There are a number of different interpretations of the function of education and how it is involved in our society today. From contrasting sociological theories, the role of the educational institution can differ greatly.
Firstly the different functionalist theorists or the consensus theorists ironically agree on the whole in their views of education. Functionalists generally focus on the positive contributions education makes to the maintenance of the social system. One major Functionalist thinker, Emile Durkheim, views education with three essential functions. These are that it provides social solidarity, where individuals learn the importance of society and are given a sense of belonging, the transmission of shared norms and values and that it provides specific skills applicable to future occupations. However, David Hargreaves points out Durkheim's weak points within his theory. Hargreaves argues that education is far from succeeding in the transmission of shared values and that these values are only beneficial to a small minority of society, the Bourgeoisie.
Overall, Durkheim believes that the education system represents society in miniature and Talcott Parsons agrees with this idea.
Parsons also believes that education has three main functions. That it is an agent of secondary socialisation, that it provides a bridge between family and society, teaching universalistic values and that it is a means of role allocation. Again like Durkheim, Parsons is criticised for failing to explain just whose values we are learning (the Bourgeoisie) and the idea that meritocracy is a myth.
Two Functionalist theorists share the idea of role allocation with Parsons. Davis and Moore strongly believe that education is a means of role allocation and link this with social stratification. This is the idea that education sifts and grades individuals in order to categorise their ability and then reward them with the appropriate job suited to their talents.