School Evaluation: Approaches, Frameworks, and Indicators

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functions of education evaluation

  • Sikhulile Bonginkosi Msezane 6  

Part of the book series: Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals ((ENUNSDG))

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School evaluation in the context of this chapter can be defined as the collection, analysis, and interpretation of information about any aspect of a program of education for improvement (Ellington et al. 1993 ; Kurban and Tok 2018 ). Alternatively, school evaluation is a training that forms part of a recognized process of judging schools’ effectiveness, its efficiency, and any other outcomes it may have (Patton 1987 ; Ellington et al. 1993 ). School evaluation can also be referred to as the means of judging the success of a schools’ performance based on the criteria in an evaluation framework (e.g., DoE 2002 ; Sanders 2001 ).

Whole-school evaluation in this chapter can be broadly referred to as a collaborative and transparent process of making judgments on the holistic performance of schools, measured against agreed national criteria (DoE 2002 ). It is a collaborative process because external evaluators and school management teams, teachers, learners, and parents take part in the...

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Msezane, S.B. (2020). School Evaluation: Approaches, Frameworks, and Indicators. In: Leal Filho, W., Azul, A.M., Brandli, L., Özuyar, P.G., Wall, T. (eds) Quality Education. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham.

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education, community-building and change

Evaluation for education, learning and change – theory and practice

The picture - Office of Mayhem Evaluation - is by xiaming and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence. Flickr:

Evaluation  for education, learning and change – theory and practice. Evaluation is part and parcel of educating – yet it can be experienced as a burden and an unnecessary intrusion. We explore the theory and practice of evaluation and some of the key issues for informal and community educators, social pedagogues youth workers and others. In particular, we examine educators as connoisseurs and critics, and the way in which they can deepen their theory base and become researchers in practice.

Contents : introduction · on evaluation · three key dimensions · thinking about indicators · on being connoisseurs and critics · educators as action researchers · some issues when evaluating informal education · conclusion · further reading and references · acknowledgements · how to cite this article

A lot is written about evaluation in education – a great deal of which is misleading and confused. Many informal educators such as youth workers and social pedagogues are suspicious of evaluation because they see it as something that is imposed from outside. It is a thing that we are asked to do; or that people impose on us. As Gitlin and Smyth (1989) comment, from its Latin origin meaning ‘to strengthen’ or to empower, the term evaluation has taken a numerical turn – it is now largely about the measurement of things – and in the process can easily slip into becoming an end rather than a means. In this discussion of evaluation we will be focusing on how we can bring questions of value (rather than numerical worth) back into the centre of the process. Evaluation is part and parcel of educating.  To be informal educators we are constantly called upon to make judgements, to make theory, and to discern whether what is happening is for the good. We have, in Elliot W. Eisner’s words, to be connoisseurs and critics. In this piece we explore some important dimensions of this process; the theories involved; the significance of viewing ourselves as action researchers; and some issues and possibilities around evaluation in informal and community education, youth work and social pedagogy. However, first we need to spend a little bit of time on the notion of evaluation itself.

On evaluation

Much of the current interest in evaluation theory and practice can be directly linked to the expansion of government programmes (often described as the ‘New Deal’) during the 1930s in the United States and the implementation of various initiatives during the 1960s (such as Kennedy’s ‘War on Poverty’) (see Shadish, Cork and Leviton 1991). From the 1960s-on ‘evaluation’ grew as an activity, a specialist field of employment with its own professional bodies, and as a body of theory. With large sums of state money flowing into new agencies (with projects and programmes often controlled or influenced by people previously excluded from such political power) officials and politicians looked to increased monitoring and review both to curb what they saw as ‘abuses’, and to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their programmes. A less charitable reading would be that they were both increasingly concerned with micro-managing initiatives and in controlling the activities of new agencies and groups. Their efforts were aided in this by developments in social scientific research. Of special note here are the activities of Kurt Lewin and the interest in action research after the Second World War.

As a starter I want to offer an orienting definition:

Evaluation is the systematic exploration and judgement of working processes, experiences and outcomes. It pays special attention to aims, values, perceptions, needs and resources.

There are several things that need to be said about this.

First, evaluation entails gathering, ordering and making judgments about information in a methodical way. It is a research process.

Second, evaluation is something more than monitoring. Monitoring is largely about ‘watching’ or keeping track and may well involve things like performance indicators. Evaluation involves making careful judgements about the worth, significance and meaning of phenomenon.

Third, evaluation is very sophisticated. There is no simple way of making good judgements. It involves, for example, developing criteria or standards that are both meaningful and honour the work and those involved.

Fourth, evaluation operates at a number of levels. It is used to explore and judge practice and programmes and projects (see below).

Last, evaluation if it is to have any meaning must look at the people involved, the processes and any outcomes we can identify. Appreciating and getting of flavour of these involves dialogue. This makes the focus enquiry rather than measurement – although some measurement might be involved (Rowlands 1991). The result has to be an emphasis upon negotiation and consensus concerning the process of evaluation, and the conclusions reached.

Three key dimensions

Basically, evaluation is either about proving something is working or needed, or improving practice or a project (Rogers and Smith 2006). The first often arises out of our accountability to funders, managers and, crucially, the people are working with. The second is born of a wish to do what we do better. We look to evaluation as an aid to strengthen our practice, organization and programmes (Chelimsky 1997: 97-188).

To help make sense of the development of evaluation I want to explore three key dimensions or distinctions and some of the theory associated.

Programme or practice evaluation? First, it is helpful to make a distinction between programme and project evaluation, and practice evaluation. Much of the growth in evaluation has been driven by the former.

Programme and project evaluation. This form of evaluation is typically concerned with making judgements about the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of pieces of work. Here evaluation is essentially a management tool. Judgements are made in order to reward the agency or the workers, and/or to provide feedback so that future work can be improved or altered. The former may well be related to some form of payment by results such as the giving of bonuses for ‘successful’ activities, the invoking of penalty clauses for those deemed not to have met the objectives set for it and to decisions about giving further funding. The latter is important and necessary for the development of work.

Practice evaluation . This form of evaluation is directed at the enhancement of work undertaken with particular individuals and groups, and to the development of participants (including the informal educator). It tends to be an integral part of the working process. In order to respond to a situation workers have to make sense of what is going on, and how they can best intervene (or not intervene). Similarly, other participants may also be encouraged or take it upon themselves to make judgements about the situation. In other words, they evaluate the situation and their part in it. Such evaluation is sometimes described as educative or pedagogical as it seeks to foster learning. But this is only part of the process. The learning involved is oriented to future or further action. It is also informed by certain values and commitments (informal educators need to have an appreciation of what might make for human flourishing and what is ‘good’). For this reason we can say the approach is concerned with praxis – action that is informed and committed

These two forms of evaluation will tend to pull in different directions. Both are necessary – but just how they are experienced will depend on the next two dimensions.

Summative or formative evaluation? Evaluations can be summative or formative. Evaluation can be primarily directed at one of two ends:

  • To enable people and agencies make judgements about the work undertaken; to identify their knowledge, attitudes and skills, and to understand the changes that have occurred in these; and to increase their ability to assess their learning and performance ( formative evaluation ).
  • To enable people and agencies to demonstrate that they have fulfilled the objectives of the programme or project, or to demonstrate they have achieved the standard required ( summative evaluation ).

Either can be applied to a programme or to the work of an individual. Our experience of evaluation is likely to be different according to the underlying purpose. If it is to provide feedback so that programmes or practice can be developed we are less likely, for example, to be defensive about our activities. Such evaluation isn’t necessarily a comfortable exercise, and we may well experience it as punishing – especially if it is imposed on us (see below). Often a lot more is riding on a summative evaluation. It can mean the difference between having work and being unemployed!

Banking or dialogical evaluation? Last, it is necessary to explore the extent to which evaluation is dialogical. As we have already seen much evaluation is imposed or required by people external to the situation. The nature of the relationship between those requiring evaluation and those being evaluated is, thus of fundamental importance. Here we might useful employ two contrasting models. We can usefully contrast the dominant or traditional model that tend to see the people involved in a project as objects, with an alternative, dialogical approach that views all those involved as subjects. This division has many affinities to Freire’s (1972) split between banking and dialogical models of education.

