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 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.

As a variant, if a school finds that the response rate from parents/ pupils is lower than expected after they have sent letters out by pupil post, they 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.

The key here is that the policy to ascribe has to be consistent and schools should not ascribe for some groups of pupils and not others.

Why is ascription voluntary rather than compulsory for schools?
The DfES recognises that the return rates on the request for ethnic background data in some schools can sometimes be so low as to make ethnic monitoring ineffective. 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. The DfES Guidance on the collection and recording of pupils' ethnic background outlines the specific procedures that schools should take in order to meet data protection guidelines.

What if I am put under pressure to ascribe an ethnic group for those pupils whose parents have not returned the ethnic group data collection form?
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.

Every pupil record will make clear whether the information provided came from the pupil or parent and whether ascribed by the present school or previous school. Pupils or their parents will retain the right to remove or change the ethnic group category at any time.

If undertaking ascription, on what should a decision be based on determining a pupil's ethnic group?
Schools have been asked to collect and record ethnic group data on pupils since 1990. It is likely that many pupils already have an ethnic group record based on the old categories. This could form the basis for a preliminary decision. 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. Advice should also be sought from any Ethnic Minority Achievement specialists, including the Traveller Education Service, working with the school or within the local authority.

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. These issues can be addressed in part by using a ("behavior genetic") model that distinguishes variance components associated with genetic endowment, shared (or common) family environment, and unshared (or specific) environment. Size of the genetic component .. - Social Forces Sep. 1, 2006 Nielsen, Francois, University of North Carolina Press.