‘Results’ Day

Students like to think that their exam results are primarily down their own individual effort and ability (their ‘merit’ if you like), and these are two of the factors which influence their exam results.

However, the results statistics clearly show us that social factors such as parental income, wider social class background, gender and ethnicity clearly impact the results.

To put it in stark terms: being born to middle class Indian parents gives you a much better chance of getting 3 A grades at A-level compared to being born to white working-class parents.

Granted, that within your ‘cultural’ grouping, individual factors such as raw intelligence and ability are going to effect results, in some cases that ability and effort will be so outstanding that some white working class kids will do better than some middle class Indian kids, but on average, social factors effect the results too.

Thus, you could say that we end up skewed, unfair results every year, because the exam results are at least partially measuring class, gender and ethnic background.

The school that pupils attend also has an ‘effect’, on average, with some schools getting persistently good results, mainly the independent schools, a few schools seemingly doomed to failure, and most schools chugging along somewhere in the middle.

However, that said, at least when individual students sit exams, they are assessed by the same standards, and ranked against each other according to those same standards, and they can move up and down from their ‘class/ gender/ ethnicity’ base-average  depending on their individual effort and ability, or lack of either, so in that sense, exams are fair.

What usually happens once all the exams have been marked, according to the same standards, is that the chief examiners look at the spread of results, and then decide what raw mark translates to a pass grade (an E grade), and what amount of raw marks counts for an A* grade.

Generally speaking, the 2 boundaries – U/E and upper A* yield similar percentages each year – in Sociology it’s around a 98% pass rate and a 5% A* rate (NB that is from memory so excuse any inaccuracy), and then within that students receive A-E grades relative to other people, with everyone having sat the same exam.

The 2020 Results Fiasco

This ‘standardisation’ of students sitting the same exam and then those exams being marked according to the same standards didn’t happen this year because students have not sat exams.

Instead, exam results were based on teacher predicted grades , and then modified according to a black-box algorithm, which, as I understand it, took account of factors such as the track-record of the school.

The problem with results being based on teacher predictions

On the face of it, teachers are the ones best place to decide what grades their students would have got, had they sat the exams: they know their students, they have evidence from at least a year’s worth of work.

The problem is that teachers don’t use the same standards to mark work – some are harsh, some are soft, having different theories about the best way to motivate students, so if mark-book grades are to be used as evidence, students are not being assessed in the same way.

A second problem is that teachers will inflate the predicted grades, at least most of them will – it’s a competitive system, so of course you’re going to game the results up as far as you can without the grades looking like a complete fantasy.

Different teachers and schools will have different comfort levels about how far to push these grades. Some would have actually been professional and given accurate grades, so that’s another reason why teacher and institution grades aren’t a great way of awarding results.

However, the strength of this system is that even if teachers have exaggerated results, they should have exaggerated them in line with their perceived effort and ability of their pupils, so at least it takes into account these individual level factors.

Enter the algorithm

Hence why the exams authority moderated the results – they know there is bias between institutions. And at the end of the day, we’ve ended up with overall results which are slightly better than previous years, which seams, on average, a fair way to do it.

By the logic of an algorithm which works on averages, that is fair – for this year’s students, on average, to come out with slightly better results.

Assuming the algorithm has tweaked all the students results in one institution across all subjects to the same degree, we should have fair individual level results too.

The problem

In a nutshell, it’s cases like these….

As I understand it the problem is that some schools especially have been penalised more than others, especially rapidly improving schools, and any school where the teachers have been stupid enough to be honest about predicted grades, their pupils would have lost out massively too.

I’m not sure how representative these case studies are, TBH I think they’re in a minority, but honestly, it’s not great for those students involved!

Is it this year’s Scottish Exam Results that Have No Validity, or just the System Itself?

Now that the Scottish exam results have reverted back to those based on teacher predictions, students have done MUCH better than previous years, around 10-12% improvement, or over a grade compared to previous years.

To put this in a chart – here’s what it looks like: The middle column is what the results were last year, the last column is what they now are, with the government’s U turn.

2016-19 Ave2020 SQA moderated2020 teacher predictions
national 578.681.188.6
higher76.578.988.8
advanced higer80.484.992.8

To display this graphically – we’ve leapt from blue to yellow, while even with moderation (red) that kind of increase is just about feasible, even if unlikely.

It is highly unlikely that this year’s students on average would have achieved 10-12 % points higher than the previous year’s students, had they sat their exams, had there been no disruption.

Had they sat the exams, they would have been moderated by the exam boards so that the pass rate and A* rate was broadly in line with previous years, and then the spread of results would have probably also been broadly similar.

What’s happened instead this year is that we now have results based on teacher predictions, rather than ‘pure moderation’ by the exam boards, which broadly keeps things in line year on year.