Exhibit 1: Rowlands on traditional (banking) and alternative (dialogical) evaluation

Joanna Rowlands has provided us with a useful summary of these approaches to evaluation. She was particularly concerned with the evaluation of social development projects.

The characteristics of the traditional (banking) approach to evaluation:

1.     A search for objectivity and a ‘scientific approach’, through standardized procedures. The values used in this approach… often reflect the priorities of the evaluator.

2.     An over-reliance on quantitative measures. Qualitative aspects…, being difficult to measure, tend to be ignored.

3.     A high degree of managerial control, whereby managers can influence the questions being asked Other people, who may be affected by the findings of an evaluation, may have little input, either in shaping the questions to be asked or reflecting on the findings.

4.     Outsiders are usually contracted to be evaluator in the belief that his will increase objectivity, and there may be a negative perception of them by those being evaluated’.

The characteristics of the alternative (dialogical) approach to evaluation

1.     Evaluation is viewed as an integral part of the development or change process and involves ‘reflection-action’. Subjectivity is recognized and appreciated.

2.     There is a focus on dialogue, enquiry rather than measurement, and a tendency to use less formal methods like unstructured interviews and participant observation.

3.     It is approached as an ‘empowering process’ rather than control by an external body. There is a recognition that different individuals and groups will have different perceptions. Negotiation and consensus is valued concerning the process of evaluation, and the conclusions reached, and recommendations made

4.     The evaluator takes on the role of facilitator, rather than being an objective and neutral outsider. Such evaluation may well be undertaken by ‘insiders’ – people directly involved in the project or programme.

Adapted from Joanna Rowlands (1991) How do we know it is working? The evaluation of social development projects , and discussed in Rubin (1995: 17-23)

We can see in these contrasting models important questions about power and control, the way in which those directly involved in programmes and projects are viewed. Dialogical evaluation places the responsibility for evaluation squarely on the educators and the other participants in the setting (Jeffs and Smith 2005: 85-92).

Thinking about indicators

The key part of evaluation, some may argue, is framing the questions we want to ask, and the information we want to collect such that the answers provide us with the indicators of change.  Unfortunately, as we have seen, much of the talk and practice around indicators in evaluation has been linked to rather crude measures of performance and the need to justify funding (Rogers and Smith 2006). We want to explore the sort of indicators that might be more fitting to the work we do.

In common usage an indicator points to something, it is a sign or symptom. The difficulty facing us is working out just what we are seeing might be a sign of. In informal education – and any authentic education – the results of our labours may only become apparent some time later in the way that people live their lives. In addition, any changes in behaviour we see may be specific to the situation or relationship (see below). Further, it is often difficult to identify who or what was significant in bringing about change. Last, when we look at, or evaluate, the work, as E Lesley Sewell (1966) put it, we tend to see what we are looking for. For these reasons a lot of the outcomes that are claimed in evaluations and reports about work with particular groups or individuals have to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Luckily, in trying to make sense of our work and the sorts of indicators that might be useful in evaluation, we can draw upon wisdom about practice, broader research findings, and our values.

Exhibit 2: Evaluation – what might we need indicators for?

We want to suggest four possible areas that we might want indicators for:

The number of  people we are in contact with and working with . In general, as informal educators we should expect to make and maintain a lot of contacts . This is so people know about us, and the opportunities and support we can offer. We can also expect to involve smaller numbers of participants in groups and projects, and an even smaller number as ‘clients’ in intensive work. The numbers we might expect – and the balance between them – will differ from project to project (Jeffs and Smith 2005: 116-121). However, through dialogue it does seem possible to come some agreement about these – and in the process we gain a useful tool for evaluation.

The nature of the opportunities we offer . We should expect to be asked questions about the nature and range of opportunities we offer. For example, do young people have a chance to talk freely and have fun; expand and enlarge their experience, and learn? As informal educators we should also expect to work with people to build varied programmes and groups and activities with different foci.

The quality of relationships available . Many of us talk about our work in terms of ‘building relationships’. By this we often mean that we work both through relationship, and for relationship (see Smith and Smith forthcoming). This has come under attack from those advocating targeted and more outcome-oriented work. However, the little sustained research that has been done confirms that it is the relationships that informal educators and social pedagogues form with people, and encourage them to develop with others, that really matters (see Hirsch 2005). Unfortunately identifying sensible indicators of progress is not easy – and the job of evaluation becomes difficult as a result.

How well people work together and for others . Within many of the arenas where informal education flourishes there is a valuing of working so that people may organize things for themselves, and be of service to others. The respect in which this held is also backed up by research. We know, for example, that people involved in running groups generally grow in self-confidence and develop a range of skills (Elsdon 1995). We also know that those communities where a significant number of people are involved in organizing groups and activities are healthier, have more positive experiences of education, are more active economically, and have less crime (Putnam 1999). (Taken from Rogers and Smith 2006)

For some of these areas it is fairly easy to work out indicators. However, when it comes to things like relationships, as Lesley Sewell noted many years ago, ‘Much of it is intangible and can be felt in atmosphere and spirit. Appraisal of this inevitably depends to some extent on the beholders themselves’ (1966: 6). There are some outward signs – like the way people talk to each other. In the end though, informal education is fundamentally an act of faith. However, our faith can be sustained and strengthened by reflection and exploration.

On being connoisseurs and critics

Informal education involves more than gaining and exercising technical knowledge and skills. It depends on us also cultivating a kind of artistry. In this sense, educators are not engineers applying their skills to carry out a plan or drawing, they are artists who are able to improvise and devise new ways of looking at things. We have to work within a personal but shared idea of the ‘good’ – an appreciation of what might make for human flourishing and well-being (see Jeffs and Smith 1990). What is more, there is little that is routine or predictable in our work. As a result, central to what we do as educators is the ability to ‘think on our feet’. Informal education is driven by conversation and by certain values and commitments (Jeffs and Smith 2005).

Describing informal education as an art does sound a bit pretentious. It may also appear twee. But there is a serious point here. When we listen to other educators, for example in team meetings, or have the chance to observe them in action, we inevitably form judgments about their ability. At one level, for example, we might be impressed by someone’s knowledge of the income support system or of the effects of different drugs. However, such knowledge is useless if it cannot be used in the best way. We may be informed and be able to draw on a range of techniques, yet the thing that makes us special is the way in which we are able to combine these and improvise regarding the particular situation. It is this quality that we are describing as artistry.

For Donald Schön (1987: 13) artistry is an exercise of intelligence, a kind of knowing. Through engaging with our experiences we are able to develop maxims about, for example, group work or working with an individual. In other words, we learn to appreciate – to be aware and to understand – what we have experienced. We become what Eisner (1985; 1998) describes as ‘ connoisseurs ‘. This involves very different qualities to those required by dominant models of evaluation.

Connoisseurship is the art of appreciation. It can be displayed in any realm in which the character, import, or value of objects, situations, and performances is distributed and variable, including educational practice. (Eisner 1998: 63)

The word connoisseurship comes from the Latin cognoscere , to know (Eisner 1998: 6). It involves the ability to see, not merely to look. To do this we have to develop the ability to name and appreciate the different dimensions of situations and experiences, and the way they relate one to another. We have to be able to draw upon, and make use of, a wide array of information. We also have to be able to place our experiences and understandings in a wider context, and connect them with our values and commitments. Connoisseurship is something that needs to be worked at – but it is not a technical exercise. The bringing together of the different elements into a whole involves artistry.

However, educators need to become something more than connoisseurs. We need to become critics .

If connoisseurship is the art of appreciation, criticism is the art of disclosure. Criticism, as Dewey pointed out in Art as Experience , has at is end the re-education of perception… The task of the critic is to help us to see.
Thus…  connoisseurship provides criticism with its subject matter. Connoisseurship is private, but criticism is public. Connoisseurs simply need to appreciate what they encounter. Critics, however, must render these qualities vivid by the artful use of critical disclosure. (Eisner 1985: 92-93)

Criticism can be approached as the process of enabling others to see the qualities of something. As Eisner (1998: 6) puts it, ‘effective criticism functions as the midwife to perception. It helps it come into being, then later refines it and helps it to become more acute’. The significance of this for those who want to be educators is, thus, clear. Educators also need to develop the ability to work with others so that they may discover the truth in situations, experiences and phenomenon.

