Sociology Index


Ascription is assigning some quality or character to a person or thing. Ascription in a sense is also the assigning to a cause or source. The principle of merit is consistent with liberal theory and assumes equality of opportunity and occupational advancement based on achievement rather than ascription.

Meritocracy is rule by those chosen on the principle of merit. Open class ideology or concept claims that society's status system is based on achievement and not on ascription.

What is ascription and third party ascription?
Ascription is the process whereby in the event of a parent failing to return the ethnic group collection form, the school can use its best judgement to determine the ethnic group and ethnic identity of the pupil. This process is also known as third party ascription. If ascription is to be carried out, there are certain safeguards that need to be in place:

The information should be requested from the parent by post along with a letter that explains that the school will ascribe an ethnic group to their child if there is no response and parents do not formally refuse to provide this information.
If a formal refusal is made, schools must not ascribe an ethnic group.
Parents should be informed of the school's decision and given the opportunity to see, amend or remove the ethnic group record.
After such ascription, the ethnic group record will be marked as 'ascribed by the school'.

When should schools decide if ascription is necessary?
To ensure that schools have a consistent policy on ascription for all pupils, we recommend that the decision to undertake ascription is taken before any correspondence to parents have been sent out. The letter to parents should then be amended to include a paragraph on ascription as shown on the model letter contained in the guidance document.

Schools can decide to ascribe ethnicity where pupil post has failed. If this happens, schools must, for all the outstanding pupils, undertake the ascription process as described in the guidance, including the process of contacting those parents used a stamped envelope and the amended model letters.

Why is ascription voluntary rather than compulsory for schools?
We want to give schools the option to carry out ascription if this is the only opportunity that schools will have to collect this data in order to make monitoring possible. Head teachers with the support of their staff are best placed to make the decision whether ascription is desirable or not in their schools.

Therefore ascription is voluntary and schools should not be put under pressure to undertake ascription.

Individual members of staff should not be put under pressure to ascribe. However, ascription, if properly conducted according to DfES guidelines, meets the requirements of data protection legislation and has the support the Commission for Racial Equality.

If undertaking ascription, on what should a decision be based on determining a pupil's ethnic group?
Those responsible for carrying out ascription in schools are advised to consult the member of staff most familiar with the pupil in question, this may also include Teaching Assistants and bilingual support staff.

Achievement and ascription in educational attainment: genetic and environmental influences on adolescent schooling.
The classic (status attainment) model of educational and occupational attainment suffers from three related shortcomings when used as a tool for comparative or policy-oriented research on social mobility: (1) ambiguity of model parameters as measures of opportunity for achievement vs. ascription; (2) vulnerability to incomplete specification of family background; and (3) confounding of environmental and genetic influences. - Social Forces Sep. 1, 2006 Nielsen, Francois, University of North Carolina Press.