In case you don’t know, what the exam moderating authorities do with actual exam results, is they look at the raw marks, and then tweak the fail/ pass and A* raw mark boundaries so that there’s a similar percentage passing and achieving high grades every year, but now they’ve had that power stripped from them.

Now the grades are based purely on teacher predictions and teachers always over-predict, it doesn’t take much explaining to figure out why – because of the competitive education system, and it’s one of the few rules you can bend as a teacher, so nearly every teacher does it, because they know every other teacher does it!

TBH I don’t think either system is that valid. You’ve seen the results year on year, it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a gradual trend upwards, without there ever being a single ‘spike year’ – but that’s what you get when exam moderating authorities ‘control’ the grades every year – a gradual increase gives the impression of credibility.

Teacher predictions might well have more credibility, because they actually know the students, but there is a problem of reliability when, for just one year, this year, 2020, you allow exam results to be determined by teachers, and then you get a massive spike compared to previous years.

Students who sat exams in 2017 to 2019 should be complaining

Students from the last three years are the one’s who are being harmed by this unjust political interference – not only do they now have a worse track record of exam results compared to this year’s students, these are the students who are now graduating into a world of contracted employment, so they’re going to have ‘worse’ results, and a longer period of unemployment on their CVs.

This year’s students by contrast, if they’re going on to 2-5 years of FE/ HE, the chances are the economy will be recovering by the time they graduate, so they’ll have a better education record and less of a track history of unemployment.

Glasgow Live: Exam Results Glasgow 2020

The Guardian

The BBC

A-level sociology families and households: course summary, schemes of work and lesson plans

I’ve been consolidating my A-level sociology planning recently, and I’ve concluded it’s useful to have several different versions of module summaries and schemes of work, as below:

  • A mind map overview/ summary
  • A Power Point overview/ summary
  • A brief scheme of work
  • A long scheme of work
  • Detailed individual lesson plans.

All of these are based on the AQA’s specification, for the families and households topic.

Mind map overview of education

This is mind map number 1, the Borg equivalent of Unimatrix Zero. There are many other mind maps which branch off it – each colour thread itself becomes the central focus for more mind maps!

Power Point overview of education

Should need no explanation, about as brief as it can get.

Brief education Families Scheme of Work

A very brief version to be displayed in classrooms, an at a glance’ version so students can see where they are in the course and what’s coming next.

Long education Families Scheme of Work

This is a grid consisting of sub-topics, concepts, research studies, assessment and resources for each sup-topic. This more in-depth version follows the AQA specification rigidly and should include everything students need to know.

NB this is slightly different to the overview and lesson plans as some ‘lessons’ go beyond the specification or fuse different areas of it together.

Detailed Lesson Plans  

These are really for teachers only, and contain detailed minute by minute lesson plans with aims and objectives, resources and extension ideas.

New Resource: Families and Households teaching bundle for A-level sociology

All of the above are available as part of my ‘sociology of education teaching bundle’. One downloadable bundle including fully modifiable teaching resources in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Only £49.95, or as part of a monthly subscription package for £9.99 a month!

The bundle includes:

  • A detailed scheme of work covering the entire AQA specification for the families and households topic 
  • 24 detailed lesson plans (topics below)
  • Seven student work packs on Perspectives, class, gender, ethnicity and education policies. 
  • PowerPoints to accompany most lessons. 
  • Activities such as role play games, sentence sorts, gap fills. 

NB I have had to remove most of the pictures from these materials for copyright reasons, but the idea is that you can always add these in yourself to beautify them!

Lessons covered:

  1. An introduction to the sociology of families and households
  2. The Functionalist perspective on the family
  3. The Marxist perspective on the family
  4. The Marxist/ Feminist perspectives on the family
  5. The Feminist perspective on the family
  6. The New Right view of the family
  7. The Postmodern and Personal Life Perspective on the family
  8. Consolidation Families and households Assessment Lesson – focussing on evaluation skills and essay writing.
  9. Exploring and explaining trends in marriage
  10. Exploring and explaining trends in divorce
  11. Evaluating sociological perspectives on marriage and divorce
  12. Exploring and explaining increasing family diversity – ‘organisational diversity’
  13. Exploring family diversity by social class, ethnicity, and sexuality
  14. Evaluating the view that families are becoming more diverse
  15. Power in relationships: housework and childcare
  16. Power in relationships: perspectives on domestic violence
  17. Is Childhood Socially Constructed?
  18. Evaluating the March of Progress View of Childhood
  19. Is Childhood Disappearing?
  20. Birth and Death Rates
  21. The challenges of the Ageing Population
  22. Migration and family life
  23. Social Policies and family life 1
  24. Social Policies and family life 2

The Up Series – Britain’s Best Loved Longitudinal Study

From 7 Up to 63 Up

The Up Series has followed the lives of fourteen children since 1964, and it is still going today, with 11 respondents still actively involved in the project.

