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Class Conflict sample essay


This essay aims to examine the extent to which class conflict affects education and life opportunities. The following paragraphs seek to illustrate how factors such as class position and parental attitudes affect education and life opportunities among different social classes and the conflict that lies between them. In order to understand the content of this essay it is first necessary to understand all of the possible variables involved. Throughout this essay I will examine the definitions of class, conflict, education and opportunity.

The main body of the essay seeks to highlight the reason as to why people are members of certain classes and the effects this has on their chances for education and life opportunities, using the example of education in Britain. In conclusion, a brief synopsis of class conflict will be given and considerations of some of the reasons why this occurs. In answering the question through the use of an example from the social context in which class conflict effects education and life opportunities this essay aims to highlight how the conflict between classes effect a person’s right to an education and equal life opportunities.

Class, Conflict, Education, Opportunity:

In order to understand the content of this essay it is first necessary to understand all of the possible variables involved. Norman Goodman defines class as “a term widely used in sociology to differentiate the population on grounds of economic considerations such as inequalities in terms of wealth or income” (Goodman, 1992).In support of this the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines conflict as “an incompatibility between opinions” (2004). In light of these two aforementioned definitions Karl Marx argues that “class conflict is not only inherent but inevitable within capitalism” (Goodman, 1992).Education can be defined as “the theory and practice of teaching” (2004). To once again quote from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary an opportunity is “a favourable time or set of circumstances for doing something” (2004).

Why do we have social classes?

Ultimately social classes are based on economic factors. Dating back to Victorian times, lower, middle and upper classes existed. The lower classes would have been made up of the landless labourers. Middle classes would have included the tradesmen i.e. people with a professional skill/qualification such as a blacksmith. Finally the upper classes would have consisted of the large farmers and business owners. The upper classes would traditionally employed people from the lower classes to run their farms or businesses. Although we have moved on since Victorian times, this social divide hasn’t changed much. There still remains today a prominent divide between the lower middle and upper class people. This can be seen now within the third level education in present days. Due to the economic crisis we are currently experiencing, less and less people are able to afford the luxury of a third level education. Sadly this is hitting the lower and working classes the hardest.

Due to government cutbacks grants are being chopped leaving the less fortunate members of our society starved for further education. How does the conflict between different social classes effect education and life opportunities? As mentioned in the introduction class position and parental attitudes play a vital role in the effect that class conflict has on education and life opportunities. It has been proven that class position has a huge effect on parental attitudes in getting involved with their children’s school lives. A.Lareau outlines parental involvement as “preparing children for school (Lareau, 2000) , this includes assisting the child in learning the alphabet, speaking and reading stories to the child. This is to promote language development. Also parents should attend school event such as parent teacher meetings and comply with the requests teachers make of parents in furthering a child’s education. School success is positively linked with parental involvement (Lareau, 2000).

Through research it has been proven that a lack of “parental involvement is not random and that social classes have a powerful influence on parent involvement patterns” (Lareau, 2000).For example, “between forty and sixty per cent of working … and lower-class parents fail to attend parent teacher conferences. For middle-class parents these figures are nearly halved, i.e., about twenty to thirty per cent. (Lightfoot1978, et al.). This is also proven true when we turn to the promotion of language development. These areas include “reading to children, taking children to the library, attending school events and enrolling children in summer school” (Lareau, 2000). Middle class parents were shown to take a more active role in schooling than the parents of middle and lower class children. Originally to enter the secondary educational system in Britain a fee had to be paid. It was privately organised and based on “differentiation along lines of social class” (McCulloch, 1998).

The working and lower classes were only obliged to attend elementary education. Secondary education was intended solely for the wealthier middle class. The very wealthy and sons of landowners attended the “nine great schools of Eaton, Harrow…Merchant Taylors and St. Paul’s” (Sally Power, 2003), these were originally called public schools. Within the middle class there was a differentiation in the line of secondary education. This was shown by the Taunton Commission of the 1860s. Schools were divided into 3 categories depending on their clientele. The first group was catered for the sons of professional men, men in business (“whose profits put them on the same level as the great majority of professional men” (McCulloch, 1998)).This grade continued to the age of 18 or more.

The second grade was much broader in its general curriculum than the first. This continued till the age of 16 and catered for the sons of “large shopkeepers, rising men of business and the larger tenant farmers” (McCulloch, 1998) .The third group catered for the “distinctly lower scale” such as small tenant farmers, small tradesman and superior artisans. This grade continued only till the age of 14. Gradually, however, access to secondary education was widened. The 1902 Act introduced a scholarship route which enabled intelligent products of elementary education to “proceed to free places in secondary education” (Roberts, 1977). Then, all children, “with exception of approximately five per cent whose parents desired and could afford an independent education” (Roberts, 1977), were given an equal opportunity with entry to different types of secondary schools that were introduced.

“This depended solely on their performances in an impartial selection procedure that became known as the eleven-plus” (Roberts, 1977). At this time (1944) it was believed that society had reached equality in terms of secondary education and that each child was the maker of their own destiny depending only on their own accomplishments and hard work and not upon the socio-economic status of their parents. Now, However it is common knowledge that the 1944 Act was not successful as government reports showed that a “strong link remained between children’s educational attainments and their social class origins” (Roberts, 1977).

Investigation showed that, in what was meant to be an equal opportunity of education for all, working class children seemed to “fall at every hurdle”. Social class was shown to be related to the allocation of children in primary school streams, their achievement in the eleven-plus selection procedures, “the streams towards which they gravitated within secondary schools” (Roberts, 1977), their chances of remaining in education passed the statutory age and also their resulting chances of entering higher education. Hence affecting their chance of employment in their future life which would enable them to support their family and hence being amore active member of the society in which they live.


To conclude, from my research I do believe that class conflict has an effect on education and life opportunities as mentioned above parental attitudes and class position can have a devastating effect on a child’s life but it can also have a positive effect. This is down to where one’s family lies in the class structure. Trends show that many members of lower classes do not succeed in education as much as the members of the wealthier middle classes. This lack of success in education is often presents itself in further life.


2004. Concise Oxford English Dictionary. s.l. : Oxford University Press , 2004. Goodman, Norman. 1992. Introduction to Sociology. New York : Harper Perennial, 1992. Lareau, Annette. 2000. Home Advantage. Maryland : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers , 2000. Lightfoot1978, Ogbu1974, McPherson1972 and Galen1987, Van.

McCulloch, Gary. 1998. Failing the Ordinary Child ? Buckingham : Open University Press, 1998. Roberts, Cook, Clark, Semeonoff,. 1977. The Fragmentary Class Structure. London : Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1977. Sally Power, Tony Edwards, Geoff Whitty ,Valerie Wigfall. 2003. Education and the Middle Class. Buckingham : Open University Press, 2003.

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