For the Functionalists, education performs a positive function for all individuals in society and has a powerful influence over it. The education system serves the needs of an industrial society by providing a more advanced division of labour; socialising new generations into societies shared norms and values and, according to meritocratic criteria, allocates roles in. Education supposedly meets societies through three related economic roles; socialisation; allocation and vocational training.
Firstly, Durkheim and Parsons (1956-9) stated that the education system involves the transmission of socially agreed norms and values, known as the ‘Value Consensus’, to future generations. This was done through both the ‘formal’ curriculum and the ‘hidden’ curriculum, and its economic role is referred to as socialisation or social control.
The formal curriculum is more commonly known as the National Curriculum and so is thus the timetabled lessons the state lays out for students to undertake. However, the hidden curriculum teaches such moral lessons as the reward and punishment system, by which students must conform to and obey more authoritative persons (teachers), and installs a sense of work ethic, like punctuality and co-operation.
Functionalist theorists believe that this internalisation of norms and values results in social cohesion and stability, as well as ensuring a continuity and order in society. Through the socialisation of future generations they claim that the needs of society are meet, thus the installation of, what are seen to be, socially agreed shared norms and values into youths results in a future respect for authority and conformity to societies rules, amongst other things. Therefore, this will, in theory, lead to social harmony, stability and social integration.
Davis and Moore (1945) argue that the education system matches students to the jobs in which they are best suited on a basis of their talent and ability. This allocation means that qualification are rewarded to the most academically talented students, which in turn leads them to the most functionally important jobs with the highest rewards.
This shows that the education system facilitates a meritocracy, where effort and ability are rewarded, thus leading to an achieved status rather than an ascribed status.
In theory this role of the education system means that all students start form the same point and therefore are given the same opportunities to excel their abilities.