Educators as action researchers

Schön (1987) talks about professionals being ‘researchers in the practice context’. As Bogdan and Biklen (1992: 223) put it, ‘research is a frame of mind – a perspective people take towards objects and activities’. For them, and for us here, it is something that we can all undertake. It isn’t confined to people with long and specialist training. It involves (Stringer 1999: 5):

• A problem to be investigated.

• A process of enquiry

• Explanations that enable people to understand the nature of the problem

Within the action research tradition there have been two basic orientations. The British tradition – especially that linked to education – tends to view action research as research oriented toward the enhancement of direct practice. For example, Carr and Kemmis provide a classic definition:

Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out (Carr and Kemmis 1986: 162).

The second tradition, perhaps more widely approached within the social welfare field – and most certainly the broader understanding in the USA – is of action research as ‘the systematic collection of information that is designed to bring about social change’ (Bogdan and Biklen 1992: 223). Bogdan and Biklen continue by saying that its practitioners marshal evidence or data to expose unjust practices or environmental dangers and recommend actions for change. It has been linked into traditions of citizen’s action and community organizing, but in more recent years has been adopted by workers in very different fields.

In many respects, this distinction mirrors one we have already been using – between programme evaluation and practice evaluation. In the latter, we may well set out to explore a particular piece of work. We may think of it as a case study – a detailed examination of one setting, or a single subject, a single depository of documents, or one particular event (Merriam 1988). We can explore what we did as educators: what were our aims and concerns; how did we act; what were we thinking and feeling and so on? We can look at what may have been going on for other participants; the conversations and interactions that took place; and what people may have learnt and how this may have affected their behaviour. Through doing this we can develop our abilities as connoisseurs and critics. We can enhance what we are able to take into future encounters.

When evaluating a programme or project we may ask other participants to join with us to explore and judge the processes they have been involved in (especially if we are concerned with a more dialogical approach to evaluation). Our concern is to collect information, to reflect upon it, and to make some judgements as to the worth of the project or programme, and how it may be improved. This takes us into the realm of what a number of writers have called community-based action research. We have set out one example of this below.

Exhibit 3: Stringer on community-based action research

A fundamental premise of community-based action research is that it commences with an interest in the problems of a group, a community, or an organization. Its purpose is to assist people in extending their understanding of their situation and thus resolving problems that confront them….

Community-based action research is always enacted through an explicit set of social values. In modern, democratic social contexts, it is seen as a process of inquiry that has the following characteristics:

  • It is democratic , enabling the participation of all people.
  • It is equitable , acknowledging people’s equality of worth.
  • It is liberating , providing freedom from oppressive, debilitating conditions.
  • It is life enhancing , enabling the expression of people’s full human potential. (Stringer 1999: 9-10)
The action research process

Action research works through three basic phases:

Look – building a picture and gathering information. When evaluating we define and describe the problem to be investigated and the context in which it is set. We also describe what all the participants (educators, group members, managers etc.) have been doing.

Think – interpreting and explaining. When evaluating we analyse and interpret the situation. We reflect on what participants have been doing. We look at areas of success and any deficiencies, issues or problems.

Act – resolving issues and problems. In evaluation we judge the worth, effectiveness, appropriateness, and outcomes of those activities. We act to formulate solutions to any problems.

(Stringer 1999: 18; 43-44;160)

 We could contrast with a more traditional, banking, style of research in which an outsider (or just the educators working on their own) collect information, organize it, and come to some conclusions as to the success or otherwise of the work.

Some issues when evaluating informal education

In recent years informal educators have been put under great pressure to provide ‘output indicators’, ‘qualitative criteria’, ‘objective success measures’ and ‘adequate assessment criteria’. Those working with young people have been encouraged to show how young people have developed ‘personally and socially through participation’. We face a number of problems when asked to approach our work in such ways. As we have already seen, our way of working as informal educators places us within a more dialogical framework. Evaluating our work in a more bureaucratic and less inclusive fashion may well compromise or cut across our work.

There are also some basic practical problems. Here we explore four particular issues identified by Jeffs and Smith (2005) with respect to programme or project evaluations.

The problem of multiple influences. The different things that influence the way people behave can’t be easily broken down. For example, an informal educator working with a project to reduce teen crime on two estates might notice that the one with a youth club open every weekday evening has less crime than the estate without such provision. But what will this variation, if it even exists, prove? It could be explained, as research has shown, by differences in the ethos of local schools, policing practices, housing, unemployment rates, and the willingness of people to report offences.

The problem of indirect impact.  Those who may have been affected by the work of informal educators are often not easily identified. It may be possible to list those who have been worked with directly over a period of time. However, much contact is sporadic and may even take the form of a single encounter. The indirect impact is just about impossible to quantify. Our efforts may result in significant changes in the lives of people we do not work with. This can happen as those we work with directly develop. Consider, for example, how we reflect on conversations that others recount to us, or ideas that we acquire second- or third-hand. Good informal education aims to achieve a ripple effect. We hope to encourage learning through conversation and example and can only have a limited idea of what the true impact might be.

The problem of evidence. Change can rarely be monitored even on an individual basis. For example, informal educators who focus on alcohol abuse within a particular group can face an insurmountable problem if challenged to provide evidence of success. They will not be able to measure use levels prior to intervention, during contact or subsequent to the completion of their work. In the end all the educator will be able to offer, at best, is vague evidence relating to contact or anecdotal material.

The problem of timescale . Change of the sort with which informal educators are concerned does not happen overnight. Changes in values, and the ways that people come to appreciate themselves and others, are notoriously hard to identify – especially as they are happening. What may seem ordinary at the time can, with hindsight, be recognized as special.


There are two classic routes around such practical problems. We can use both as informal educators.

The first is to undertake the sort of participatory action research we have been discussing here. When setting up and running programmes and projects we can build in participatory research and evaluation from the start. We make it part of our way of working. Participants are routinely invited and involved in evaluation. We encourage them to think about the processes they have been participating in, the way in which they have changed and so on. This can be done in ways that fit in with the general run of things that we do as informal educators.

The second route is to make linkages between our own activities as informal educators and the general research literature. An example here is group or club membership. We may find it very hard to identify the concrete benefits for individuals from being member of a particular group such as a football team or social club. What we can do, however, is to look to the general research on such matters. We know, for example, that involvement in such groups builds social capital . We have evidence that:

In those countries where the state invested most in cultural and sporting facilities young people responded by investing more of their own time in such activities (Gauthier and Furstenberg 2001). The more involved people are in structured leisure activities, good social contacts with friends, and participation in the arts, cultural activities and sport, the more likely they are to do well educationally, and the less likely they are to be involved even in low-level delinquency (Larson and Verma 1999). There appears to be a strong relationship between the possession of social capital and better health. ‘As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half . If you smoke and belong to no groups, it’s a toss-up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining’ (ibid.: 331). Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or church attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a college degree or more than doubling your income. Civic connections rival marriage and affluence as predictors of life happiness (Putnam 2000: 333).

This approach can work where there is some freedom in the way that you can respond to funders and others with regard to evaluation. Where you are forced to fill in forms that require the answers to certain set questions we can still use the evaluations that we have undertaken in a participatory manner – and there may even be room to bring in some references to the broader literature. The key here is to remember that we are educators – and that we have a responsibility foster learning, not only among those we work with in a project or programme, but also among funders, managers and policymakers. We need to view their requests for information as opportunities to work at deepening their appreciation and understanding of informal education and the issues and questions with which we work.

The purpose of evaluation, as Everitt et al (1992: 129) is to reflect critically on the effectiveness of personal and professional practice. It is to contribute to the development of ‘good’ rather than ‘correct’ practice.

