and values.
Criticism: Marxists argue this ignores the inequalities of society as the values passed on are often the ruling class’. Feminists argue that the school passes on patriarchal values, emasculation women.
2) Bridging the Gap between home and society’s values – Parsons said at home we have an ascribed status and therefore particularistic values, children are treated individually and differently from adults, however at school everyone has an achieved status under the same universalistic values, children are no longer treated differently but as a collective group, as they would be in would be in the workplace. This helps Durkheim’s “society in miniature” as school replicates and prepares children for the workplace and society.
Criticism: Are modern industries really meritocratic and universalistic? Many of the most powerful people had an advantage getting the best jobs due to their higher social class
3) A good trained workforce – Functionalists think schools should provide a properly trained workforce for the future.
Criticism: Most practical skills for a job are actually learnt on the jobs training course. Perhaps a better way of looking at this is that school, through the hidden curriculum, provides a more obedient and harder working labour force rather than a more skilled one.
4) Selecting the right people for the right roles in society – Davis and Moore said that education should be used to as a means of Division of labour. This is a meritocratic view that things within school such as grades and sets should sort the people who should be in the more powerful jobs (the high achieving, hard-working students) from those who do lower paid jobs. Davis and Moore also argues that this means any inequality in wealth is completely justified, those who are rich deserve to be because they worked hard and have their power by meritocracy.
Criticism: Meritocracy is not the pure reason behind this division of labour. Therefore this view is to simplistic, and other things such as social class, ethnicity and gender should be considered to have much more importance than the functionalists perspective gives them.