The original 7 Up was broadcast in 1964 and featured the children talking about their hopes and aspirations for the future. Since then, the cameras have returned every seven years to document the changes in the lives of the respondents, up until the most recent, ‘63 Up’, which aired in 2019 on Brit Box.

The Director of the series is Michael Apsted, and one of things he was interested in testing was whether children’s characters were ‘set’ by the age of seven – based on a famous quote/ theory of Aristotle –

‘Give me the child at seven, and I will show the man’ – implying that by seven, a child’s character is pretty much set by that age.

Apsted was also interested in the extent to which social class background determined the future life-chances of the children, and the documentary selected children from extreme ends of the social class spectrum – Tony, for example is a classic working class London East Ender, who can’t sit still in school in the first episode and is talking about how important fighting is, while Andrew is attending a private boarding school, and at age seven already knows the college at Cambridge he wants to go to and that he intends to be lawyer.

The documentary series has a strong focus on personal life-histories, and every seven years, the respondents have  been asked why they made certain decisions and how they coped with life’s up and downs, especially during the previous seven years.

The latest series sees the respondents getting very reflective of their ‘adult lives’ now that they are in or approaching retirement.

63 Up is split into three parts, three hours long in total, with in depth-semi-structured interviews with all the remaining participants. Besides their life-histories, you get to see the close relationships that have built up between the director and the respondents, which is something only possible with a relatively small-scale longitudinal study such as this.

Michael Apsted: Director of 63 UP

If you want to watch the whole thing, you’ll need to subscribe to BritBox. There are some playlists on YouTube, but IMO it’s worth paying the subscription for a month just for this (or if it’s yer first time, not paying because you can cancel after the first free trial month!)

Seven Up: Relevance to A-level Sociology

  • The most obvious link is to research methods, with this as a pretty interesting example of a longitudinal study, but it also shows other methods – namely semi-structured interviews and also ‘Life Histories’.
  •  It also links to families and households – there’s a lot of focus on family life, it’s kind of like an application of the Personal Life Perspective – you get to see how the meaning of family varies for the respondents
  • It’s a powerful reminder of how social class has influenced life-chances.

The strengths of this small-scale Longitudinal Study

  • The sample selection allows us to compare the life-progression of working-class kids and upper middle-class kids, from childhood to retirement.
  • The in-depth nature of the study allows us to relate personally to the stories of individuals – many of the respondents talk about how they think ordinary people will be able to relate to their life stories. Good empathetic understanding.
  • Over the years a close relationship has built up between the director and the respondents, and the later now seem to own the process more – with more of the input coming from them.
  • We get to see how political and economic changes have impacted individuals from their micro-perspective – this is a great example of an Interpretivist perspective, and it shows the sociological imagination at work.
  • Fortunately, the attrition rate hasn’t been too bad with this study.
  • We really get to see how social class effects life-chances with the working class respondents seeming to worry more about their children’s futures.

The Limitations

  • The sample size is too small to make generalisations to the population. It isn’t worth doing statistical comparisons because of the low numbers.
  • Women are underrepresented, especially now one has died and another has pulled out. And there is only one non-white participant.
  • There seems to be a gender bias in the original interviews – with many of the questions focusing on marriage for the women, but less so for the men, so difficult to make comparisons.
  • The study has clearly made the respondents minor celebrities, and being part of it may have made them lead their lives different.
  • Ethically it’s been quite demanding on the respondents, most of them talk about not looking forward to doing the interviews.
  • Will it carry on until 70-Up?!?

How to use this as a teacher

There’s a danger this might be of more interest to you as a teacher, and not so much to your students, especially if you’re of a certain age!

However, you can give students a feeling for the documentary series by simply showing them the original summary YouTube clip (I recommend) which is quite entertaining, and then following up by a couple of clips from the latest 63 Up, add in timings.  

If you just focus on Tony and Andrew, who are the first two respondents, you get to see the real difference in social class background, and you can give students a feel for the differences in ‘life-course’ these two individuals have had.

Tony: working class, and grew up in the East End of London

In the original 7 Up, Tony is one of the more memorable characters, we see him running around a lot, falling over, climbing up railings, struggling to sit still in class and talking about how important it is to ‘have a fight’.  

His aspiration was to be a jockey, and he became one when he left school at 15, but after riding in three races and not placing, he turned to taxi driving as a career, and by 21 he was doing the knowledge to become a London cab driver.

He’s had what seems to be a reasonably successful, but fairly typical working class life – he married in his 20s, and by 28 had two kids.