Missing from the instrumental and technicist ways of evaluating teaching are the kinds of educative relationships that permit the asking of moral, ethical and political questions about the ‘rightness’ of actions. When based upon educative (as distinct from managerial) relations, evaluative practices become concerned with breaking down structured silences and narrow prejudices. (Gitlin and Smyth 1989: 161)

Evaluation is not primarily about the counting and measuring of things. It entails valuing – and to do this we have to develop as connoisseurs and critics. We have also to ensure that this process of ‘looking, thinking and acting’ is participative.

Further reading and references

For the moment I have listed some guides to evaluation. At a later date I will be adding in some more contextual material concerning evaluation in informal education.

Berk, R. A. and Rossi, P. H. (1990) Thinking About Program Evaluation , Newbury Park: Sage. 128 pages. Clear introduction with chapters on key concepts in evaluation research; designing programmes; examining programmes (using a chronological perspective). Useful US annotated bibliography.

Eisner, E. W. (1985) The Art of Educational Evaluation. A personal view , Barcombe: Falmer. 272 + viii pages. Wonderful collection of material around scientific curriculum making and its alternatives. Good chapters on Eisner’s championship of educational connoisseurship and criticism. Not a cookbook, rather a way of orienting oneself.

Eisner, E. W. (1998) The Enlightened Eye. Qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educational practice , Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 264 + viii pages. Re-issue of a 1990 classic in which Eisner plays with the ideas of educational connoisseurship and educational criticism. Chapters explore these ideas, questions of validity, method and evaluation. An introductory chapter explores qualitative thought and human understanding and final chapters turn to ethical tensions, controversies and dilemmas; and the preparation of qualitative researchers.

Everitt, A. and Hardiker, P. (1996) Evaluating for Good Practice , London: Macmillan. 223 + x pages. Excellent introduction that takes care to avoid technicist solutions and approaches. Chapters examine purposes; facts, truth and values; measuring performance; a critical approach to evaluation; designing critical evaluation; generating evidence; and making judgements and effecting change.

Hirsch, B. J. (2005) A Place to Call Home. After-school programs for urban youth , New York: Teachers College Press. A rigorous and insightful evaluation of the work of six inner city boys and girls clubs that concludes that the most important thing they can and do offer is relationships (both with peers and with the workers) and a ‘second home’.

Patton, M. Q. (1997) Utilization-Focused Evaluation. The new century text 3e, Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage. 452 pages. Claimed to be the most comprehensive review and integration of the literature on evaluation. Sections focus on evaluation use; focusing evaluations; appropriate methods; and the realities and practicalities of utilization-focused evaluation.

Rossi, P. H., Freeman, H. and Lipsey, M. W. (2004) Evaluation. A systematic approach 7e, Newbury Park, Ca.: Sage. 488 pages. Practical guidance from diagnosing problems through to measuring and analysing programmes. Includes material on formative evaluation procedures, practical ethics, and cost-benefits.

Stringer, E. T. (1999) Action Research 2e, Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage. 229 + xxv pages. Useful discussion of community-based action research directed at practitioners.

Bogden, R. and Biklen, S. K. (1992) Qualitative Research For Education , Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical. Education, knowledge and action research , Lewes: Falmer.

Chelimsky E. (1997) Thoughts for a new evaluation society. Evaluation 3(1): 97-118.

Elsdon, K. T. with Reynolds, J. and Stewart, S. (1995) Voluntary Organizations. Citizenship, learning and change , Leicester: NIACE.

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed , London: Penguin.

Gauthier, A. H. and Furstenberg, F. F. (2001) ‘Inequalities in the use of time by teenagers and young adults’ in K. Vleminckx and T. M. Smeeding (eds.) Child Well-being, Child Poverty and Child Policy in Modern Nations Bristol: Policy Press.

Gitlin, A. and Smyth, J. (1989) Teacher Evaluation. Critical education and transformative alternatives , Lewes: Falmer Press.

Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. (eds.) (1990) Using Informal Education , Buckingham: Open University Press.

Jeffs and Smith, M. K. (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning 3e, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

Larson, R. W. and Vera, A. (1999) ‘How children and adolescents spend time across the world: work, play and developmental opportunities’ Psychological Bulletin 125(6).

Merriam, S. B. (1988) Case Study Research in Education , San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Putman, R. D. (2000) Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community , New York: Simon and Schuster.

Rogers, A. and Smith, M. K. (2006) Evaluation: Learning what matters , London: Rank Foundation/YMCA George Williams College. Available as a pdf: .

Rubin, F. (1995) A Basic Guide to Evaluation for Development Workers , Oxford: Oxfam.

Schön, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. How professionals think in action , London: Temple Smith.

Sewell, L. (1966) Looking at Youth Clubs , London: National Association of Youth Clubs. Available in the informal education archives : .

Shadish, W. R., Cook, T. D. and Leviton, L. C. (1991) Foundations of Program Evaluation , Newbury Park C.A.: Sage.

Smith, H. and Smith, M. K. (forthcoming) The Art of Helping Others . Being around, being there, being wise . See .

Acknowledgements and credits : Alan Rogers and Sarah Lloyd-Jones were a great help when updating this article – and some of the material in this piece first appeared in Rogers and Smith 2006.

The picture – Office of Mayhem Evaluation – is by xiaming and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence. Flickr:

How to cite this article : Smith, M. K. (2001, 2006). Evaluation for education, learning and change – theory and practice, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [ . Retrieved: insert date]

© Mark K. Smith 2001, 2006

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The functions of educational evaluation

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The importance of the motivational function of evaluation lies in the fact that it has the potential to move students forward, help them to achieve success and positive appreciation. If during the education process students are motivated mainly by means of assessment, it may happen that evaluation becomes the aim rather than a tool for achieving the aim. The function of feedback in evaluation lies in the teacher’s providing feedback to students on their performance, learning activities and the efforts made to perform the task. However, the evaluation also fulfils an informative function, particularly in terms of providing study results to students and their parents. In this paper, I introduce what is actually evaluated in education in terms of student performance or if their learning activities depend not only on the teacher’s personal conception of the teaching itself but also on some general concepts of education. The concept of evaluation gives a comprehensive view of the issue f...

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Evaluation in Education: Meaning, Types, Importance, Principles & Characteristics

Let’s start with the definition of evaluation in this article before we delve into evaluation in Education, the meaning as well as types and its importance.

What exactly is evaluation?

Evaluation is a procedure that reviews a program critically. It is a process that involves careful gathering and evaluating of data on the actions, features, and consequences of a program. Its objective is to evaluate programs, improve program effectiveness, and influence programming decisions.

The efficacy of program interventions is assessed through educational evaluation. These often address the learning, such as reading; emotional, behavioral, and social development, such as anti-bullying initiatives; or wider subjects, such as whole-school system improvements such as inclusive education. Within the research community, debates have raged regarding methodology, specifically the use of qualitative approaches in evaluating program efficacy vs quantitative ones. There has also been significant political participation, with certain governments adopting stances on the sort of evidence necessary for assessment studies, with a focus on randomized controlled trials in particular (RCTs).

The initial goal of program assessment is to determine the effectiveness of the intervention. This can be done on a small basis, such as a school studying the implementation of a new reading scheme, but it can also be done on a big scale, at the district, school, state (local authority ), or national level. The availability of national or state data collections, such as those from the United Kingdom. The Government’s National Pupil Database and its student-level School Census provide opportunities for large-scale evaluations of educational interventions, such as curricular reforms or the differential development of types of kids (e.g., the relationship between identification of special educational needs and ethnicity). However, the importance of evaluating both the effectiveness of the program itself and its implementation is becoming increasingly recognized.

Other definitions of Evaluation by other authors;

“The technique of obtaining and assessing information changes in the conduct of all children as they advance through school,” Hanna says.

According to Muffat, “evaluation is a continual process that is concerned with more than the official academic accomplishment of students.” It is viewed in terms of the individual’s growth in terms of desired behavioral change in connection to his feelings, thoughts, and actions.”

Evaluation is a crucial issue in both the first and second years of B.Ed. Every B.Ed. student should comprehend the notion of evaluation and assessment.

