Using exploratory factor analysis and Bourdieu’s concept of the illusio to examine inequality in an English school

Austin Griffiths
  • Power and Education, February 2018, SAGE Publishing
  • DOI: 10.1177/1757743818756910

Using Exploratory Factor Analysis to show inequality in English Schools

What is it about?

Using Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA) and Bourdieu's concept of illusion this paper shows the the historical inequalities in English school continue to be defined by socio-economic status and cultural capital. EFA enabled the researcher to identify the elements of economic and cultural capital that were significant in terms of differences between different groups in the school (e.g. based on gender, SEN status, ethnicity, familial economic capital, cultural capital etc.). It identified that boys from poorer backgrounds were significantly more negatively viewed by teachers compared to other students.

Why is it important?

The study looked at 78 boys and 78 girls aged 11 - 13. It compared their self-reported attitudes to school with their teachers' perceptions of their attitudes to school. There were little between-group differences in students' self-reported attitudes to school. However, there were very large differences in practitioners' perceptions of students attitudes to school.Students from poorer backgrounds, particularly those with lower cultural capital, were very negatively viewed by practitioners compared to others. Children with higher levels of cultural and economic capital were placed in top sets though an ability grouping system and viewed very positively by practitioners. Over 80% of students in the top sets for Maths or English were in top sets for all subjects forming an elite group who did not really mix with other students.


Austin Griffiths (Author)
De Montfort University

I hope this article will make people move away from the idea that concepts such as class and cultural capital are fixed. Instead, they mean different things in different places and population. Exploratory Factor Analysis helps us isolate the elements of these capitals that are important in terms of difference in a particular place. In my research it was attitudes to reading that were are the heart of cultural capital. Elsewhere it might be something entirely different.

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