He moved to Essex in 40s, bought a second home in Spain, and spent a lot of holiday time out there with his family.  

He had plans to move to Spain permanently to set up a bar in his 50s, but that all collapsed along with the wider development complex he was buying into in the area, so they consolidated, sold their Spanish assets, and are now living in a nice static Caravan in Essex (I think it’s Essex), surrounded by other traditional working class people.

He’s still married to his first wife, despite getting caught with one affair.

He voted for Brexit, but feels let down by the Tories, who he’ll never vote for again.

In 63 Up he’s still a cabby, and reported losing   a third of his income because of Uber.

On the class system – he says it’s very influential – those that are born with a silver spoon get extra chances, he also says (in previous episodes) that he’s better than most other people on the show, but never had a leg up!

As to  ‘show me the child and I’ll show you the man’ he says they got it right with him, and his section closes with an image of him running in the woods, in the same style as when he was running around in 7 Up, albeit with him being a bit fatter!

Andrew

Andrew was at boarding school in the original 7 Up, and in that very first episode states that he’s going to go Cambridge and study law.

He did precisely that and became a solicitor, and ended up moving to America by his 30s to work for a big American Transnational.

By 28 he married Jane, who I think was from a bit of a lower social class background, and by 35 had two children.

There are signs of his obvious wealth – previous episodes show the family on ski holidays and one of his sons studies computer science at Birmingham University.

They have a house in London and a second home in the country (a derelict barn bought at auction)

Their interview in 63 Up is set mostly in their amazing house, and Andrew is still working as a lawyer, retiring at 63.

He says he wishes he’d spent more time with his family rather than work, and he deliberately didn’t send their children to Boarding School because of this experience.  

He thinks elements of a child’s character are shaped at 7, but there are so many options not entirely, especially for Andrew, he thinks his wife as mellowed him a lot, which is maybe a fair comment!

He thinks the class system is more based on fame rather than class.

Sue

Unfortunately many of the early interviews with women focus on questions about marriage, which is a shame because it limits the content compared to the boys/ men!

At aged 7 we see Sue talking about what boys like them and her life history focuses almost entirely on here relationships.

She was married at 24, divorced kids by 35, and in a relationship with someone else by 42 – they’ve been engaged 20 years now she’s 63 ‘longest engagement ever’??

She’s an administrator for the Postgraduate programme at UCL – still there now.

She says that here dog is like part of their family, so there’s a link to the Personal Life Perspective.

On class she says she has always been working class and that you have to be born upper class. She thinks the bottom end has got worse – homelessness is now a thing, it wasn’t when she was younger.

She also points out that she got onto the property ladder because she got a council house, which changed here life.

She thinks you can see the adult now in her 7 year old self.

As to the importance of the documentary she says

‘ People pick up on what effects them – the things we’re going through are what everyone is going through’

She’s quite a young 63 year old!

Nick

Nick was brought up on a farm in Yorkshire, so difficult to place his class background.

He’s a very intelligent individual, clearly thoughtful as even a 7 year old, and went to Oxford to study physics, researching nuclear fusion.

His research went nowhere, and he eventually ended up teaching it physics, at degree level, which he seems to be still enjoying.  

He was married then divorced by his 40s and remarried by his 50s and currently (I think) lives in America.

He suggests the programme is difficult and that it’s made him think deeply about what the purpose of his life his.

Observes that he was at Oxford at the same time as Theresa May and that it’s unfortunate that such people have the front and the route to power, as they’re not the most capable to be running the country.

He still sees himself in that 7 year old child!

He had severe throat cancer at the time of the interview.

Bruce

Bruce was in boarding school at seven, and his parents divorced while he was still boarding

At 21 he was studying maths at Oxford and then spent period working in a state school as a teacher

At 35 he took a sabbatical teaching in Bangladesh – he was on a bit of a mission to ‘give something back’ pointing out that education is the key to unlocking opportunities.  

However, by 49 he was teaching maths at St Alban’s independent school. His friends give him a hard time apparently, about where his ideals have gone to.

He married later, in his 40s and he has two sons.

He doesn’t seem to have inherited wealth (maybe that was the divorce?) – he was living in a council house when he was in his 20s and he’s still having to work now, although only to fund his children through university.

His Kids don’t know what they want to do for carers!

He says he was beaten in public school – for no reason. This Killed expression of feelings. Restricted his emotional state.

Interestingly he said that when he was single he had ideals about combatting poverty, but having a family made him focus on more making money for his family, hence the move to the independent school at that time I guess.

Jackie

Married Mick by the age of 21 and moved to the outskirts of London, decided they didn’t want children. She was divorced by 35.

A second brief relationship led to one kid, then another one led to another two, and then another relationship.