Types of Evaluation in Education

  • Formative Evaluation
  • Summative Evaluation
  • Prognostic Evaluation
  • Diagnostic Evaluation
  • Norm Referenced Evaluation
  • Criterion Referenced Evaluation
  • Quantitative Evaluation
  • Formative evaluation

We would be explaining each of these types of evaluation in education.

1. Formative Evaluation

  • This form of evaluation takes place during the instructional process. Its goal is to offer students and teachers with continual feedback.
  • This aids in making modifications to the instruction process as needed. It considers smaller and autonomous curricular sections, and pupils are ultimately assessed through assessments.
  • It is assessing the kids’ understanding and which part of their work needs more work. A teacher can assess their pupils while educating them on a class or a lesson or after the topic has been completed to see whether or not modifications in teaching approach are required.
  • It is really beneficial to make modifications or timely corrections in pupils and teaching style.

2. Summative Evaluation

  • Summative evaluation occurs at the end of the school year. It assesses the success of objectives and changes in a student’s general personality at the end of the session.
  • Summative evaluations address a wide range of aspects of learning. It considers formative assessment ratings and student tests after course completion to provide final grades and comments to students.
  • Summative evaluation is used to grade students.

3. Prognostic Evaluation

  • Prognostic evaluations are used to estimate and anticipate a person’s future career.
  • A prognostic evaluation adds a new dimension to the discoveries of an assessment with analysis of talents and potentials: the concerned person’s future growth, as well as the necessary circumstances, timeline, and constraints.

4. Diagnostic Evaluation

  • As the phrase implies, diagnosis is the process of determining the root cause of a problem. During this examination, a teacher attempts to diagnose each student on many characteristics in order to determine the caliber of pupils.
  • A diagnostic assessment is a type of pre-evaluation in which teachers assess students’ strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and abilities prior to the start of the teaching learning process.
  • It necessitates specifically designed diagnostic tests as well as several additional observational procedures.
  • It is useful in developing the course and curriculum based on the learner’s ability.

5. Norm Referenced Evaluation

  • This type of assessment is centered on evaluating students’ relative performance, either by comparing the outputs of individual learners within the group being evaluated or by juxtaposing their performance to that of others of comparable age, experience, and background.
  • It influences the placement of pupils inside the group.

6. Criterion Referenced Evaluation

  • Criterion Reference Evaluation explains a person’s performance in relation to a predetermined performance benchmark.
  • It describes a student’s performance accuracy, or how well the individual performs in relation to a given standard.
  • In other words, it’s like comparing a student’s performance to a predetermined benchmark.

7. Quantitative Evaluation

Quantitative assessments employ scientific instruments and measures. The outcomes can be tallied or measured.

Quantitative Evaluation Techniques or Tools;

  • Performance evaluation

8. Formative Evaluation

  • Qualitative observations, which are more subjective than qualitative evaluation, are described in science as any observation made utilizing the five senses.
  • It entails value assessment.

9. Qualitative Evaluation Techniques or Tools

  • Cumulative Records
  • The school keeps such statistics to demonstrate pupils’ overall improvement.

10. Anecdotal evidence

These records preserve descriptions of noteworthy events or student efforts.

11. Observation

This is the most popular method of qualitative student assessment. This is the only method for assessing classroom interaction.

12. Checklist

Checklists specify precise criteria and allow instructors and students to collect data and make judgments about what pupils know and can perform in connection to the outcomes. They provide systematic methods for gathering data on certain behaviors, knowledge, and abilities.

Difference Between Evaluation and Assessment

Functions and importance of evaluation in education.

The primary goal of the teaching, learning process is to enable the student to obtain the desired learning outcomes. The learning objectives are established during this phase, and then the learning progress is reviewed on a regular basis using tests and other assessment tools.

The evaluation process’s role may be described as follows:

  • Evaluation aids in the preparation of instructional objectives: The evaluation results may be used to fix the learning goals expected from the classroom discussion.
  • What kind of information and comprehension should the learner gain?
  • What skill should they demonstrate?
  • What kind of interest and attitude should they cultivate?

Only when we determine the instructional objectives and communicate them clearly in terms of expected learning outcomes will this be achievable. Only a thorough evaluation method allows us to create a set of ideal instructional objectives.

  • The evaluation method aids in analyzing the learner’s requirements: It is critical to understand the needs of the learners during the teaching-learning process. The instructor must be aware of the knowledge and abilities that the pupils must learn.

Evaluation aids in delivering feedback to students: An evaluation procedure assists the instructor in determining the students’ learning issues. It contributes to the improvement of many school procedures. It also assures proper follow-up service.

Evaluation aids in the preparation of program materials: A continuous succession of learning sequences is referred to as programmed instruction. First, a limited quantity of teaching content is offered, followed by a test to respond to the instructional material. The following feedback is given based on the accuracy of the response given. Thus, programmed learning is impossible without an adequate evaluation method.

Evaluation aids in curriculum development:

Curriculum creation is an essential component of the educational process. Data from evaluations allow for curriculum creation, determining the efficacy of new methods, and identifying areas that require change. The evaluation also aids in determining the effectiveness of an existing curriculum. Thus, assessment data aids in the development of new curriculum as well as the evaluation of existing curriculum.

  • Evaluation aids in communicating the development of students to their parents: A structured evaluation approach gives an objective and complete view of each student’s development. This comprehensive nature of the assessment procedure enables the instructor to report to the parents on the pupil’s overall growth. This sort of objective information about the student serves as the foundation for the most successful collaboration between parents and instructors.

7. Evaluation data are quite valuable in advice and counseling: Educational, vocational, and personal guidance all require evaluation methods. To help students address difficulties in the educational, vocational, and personal domains, the counselor must have an objective understanding of the students’ talents, interests, attitudes, and other personal traits. An successful assessment system aids in the formation of a complete image of the student, which leads to appropriate guiding and counseling.

8 . Evaluation data aids in good school administration: Evaluation data assists administrators in determining the amount to which the school’s objectives are met, determining the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum, and planning special school programs.

  • Evaluation data are useful in school research: Research is required to improve the effectiveness of the school program. Data from evaluations aid in research fields such as comparative studies of different curricula, efficacy of different approaches, effectiveness of different organizational designs, and so on.

Principles of Evaluation

The following concepts guide evaluation:

  • Continuity principle: Evaluation is a continual process that continues as long as the student is involved in education. Evaluation is an important part of the teaching-learning process. Whatever the student learns should be examined on a daily basis. Only then will the student have a greater mastery of the language.
  • The comprehensiveness principle: states that we must evaluate all parts of the learner’s personality. It is concerned with the child’s whole development.
  • The principle of Objectives: states that evaluation should always be based on educational objectives. It should aid in determining where there is a need for revamping and stopping the learner’s behavior.
  • Child-Centeredness Principle: The child is at the center of the evaluation process. The child’s conduct is the focal point for evaluation. It assists a teacher in determining a child’s grasping ability and the effectiveness of teaching content.
  • The principle of broadness: states that evaluation should be wide enough to encompass all areas of life.
  • Principle of Application: The child may learn many things during the teaching and learning process. However, they may be ineffective in his daily life. If he can’t utilize it, it’s pointless to look for it. It can be determined by assessment. The evaluation determines if a student is better able to use his knowledge and understanding in various circumstances in order to thrive in life.

8 Evaluation characteristics in education

  • Process what is ongoing: Evaluation is a never-ending process. It co-leads with the teaching-learning process.
  • Comprehensive: Evaluation is comprehensive because it encompasses everything that can be reviewed.
  • Child-Centered: Evaluation is a child-centered technique that emphasizes the learning process rather than the teaching process.
  • Remedial: Although evaluation remarks on the outcome, it is not a remedy. The purpose of an evaluation is to correct problems.
  • Cooperative Process: Evaluation is a collaborative process that involves students, instructors, parents, and peer groups.
  • Teaching Approaches: The effectiveness of various teaching methods is assessed.
  • Common Practice: Evaluation is a typical technique for the optimal mental and physical development of the kid.
  • Multiple Aspects: It is concerned with pupils’ whole personalities.

