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School type and academic culture: evidence for the differentiation–polarization theory

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Several decades ago it was shown that the differentiation of pupils into tracks and streams led to a polarization into ‘anti-school' and ‘pro-school' cultures. Support for this differentiation–polarization theory is mainly based on case studies. This paper presents findings of a quantitative study in Belgium (Flanders). Attention is given to the conceptualization of the polarization component of the differentiation–polarization theory. The findings suggest that the culture of pupils is less study-oriented in technical/vocational schools than in general (grammar) schools. The differentiation–polarization theory also applies to school staffs: the staff culture is less academically-oriented in technical/vocational schools than in general schools. Moreover, staffs' attitudes towards pupils—their judgements on the teachability of pupils and the trust they place in pupils—are different.

Keywords: ability‐grouping; pupil culture; teacher culture; tracking systems; vocational education

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Postdoctoral Fellow of the Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO Vlaanderen) in the Department of Sociology, Ghent University, Universiteitstraat 4, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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