At some point she moved to Scotland and she’s still living there, living on disability benefits for years, although I think she worked in the past.

She’s been on her own for years, and has become very close to her sister recently.

She says she’s loved being in the programme and than she can still see the core of herself in that seven year old child.

One of her ex-partners died in a road traffic accident, as a pedestrian. Although separate, he was still part of their children’s lives. 

She’s had a hard life!

She’s had a go at Michael, the director and interviewer, for treating the girls/  women on the series differently – asking them about children, not about society.

Not even by 21. They were still asking her mundane domestic questions.

Pete

Peter went to a comprehensive in Liverpool and got a history degree at London University. Peter decided to pull out at 28 up.

The Tabloids decided to portray him as the angry young red in Thatcher’s Britain.

Now he’s back: to promote the music and the band he’s in.

He’s had a hard time on social media, as an outspoken lefty

Lynne – working class east end of London

At 21 Lynne was working in a mobile Library in East London – delivering children’s books.

She’s spent her life working in children’s services and fighting for them but has been a victim of funding cuts – the mobile library was cut eventually.

She was working in Bethnal Green Library by age 42, and still at 49, but by the 56 up – review, she’d lost her job there due to cuts.  

She married at 19 – stayed married, had 2 daughters, both did well at school neither went to university.

She died unexpectedly a few years ago, due to a freak accident combined with an underlying medical condition – her section ends with interviews with her husband of 35 years and daughters.

It’s all quite sad really!

Paul and Symon

Both went to the same children’s home in London, and they visit each other to this day!

Paul’s family moved to Australia when he was a teenager.  He went into the Building Trade then Warehouse

Married by 28. He’d had two children by then. One went to University the other a car mechanic. Lots of grandchildren – and their kids seem to be doing well! 

Symon

Was working at Walls Freezer Factory at 21 – at 28 didn’t want to the hassle of being a manager.

By 28 he was married and had 5 kids. Divorced by 35. By 42, he got remarried.

By 49, trained to be Foster Parents and he’s looked after over 100 kids.

Says it took him years to reconcile his kids to his first divorce – can’t rush it!

He has 10 grandchildren, his friend Paul has a few too.

What’s remarkable about these two is just how similar their life paths have been, in so many ways, their partners apparently get on really well too. I guess it demonstrates the significance of friendships in enhancing the quality of life.

My intuition also tells me that these two seem to be the ‘least troubled’ of all the original respondents – and neither of them have been particularly ambitious in their lives!

John

He went to Westminster and studied law at Christ church Cambridge

He was a barrister by 35 and still is, on the cusp of retiring.

He comes across as screamingly posh, but he’s far from a ‘typical upper class Tory’ – he’s half Bulgarian, he’s married a Bulgarian and because his parents divorced when he was very young he ended up being quite poor and went to Oxford on a scholarship.

He may have been chosen to represent a certain class, but he was a bad selection if he was supposed to be ‘typical’.  

Voted Remain – too simple to be a yes or no issue.

There were inequalities when he was 7, but he doesn’t see them anymore.

Neil

Neil’s life course is probably the most interesting – Michael says that ‘everyone loved him at 7 and 14’ but from there is life seemed to go into free fall.

At 21 he was working on a building site and living in a squat.

At 28 he was homeless and touring the west coast of Scotland and at 35 living on a council estate on the Shetland Islands

However, by 42 he had moved to London and was working as a Lid Dem counsellor, and by 49 he was doing the same but in Cumbria.

He got married in his 50s – but they do not see each other very much anymore. He suggests it is because of his mental health issues – he needs to be left alone when he has a low mood episode.

Looking back, you can see this – at 35 he’s talking about ‘knowing he’s going mad’.  This is quite interesting – back then, we weren’t used to talking about ‘mental health’, now it’s well-in!

Because he’s used to living off a low income, his counsellor wages are enough for him to live off, and he’s also bought a house in France – His wife found it. He got the money from his mother’s death.

He says that Brexit was a vote against deteriorating society and politics

Can you see the adult in the 7-year-old?

‘You and the audience are in a better position to judge’

Final thoughts – how useful is the Up Series?

I love it, but that’s probably because I’m in my late 40s and can relate to the people in it – for today’s students, this kind of in-depth look at social changes might not be that interesting.

Having said that, a lot of A-level content is about social changes over the last 40 years, and these people have lived through those changes.

Also, some of the older clips are quite a lot of fun!

The utility of the series maybe comes more in teaching kids about ‘life lessons’ – one of my my take aways is how all of these people seem to have lead pretty ordinary lives for the most part – all of them have had children except for Neil, and they’ve just ‘got on with it’ – weathered lives storms, and come out the other end.

What this series shows us more than anything else is maybe that life is nothing special, and surviving it is a success in itself.