In summary, Evidence of efficacy, often from random controlled trials, and the effectiveness of project planning is required for the evaluation of educational programs. Program evaluations must prove that the program can perform under ideal controlled situations and that it will work when carried out on a broad scale in community settings to order to give valuable data to support policy. To address these many dimensions of effectiveness, evaluation benefits from a combined approaches strategic plan.

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Evaluation : meaning, principles and functions (with diagram).

functions of education evaluation


Read this article to learn about the meaning, principles and functions of evaluation in education.

Meaning of Evaluation:

Evaluation is a broader term than the Measurement. It is more comprehensive than mere in­clusive than the term Measurement. It goes ahead of measurement which simply indicates the numerical value. It gives the value judgement to the numerical value. It includes both tangible and intangible qualities.

Different educationist has defined evaluation as following:

James M. Bradfield:

Evaluation is the assignment of sym­bols to phenomenon, in order to characterize the worth or value of a phenomenon, usually with reference to some cultural or scientific standards.

Thorndike and Hegan:

The term evaluation is closely re­lated to measurement. It is in some respect, inclusive in­cluding informal and intuitive judgement of pupil’s progress. Evaluation is describing something in term of selected attributes and judging the degree of acceptability or suitability of that which has been described.

Norman E. Gronlund and Robert L. Linn:

Evaluation is a systematic process of collecting, analysing and interpreting in­formation to determine the extent to which pupil’s are achievement instructional objectives.

The process of ascertaining or judging the value or amount of something by use of a standard of standard of appraisal includes judgement in terms of internal evidence and external criteria. From the above definitions it can b said that evaluations a much more comprehensive and inclusive term than the meas­urement and test. A test is a set of question measurement is assigning numbers to the results of test according to some specific rules on the other hand evaluation adds value judgement.

For example when we say Rohan secured 45 numbers in Arith­metic. It just indicates ‘how much’ Rohan has successfully answered. It does not include any qualitative description i.e. ‘how good’ he is in Arithmetic. Evaluation on the other hand includes both quantitative description (measurement) and qualitative description (Non measurement) along with value judgements. This relationship between measurement, non measurement and evaluation can be illustrated with the help of following diagram (1.1).

Relationship between Measurement, Non Measurement and Evaluation

Principles of Evaluation:

Evaluation is a sys­tematic process of determining to what extent instructional ob­jectives has been achieved. Therefore evaluation process must be carried out with effective techniques.

The following principles will help to make the evaluation process an effective one:

1. It must be clearly stated what is to be evaluated:

A teacher must be clear about the purpose of evaluation. He must formulate the instructional objectives and define them clearly in terms of student’s observable behaviour. Before selecting the achievement measures the intended learning out comes must be specified clearly.

2. A variety of evaluation techniques should be used for a comprehensive evaluation:

It is not possible to evaluate all the aspect of achievement with the help of a single technique. For the better evaluation the techniques like objective tests, essay tests, observational techniques etc. should be used. So that a complete’ picture of the pupil achievement and development can be assessed.

3. An evaluator should know the limitations of dif­ferent evaluation techniques:

Evaluation can be done with the help of simple observation or highly developed standardized tests. But whatever the instrument or technique may be it has its own limitation. There may be measurement errors. Sampling error is a common factor in educational and psychological meas­urements. An achievement test may not include the whole course content. Error in measurement can also be found due to students guessing on objective tests. Error is also found due to incorrect interpretation of test scores.

4. The technique of evaluation must be appropriate for the characteristics or performance to be measured:

Every evaluation technique is appropriate for some uses and inap­propriate for another. Therefore while selecting an evaluation technique one must be well aware of the strength and limitations of the techniques.

5. Evaluation is a means to an end but not an end in itself:

The evaluation technique is used to take decisions about the learner. It is not merely gathering data about the learner. Because blind collection of data is wastage of both time and effort. But the evaluation is meant for some useful purpose.

Functions of Evaluation:

The main aim of teaching learning process is to enable the pupil to achieve intended learning outcomes. In this process the learning objectives are fixed then after the instruction learning progress is periodically evaluated by tests and other evaluation devices.

The function of evaluation process can be summarized as following:

1. Evaluation helps in preparing instructional objec­tives:

Learning outcomes expected from class-room discussion can be fixed by using evaluation results.

What type of knowledge and understanding the student should develop?

What skill they should display?

What interest and attitude they should develop?

Can only be possible when we shall identify the instructional objectives and state them clearly in terms of intended learning outcomes. Only a good evaluation process helps us to fix up a set of perfect instructional objectives.

2. Evaluation process helps in assessing the learner’s needs:

In the teaching learning process it is very much necessary to know the needs of the learners. The instructor must know the knowledge and skills to be mastered by the students. Evaluation helps to know whether the students possess required knowledge and skills to proceed with the instruction.

3. Evaluation help in providing feed back to the stu­dents:

An evaluation process helps the teacher to know the learn­ing difficulties of the students. It helps to bring about an im­provement in different school practices. It also ensures an ap­propriate follow-up service.

4. Evaluation helps in preparing programmed materials:

Programmed instruction is a continuous series of learning sequences. First the instructional material is presented in a limited amount then a test is given to response the instructional material. Next feedback is provided on the basis of correctness of response made. So that without an effective evaluation process the programmed learning is not possible.

5. Evaluation helps in curriculum development:

Cur­riculum development is an important aspect of the instructional process. Evaluation data enable the curriculum development, to determine the effectiveness of new procedures, identify areas where revision is needed. Evaluation also helps to determine the degree to what extent an existing curriculum is effective. Thus evaluation data are helpful in constructing the new curriculum and evaluating the existing curriculum.

6. Evaluation helps in reporting pupil’s progress to parents:

A systematic evaluation procedure provides an objective and comprehensive picture of each pupil’s progress. This com­prehensive nature of the evaluation process helps the teacher to report on the total development of the pupil to the parents. This type of objective information about the pupil provides the foun­dation for the most effective co-operation between the parents and teachers.

7. Evaluation data are very much useful in guidance and counselling:

Evaluation procedures are very much neces­sary for educational, vocational and personal guidance. In order to assist the pupils to solve their problems in the educational, vocational and personal fields the counsellor must have an objec­tive knowledge of the pupils abilities, interests, attitudes and other personal characteristics. An effective evaluation procedure helps in getting a comprehensive picture of the pupil which leads to effective guidance and of counselling.

8. Evaluation helps in effective school administration:

Evaluation data helps the administrators to judge the extent to which the objectives of the school are being achieved, to find out strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum and arranging special school programmes. It also helps in decisions concerning admis­sion, grouping and promotion of the students.

9. Evaluation data are helpful in school research:

In order to make the school programme more effective, researches are necessary. Evaluation data help in research areas like comparative study of different curricula, effectiveness of different methods, effectiveness of different organisational plans, etc.

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A level sociology revision – education, families, research methods, crime and deviance and more!

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

Functionalists focus on the positive functions of education – creating social solidarity, teaching core values and work skills and role allocation/ meritocracy

Table of Contents

Last Updated on September 12, 2023 by Karl Thompson

Functionalists focus on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs:

Functionalist perspective on education mind map for A-level sociology

Education Creates Social Solidarity

We have social solidarity when we feel as if we are part of something bigger. Emile Durkheim argued that school makes us feel like we are part of something bigger. This is done through the learning of subjects such as history and English which give us a shared sense of identity. Also in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag.

Durkheim argued that ‘school is a society in miniature.’ preparing us for life in wider society. For example, both in school and at work we have to cooperate with people who are neither friends or family – which gets us ready for dealing with people at work in later life.

Learning specialist skills for work

Durkheim noted that an advanced industrial economy required a massive and complex Division of Labour. At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialise when we do GCSEs.

The most obvious examples of this function of education are in the compulsory sector, especially with vocational education where students learn the specific skills required for particular professions – everything from engineering and construction to media and IT technicians and beauty therapy.

Durkheim believed that one of the most impressive things about modern education systems was that they simultaneously taught us core values and a sense of belonging to the whole (See below) while at the same time they teach us the DIFFERENT and DIVERSE skills that a modern economic system requires to function.

