The sociologist Basil Bernstein has "inspired, intrigued, delighted and annoyed" generations of teachers and researchers across the world, an international gathering of sociologists of education and sociolinguists heard this month.
Paul Atkinson, of the school of education at Cardiff University, told the meeting in Cardiff that even those academics who disagree with Professor Bernstein's ideas "ignore his work at their peril".
Professor Bernstein, who recently retired from the Karl Mannheim chair of the sociology of education at the London Institute of Education, produced a theory of social and educational codes and their effect on social reproduction. He said that his research arose originally out of two problems: "The empirical problem of explaining class and regional differences in school success and the theoretical concern of the 1960s of how we are brought up to be what we are."
His controversial views on language skills and social class have been attacked for their apparent implication that failure among working-class children is the result of their lack of linguistic skills.
Academics in Cardiff included Courtney Cazden, of Harvard University, regarded as the world expert on classroom language. She described her work on language, culture and reading recovery in the United States. She argued that we must rethink the relationship between the culture of the home and that of the school because cultural identities are increasingly difficult.
* Professor Bernstein, a professorial fellow in the school of education at Cardiff University, is not suffering from throat cancer as was reported incorrectly in The THES last week. We apologise for any distress caused.