Whether today’s teenagers will be able to relate to it, I don’t know, I get the feeling life today is maybe too hyperreal for the lives of these boomers to have any real meaning?

It’s history!

Find out More

This Article from The Conversation offers an upbeat, but critical overview of the series!

The Scottish Exam Results: The real losers are last year’s cohort, and the next!

Now they’ve had a day to do some basic analysis of the Scottish exam results the newspapers have had a chance to put their spin on the story – and the narrative runs something like this:

First narrative – ‘Scottish pupils have had their teacher predicted grades lowered by the qualifications authority’.

Second narrative: – Poor Scottish pupils have had their teacher predicted grades lowered more than rich pupils.

Sources

Links to both the above are at the end of this article

This makes for a great story, but I think they might be misleading. As far as I can see, this year’s National Five Scottish students have done better than they would, on average, had they sat the exams.

If you compare the previous years’ results with the teacher predicted grades you get to see how exaggerated those predictions were…..

A comparison of previous year’s results with teacher predicted grades and the actual downward-adjusted grades

All of the data above is from the articles linked below – NB the blue column for the least and most deprived clusters is only 2019 data, A-C pass rate, and the exam results I’m looking are the National 5s, equivalent to the English GCSE.

What’s really going on?

  1. Teachers in Scotland grossly inflated the predicted grades of their pupils, by 10% compared to previous years on average.
  2. They exaggerated the results of the poorest students more than for rich students (bloody left-wing teachers that is!)
  3. The exam authorities modified the results downards, but the results received are still much better than the previous years, showing an improvement.
  4. The poorest students have improved dramatically.

Analysis

It’s highly unlikely that this bunch of students is hyper-successful compared to previous years, so thus unlikely we would have seen an increase in 10% points in the pass rate.

I think the real thing to keep in mind here is what really goes on in exams – pupils sit them, they are marked, and then stats magic is done on them so we end up with a similar amount of passes and grades distribution to the previous years – so it’s hard-wired into exams that little is going to change year on year.

That’s what we’re seeing here – the exam board adjusting to fit the results in with business as usual, but they’ve had to compromise with those optimistic teachers trying to game the system, and as a result, excuse the pun, this year’s Scottish students have done very well, especiallly the poor.

The students who should be angry are last year’s – they’ve lost out relative to this years, next year’s probably too, and those poor mugs actually had to sit their exams, and didn’t get four months off school!

This probably won’t be the way it’s spun in the media – it’s easy enough to find a few students a parents with individual axes to grind, against the overall trend of the 2020 cohort doing very nicely, thank you teachers!

Sources

The Scottish Sun

BBC News

A History of Working Class Women’s Rights

Back in Time for the Factory is a really useful documentary series from the BBC which explores how working class women’s working rights have changed since 1968.

The documentary consists mainly of ‘historical reenactment’ in which a number of ordinary women (and some men) go into a garment factory in Wales and work as women would have done through the last few decades.

This real life historical re-enactment is supplemented with interviews with older women who really lived through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and with footage of news clips which document significant events – such as the various strikes which women organised in order to get equal pay.

The documentaries might be a bit long-winded to watch in their entirety, but selected clips will certainly give you a feel for the gender inequalities in the workplace in the late 1960s, how women campaigned for equal pay (with very little support from men early on) and how employers tried to dodge paying women the same as men by re-grading certain jobs after the initial equal pay acts of the 1970s!

You can watch various clips from the BBCs’ web site here.

A history of working class women’s rights

50 years ago, Britain was a manufacturing powerhouse, with an astonishing 34% of the population working on a manufacturing production line. Factories mostly employed women – hundreds of thousands of them, who made our clothes, telephones and televisions.

The factories were centred on areas of high unemployment like the south Wales valleys and by employing so many women and girls they were at the forefront of a change in British society. But the women who would drive that change were poorly paid, unfairly treated and denied basic rights.

Women’s Working Rights 1968-1972

Starting in 1968 when 85% of all our high street clothes were made in the UK, the women experience the realities of working life for women in these three crucial decades – from the excitement of being out in the work place to the pressures of ever increasing targets, the camaraderie of the factory floor and fun-filled evenings at the social club. Most eyeopening of all is the contents of their wage packets – revealing to our modern workers the deeply ingrained attitudes towards women’s work as inferior and helping them understand what galvanised a generation to fight for change.

The workers start their journey in 1968, when The Beatles and Tom Jones are topping the charts, Labour’s Harold Wilson is Prime Minister and big hair abounds. It is also the year the female strikers of Dagenham brought the Ford factory to a standstill and the question of women’s pay into the headlines. Their first task is to produce pink nylon petticoats – a staple of British women’s wardrobes in an era when only 30% of houses had central heating. The reality of the production line is a rude awakening for many – long monotonous hours with short breaks and few distractions – a situation made worse for some of our women when they discover that it’s legal to refuse to serve an unaccompanied woman in a public bar.