Education teaches pupils core values

Talcott Parsons argued that education acts as the ‘focal socializing agency’ in modern society. School plays the central role in the process of secondary socialisation, taking over from primary socialisation. He argued this was necessary because the family and the wider society work in different principles and children need to adapt if they re to cope In the wider world.

In the family, children are judged according to what he calls particularistic standards by their parents – that is they are judged by rules that only apply to that particular child. Individual children are given tasks based on their different abilities and judged according to their unique characteristics. Parents often adapt rules to suit the unique abilities of the child.

In contrast in school and in wider society, children and adults are judged according to the same universalistic standards (i.e they are judged by the same exams and the same laws). These rules and laws are applied equally to all people irrespective of the unique character of the individual. School gets us ready for this.

The above ties in quite nicely with the modernisation theory view of development – achieved status is seen as a superior system to the ascribed status found in traditional societies. 

Role Allocation and meritocracy

Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy.

Functionalists believe that meritocracy is extremely important for peace in society because people will only accept status and wage differences if those in lower status jobs believe they themselves had (or have) a fair chance to climb the ladder and get a higher status and better paid job themselves.

Positive evaluations of the Functionalist view on education

School performs positive functions for most pupils most of the time – even though students might not want to go to school sometimes and not necessarily enjoy school some of the time, the majority come out after 13 years of formal schooling as reasonable human beings.

There does seem to be a link between education and economic growth, suggesting a good education system benefits the wider society and economy. All countries in Western Europe have very good education systems while many poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have many more problems with their education systems, such as low attendance rates.

Exclusion and truancy rates are relatively low, suggesting there is very little active resistance to schooling.

Schools do at least try to foster ‘solidarity’ – through PSHE lessons and teaching British Values for example.

Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses. If you look at post-16 education especially there is a lot of diverse courses offered and it it is difficult to see how technologically advanced post-industrial economies could function without a thriving post-16 and university sectors.

Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer)

Criticisms of the Functionalist View of Education

It is usual in A-level sociology to criticise one perspective using other perspectives, but in the case of Functionalism there are many more stand alone criticisms that we can make!

Marxists argue the education system is not meritocratic – wealthier students from higher socio-economic backgrounds still, in 2022, get better results than poorer students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, this is true within the state school system , but the largest difference in achievement is between the 7% of very wealthy students who attend fee paying independent schools and the 93% who attend state schools.

HOWEVER, there is evidence that a disadvantage gap opened up during school lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, with poorer students falling further behind than richer students, this actually suggests that when schools are open as usual, they at least narrow that achievement gap to an extent!

Marxists would also argue that the Functionalist view of education is ideological – the fact that it focuses on the postive functions of education means it reflects the views of the powerful – the education system tends to work for them and they suggests there is nothing to criticise.

The Functionalist perspective on education was developed in the late 19th century (Durkheim) and the 1950s (Parsons) – during modernity, but with the shift to postmodernity society has changed and the British school system seems to have adapted with it.

For example, schools today focus more on developing the individual rather than teaching duties and responsibilities that individuals should adopt towards society – it’s more about the individual and less about solidarity (following the shift from modern to postmodern society)

Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school – e.g. bullying and there are a minority for who it doesn’t work, such as those permanently excluded. If we were to do the kind of in-depth research Interactionists prefer we might find that a significant minority of children are harmed during school in more subtle ways.

It is difficult to argue that schools performed any of the above four functions during the disruption caused by the government’s response to the pandemic, especially not being judged by universalistic standards (no standardized exams) or meritocracy (because private school teachers inflated their students’ grades more than state school teachers).

Video summary of the Functionalist Theory of Education

Contemporary Evidence to Evaluate Functionalism (2022 update)

Students need to be able to evaluate sociological perspectives using contemporary evidence and a lot has happened in the last few years, most of the evidence suggesting that the Functionalist view of education is extremely limited in helping us to understand the role of education in society.

Below I consider five pieces of contemporary evidence mainly from 2020-2022 and what they suggest about some of the key ideas of Functionalism as applied to education.

The shift to the Ebacc

The government plans to make 90% of pupils sit GCSEs from with the Ebacc suite of subjects by 2025. This will result in a more similar experience of education for 14-16 year olds studying towards GCSEs and the Ebacc as the Ebacc consists of a relatively narrow range of subjects: English, maths, the sciences, history or geography and a language.

On the surface this move away from allowing students to have more choice in what they study could lead to more of a shared collective conscience and thus solidarity and value consensus as students are taught a higher proportion of rational (e.g. a lot more science) and critical subjects – so more students might finish their GCSEs thinking more similarly.

The ArtsProfessional blog points out that this will result in more students from more deprived backgrounds studying subjects NOT on the approved Ebacc list because such students are more likely to do seven rather than nine GCSEs – and they have to do seven from the list above as part of the Ebacc. This means we could have poorer students being excluded from creative subjects and P.E. because these aren’t on the list, while richer and more able students do the seven Ebacc subjects plus two or three other GCSEs of their choice.

It’s also likely that more able and affluent students will get better results in their Ebacc and have a more rounded subject base because of their additional subjects, while less able and poorer students end up with only Ebacc GCSEs and weaker results.

So the net effect of making students sit a narrower range of subjects is an increase in the inequality of outcomes along class lines, which goes against the idea of meritocracy as it reproduces class inequality.

The Problem with PREVENT and British Values

The requirement to teach British Values in schools started in 2015 and emerged out of the PREVENT agenda, which required schools to intervene when they suspected (mainly Muslim) children were being radicalised and drawn into terrorism.

The government defines British values as democracy, respect for the rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance and respect for those with different faiths – and the theory behind getting students to think about what ‘being British’ means is that it might to create a new tolerant and respectful national identity based on these values and help prevent radicalisation and terrorism.

OFSTED’s vision is that British Values are embedded into the curriculum and taught through several critical thinking subjects such as history and english – through which students learn about the historical struggles for democracy and the emergence of civil society. Ideally, students would also be taught to think about whether these values are universal beyond Britain.

However, according to a 2018 article in the Conversation it is highly unlikely that the requirement on schools to teach British Values is going to promote Value Consensus in any meaningful way.

Some schools, for example, confuse British Values with British stereotypes and get students to do projects such as doing collages of what Britishness in involving pictures of the Queen (or now King) and fish and chips, which hardly promote critical thinking.

A second problem is that these values are so general that each of them can be interpreted in many different ways, and they are also full of contradictions.

For example, there are different forms of democracy, other than our first past the post system, and ‘individual liberty’ is context dependent and clearly has its limits, but where? And as to the rule of law: Boris Johnson didn’t even respect that during lockdown so that is laughable. Hence any discussions around what the specifics of these values should mean could potentially reveal or even open up divisions between pupils.

There is also a problem that the whole PREVENT and British Values agenda emerged as a response to Islamic fundamentalism – it could potentially lead to further marginalisation of Muslim children in schools as the implicit message is that it’s mainly targeted at making Muslim children conform to this new Britishness (whatever that is!)

The EU Referendum in 2015 firmly split the UK population down the middle, with approximately half the population voting to stay in the EU and half voting to leave.

This is the only time that the UK Population has been offered the chance to vote directly on a specific social policy and the fact that it divided the nation in half suggests that there is no meaningful value consensus around the idea of how Britain should relate to the wider world.

And clearly if there is no value consensus in adult society, schools have roundly failed to foster any sense of value consensus on this issue during the last five decades!

Graduate Labour Market Statistics

The 2021 Graduate Labour Market statistics suggest some broad support for education performing the role allocation function, where a tiered education system sifts and sorts people into higher and higher skilled roles.

86.7% of graduates were employed in 2021 compared to 67.2% of non-graduates:

functions of education evaluation

And graduates were three times as likely to be in ‘highly skilled’ jobs compared to non-graduates, suggesting that going to university successfully sifts most graduates into higher skilled jobs.

bar chart comparing employment rates for graduates and non graduates

HOWEVER there are still around 25% of graduates who end up in lower skilled jobs so clearly the system isn’t that effective, and it’s also clear that going to university is NOT the only way to secure a higher-skilled job.