But that is far less of a shock than the moment they open their pay packets and realise some of them are being paid less than half the rate of the men on the factory floor.

Women in the Factory 1973-1975

The second episode starts in 1973, but even though the Equality Act had been passed in 1970, the women discover that things are still far from equal on the factory floor as the factory bosses had been given five years to bring in the changes.

The workers also get to experience the upsides of factory work – enjoying the range of clubs and activities which factory bosses supported while manufacturing was still thriving.

1976-1982

Episode three starts in 1976 when the Sex Discrimination Act had been passed and the Equal Pay Act had finally come in to force the year before.

However, by 1976, women were still earning only 74 per cent of the male hourly rate as employers all over the country found loopholes to avoid paying women more.

Feminism is in full-swing in the mid 1970s and the women have to decide whether they will strike for further equality in an age of uncertanity, navigating the world of pickets, banners and crossing the line.

Off the production line, the factory holds its own beauty pageant – an event companies all over Britain would have been happy to support as part of social life of the workplace. No beauty contest was complete without the glamour of the swimsuit round, and our factory pageant is no different. But how will the modern women feel about parading in their swimming costumes?
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Working women… 1983 Onwards

The fourth episode starts in 1983, four years after Margaret Thatcher came to power. While that event may make you think that women have achieved equality, the working class women in the Welsh factories had another fight on their hands in the 1980s – the fight for their jobs in the age of neoliberalism!

Good videos showing the social construction of childhood

Below are some relatively recent examples of documentary video evidence which demonstrate how attitudes to children vary across cultures, supporting the view that childhood is socially constructed.

This post has been written primarily for students studying the families and households module within A-level sociology

Child Brides

In India, teenage girls aged 14-15 are sometimes pressurized into marrying by their family against their will, often due to financial reasons. The video below explores this, but looks at how teenage female victims try to avoid getting married when they do not want to…

In the less Developed United States of America, it appears that the agents of the State are sometimes less willing to protect child victims of rape and coerced marriage than they are in India.

The video below documents a girl whose family coerced her into getting married after she was raped and made pregnant by her 24 year old ‘boyfriend’. 

For reasons that I don’t fully understand and aren’t really explored in the video, the 24 year old child rapist wasn’t prosecuted.

Instead he was legally allowed to marry his by then 15 year old pregnant ‘girlfriend’, with further violent abuse continuing after the marriage.

As I say, I don’t understand how the State can legally sanction violence against children, but that’s life in an underdeveloped country such as America I guess!

Ritualised Violence against girls

In the Hamar Tribe in Ethiopia,

When boys reach the age of puberty they have to go through a ritual to become men. The main event in this ritual (for the boys at least) involves jumping over some cattle four times. Once a boy has done this, he is officially a man.

However, before they jump the cattle, young teenage girls beg to to be whipped with sticks by the boys about to undergo the ritual – the more they are whipped, the more ‘honour’ they bring on their families.

NB this isn’t play whipping, some of the blows these girls receive are serious, as you can see from the scars in the video still below, the whipping often opens up quite significant wounds which take time to heal, and with healing comes scaring.

Towards the end of this video you get to see an example of this ceremony – the girls are quite willing volunteers in this ritualized violence, which seems to be a normal part of childhood for girls in the Hamar Tribe.

Child slavery in West Africa

In West Africa, thousands of girls and women have been enslaved by a practice called ‘trokosi’. Girls as young as seven are given away by their family to pay for the sins of family members. They get forcibly shipped to a shrine, possibly in a foreign country, stripped of their identity, and are forced to work as ‘servants of God’.

In the documentary below, one victim of trokosi revisits her home country of Ghana to find out why this happened to her.

She was lucky enough to get out because an American negotiated her release  and became her adopted father, which kind of suggests this religion is pretty flexible!

Further examples of how childhood is socially constructed

You can probably also find videos on child labour and child soldiers, two other good examples.

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The Handmaid’s Tale – Possible in Real Life?

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood in 1985.

This might be a novel, but it’s a useful way to introduce social policy and the family! It’s also an example of a type of secondary qualitative data!

The novel is set in the United States and imagines a future where the majority of women have been rendered infertile because of environmental toxins, and the few women left who are fertile and able to bare children have become ‘handmaids’.

‘Handmaids’ are given to elite families, required to have ritualistic sex with the male heads of households so that they can bear the families children.