According to the 2021-22 apprenticeship data The total number of people doing apprenticeships in 2021-2022 was approximately 750 000, with the main sectors being health and social care and business administration.

graph showing trends in apprenticeships which supports functionalism

The majority of people doing apprenticeships are under 25 and this suggests that apprenticeships are working alongside more traditional further and higher education institutions (colleges and universities) to further perform the function of role allocation.

The numbers of people doing apprenticeships certainly aren’t sufficient to suggest that apprenticeship, work based learning is undermining the role allocation function being performed my colleges and universities.

Test Yourself

Sociology of education revision bundle.

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

Education Revision Bundle Cover

  • 34 pages of revision notes
  • mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  • short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  • how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Signposting/ Related Posts

This post has been written primarily for students studying the education topic, as part of the AQA’s A-Level Sociology course.

The Functionalist perspective on education is usually the first discrete topic taught within the sociology of education module.

After reading this post you might like to read this Evaluations of Functionalism post which discusses the strengths and limitations of this perspective in more depth

After Functionalism students usually study The Marxist Perspective on Education which criticises much of what Functionalists say about the topic.

A related perspective is  The New Right View of Education which is usually taught as an updated and modified version of Functionalism, more relevant to society today.

You might also like this summary of perspectives on education grid , although you might need to squint to see it (update pending!)

Please click here to return to the homepage –

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12 thoughts on “The Functionalist Perspective on Education”

Hi – they’re from a BBC documentary – ‘who gets the best jobs’?

Hi I was wondering if you could please tell me where you got the following statistics in your post = “Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees” and “7% of private school kids get >50% of top jobs” All I need is the source and date for my homework, please. Thank you

They basically believe inequalities are also functional.

is there anything in the education system that a functionalist would see as negative or do they believe that there is no down side to it, such as social inequalities?

It is a myth in disorder. The causal factor is that men miss abrogate the truth and correct way of doing things. For instance, PNG is ingrained with a culture of “its whom you know” rather than “what you know” systemically and systematically.

That’s a nice ‘in the words of a functionalist’ explanation! Remember that this view is a myth according to Marxists.

I think I have answered this question. Have you realized that the education system has always been meritocratic? Individuals get rewarded for their talents as what they do is transparent enough for all to see and not because of age or how long they have been in the system that matters.


yeah its true the points are correctly explained are eas to understand

Hi – to get you started… the basic stance of Functionalism is that institutions are necessary to social harmony and generally perform positive functions, the Marxist line is that they exist for the benefit of the elite, and enable them to maintain control over the masses.

i need help on this question;

explain how sociological perspectives help us understand the existence of social institutions.

thank you I am now a changed individual. your points are self explanatory

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functions of education evaluation


Eventos Home A Instituição Eventos

Nsf-fapesp webinar series: education in stem science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

functions of education evaluation

The NSF-FAPESP Education in STEM Webinar Series on Mathematics aims to foster collaboration between researchers from the United States and Sao Paulo, Brazil. The series focuses on advancing research on education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, the first one particularly in mathematics, with a focus on promoting equity and improving teaching practices. Through a series of webinars, experts from both regions share insights, best practices, and research findings, with the goal of enhancing STEM education and promoting cross-border academic partnerships for impactful research outcomes.

Please join us for the first webinar of this series, where researchers from the US and São Paulo, Brazil will explore various aspects of mathematics education, with a focus on promoting equity and improving teaching practices.


Alessandro Jacques Ribeiro, Federal University of ABC Dr. Alessandro Ribeiro holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (2007), a Master's degree in Mathematics Education (2001), and a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics (1998) from the same institution. He completed two Postdoctoral Fellowships: at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, United States (2015); and at the Institute of Education of the University of Lisbon, Portugal (2017). He is currently an Associate Professor at the Center for Mathematics, Computing, and Cognition at the Federal University of ABC, and a Permanent Faculty Member in the Graduate Program in Teaching and History of Sciences and Mathematics at UFABC. His academic and professional experience lies in the areas of Mathematics and Mathematics Education, focusing mainly on Algebraic Education and Teacher Training in Mathematics. He taught in Basic Education for 10 years and has been involved in teacher training programs (initial and continuing education) since 2001. He was president of the Brazilian society for mathematics education from 2013 to 2016. He is currently a research productivity fellow at CNPq.

Diane (Ta-yang) Hsieh, Child Trends Inc. Diane (Ta-yang) Hsieh, Ph.D., a research scientist at Search Institute, provides research and evaluation services to support positive youth development. Dr. Hsieh’s two major research focuses are youth and adolescents’ 1) educational motivation, with specific focuses on math and science, and 2) participation in out-of-school time programs. Her research training is rooted in education and developmental psychology traditions, with a particular focus on the complex interplay between people and context. Dr. Hsieh obtained her B.A. in Psychology and Human Development & Family Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Irvine.

Marcelo Firer, State University of Campinas Marcelo Firer received his formal education in mathematics, graduating at University of Campinas and receiving a PhD in mathematics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is at University of Campinas since 1999. Besides a continuous activity in research in pure mathematics, he was always involved in questions related to education and outreach in mathematics, acting as deputy and coordinator of undergraduate in mathematics (nearly 7 years), director of the University ‘s science museum (nearly 8 years).

Reginald Hopkins, Virginia State University Reginald Hopkins is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia State University (VSU). He received his B.S. in Marketing from the School of Business at Florida A&M University (FAMU) and his Master’s in Community Psychology from FAMU. His Ph.D. is in Social Psychology from Howard University. He served as chair of the Department of Psychology at VSU and as principal investigator and project director on several funded research grants from the National Science Foundation and SAMHSA. His research interests are in 1) race relations, 2) racism and psychosocial stress, and 3) the moderating effects of culture and cultural identity on learning and teaching math, academic achievement, and the mental and physical health of African Americans.

Samantha Holquist, Child Trends Inc. Samantha Holquist, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at Child Trends, leads work that centers youth, practitioner, and community voices in systemic change and creating safer, more equitable communities. Samantha’s expertise includes a range of innovative approaches to technical assistance, research, and evaluation. Her technical assistance work integrates human-centered design, adult learning, improvement science, and implementation science principles to tailor support for transformative change. Her research and evaluation work uses mixed methods and participatory approaches to overcome the limitations of traditional research approaches. Dr. Holquist has published in several prominent peer-reviewed journals, including Educational Administration Quarterly , Teachers College Record , Educational Leadership , and Educational Policy . Samantha received her PhD in organizational leadership, policy, and development from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and a Master of Public Administration from The George Washington University.

Smirla Ramos-Montanez, TERC Inc. Smirla Ramos Montañez, PhD is a bilingual (Spanish/English) and bicultural (Puerto Rican/American) researcher and evaluator focusing on culturally responsive studies related to informal STEM learning. During the last five years Dr. Ramos Montañez has led and supported a variety of projects, including program and exhibit evaluation as well as STEM education research to provide accessible, culturally relevant, and engaging experiences for diverse audiences. Currently, she is working with Dr. Scott Pattison to better understand family interest pathways and how to foster long-term interest in the engineering design process. Dr. Ramos Montañez in PI on the new project, Diálogos , an NSF AISL project that will engage parents as research partners to explore how we can leverage informal family engineering activities to support the development of executive function skills for preschool-age children from Latinx families.Dr. Ramos Montañez did an interview with the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) about what led her to work in STEM Identity research in informal contexts. The interview can be read here .

Vanessa Dias Moretti, Federal University of São Paulo Vanessa Dias Moretti holds a PhD in Education from the University of São Paulo, specializing in Science and Mathematics Teaching, and completed a post-doctoral degree in Mathematics Education at Laurentian University in Canada. She is currently an Associate Professor at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) and coordinates the GT07 - Training of Teachers who Teach Mathematics at the Brazilian Society of Mathematics Education (SBEM). Vanessa's research focuses on the initial and continuing education of teachers who teach mathematics, learning to teach, teaching activity, cultural-historical theory, and theory of objectification. She is a researcher at GEPAPe/USP and the leader of GEPPEDH at UNIFESP.


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