The country is run by a totalitarian state (called ‘Gillead’) which subscribes to a conservative christian ideology and maintains tight control over many aspects of people’s lives, but especially the Handmaids – these are brought up in ‘convent like’ schools, and educated into their role as ‘breeders’ – they effectively get passed around from elite family to elite family to bear multiple children for them.

The novel is told through the eyes of the main character, Offred. What is particularly bleak is that Offred remembers life before Gilead, when things were relatively normal – declining fertility rates eventually lead to a slide into this totatlitarian control over women.

The novel is nicely summarized in the video below.


You can also watch the TV adaptation on More 4 here.

Social Policy and the Family in the Handmaid’s Tale

Government policy towards families is extremely controlling of women in htis novel. The Gilead Theocratic State has near total control over women’s reproduction – fertile women effectively have no right to control their own fertility – that right is given to the elite families.

Fertile women also have no right over their children, these are given away to the families the Handmaid belongs to.

Could this level of control over women happen in real life?

Atwood refers to her novel as ‘speculative fiction’ – a situation which could happen in the future.

The book was a commentary on the political and social climate of the United States in the 1980s, with the widespread embrace of conservatism, as evidenced by the election of Ronald Reagan as president, the increasing power of the Christian right and its powerful lobbying organisations such as the ‘Moral Majority’ and ‘Focus on the Family’, as well as the rise of televangelism.

Commentators such as Joyce Carol Oates and English professor SC Neuman have suggested that the book is a Feminist crititique of the attempted restriction of women’s reproductive rights which various Christian Fundamentalist lobby groups were trying to bring into law – such as giving civil rights protections to foetuses, which would have effectively made abortion illegal.

Atwood herself says that the Handmaid’s Tale was inspired by two real world social polices:

  • Nicolai Ceausescu’s preoccupation with boosting female birth rates in Romania, which led to the policing of pregnant women and the banning of abortion and birth control
  • The idea of ‘giving’ the offspring of lower classes to the ruling class came from Argentina, where a military junta seized power in 1976, subsequently ‘disappearing’ up to 500 children and placing them with selected leaders.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Even more relevant today?

The handmaid’s tale might be even more relvant today given the recent shift in US politics with the election of Donald Trump dovetailing with fears of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his vice president’s anti-gay and anti-abortion beliefs.

Handmaid costumes even became common at protests of laws intended to limit women’s reproductive freedom.

Sources: Some of this post was adapted from this blog post.

Britain’s Ageing Population – Is it a Problem?

This post provides an overview of statistics on Britain’s ageing population before looking at some of the problems associated with this trend, including the increased strain on health services and increased burden on young people. It also asks whether the ageing population is actually a problem or not?

Statistics on the Ageing Population

  • In 1998, around one in six people were 65 years and over (15.9% of the population )
  • In 2020, approximately in five people are aged 65 years and over
  • By 2038 it is protected that around one in every four people (24.2%) will be aged 65 and over.

Population Pyramids

These are a nice way of demonstrating Britain’s changing population structure:

The UK’s Age Structure in 1998

The UK’s Age Structure in 2038 (projected)

If you look at the above two population pyramids, you can clearly see a ‘bulge’ around age 30 in 1998, which has disappeared in 2038.

The age structure in 2038 is a much more even, and less like a pyramid.

This is simply a result of people getting older and fewer babies being born (the declining birth rate over the last few decades).

The Dependency Ratio

The Dependency Ratio refers to the number of people of working age in relation to the number of people of non-working age. The later group includes children and people of pensionable age, in 2020 that means everone aged over 65. In the 1990s there used to be

The Office for National Statistics uses this measurement, which is the number of people of pensionable age in relation to those aged 16-64 (working age) per thousand.

The old age dependency ratio was 300:1000 (3.3 workers to each pensioner) in 1992 , it is project to increase to 400:1000 (2.5 workers to each pensioner) by 2067.

The problem of the increasing dependency ratio

Every pensioner in the UK is entitled to a state pension and a range of other ‘free at the point of use’ public services, mainly health-care. These are paid for by taxes on the income of current workers, and the fewer workers to pensioners, the more each worker has to be taxed to pay for pensions and services used by pensioners.

All other things remaining equal, taxes are going to have to increase by 25% based on the above change in the dependency ratio.

One possible way of combating this problem is for more people of pensionable age to work, and in fact this is already happening – the economic activity levels of the over 65s has doubled in the last few decades:

An increased strain on public services

Increasing numbers of pensioners puts a strain on the NHS because pensioners use health services more than younger people.

With increasing numbers of pensioners ‘sucking money’ out of the welfare state’ there is less left for everything else – services for the young are being cut to compensate

This is because healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with life-expectancy, and there are increasing numbers of people in their 80s who spend several years with chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, and also dementia both of which require intensive social care.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Problems for younger people

People in their 50s have become a ‘sandwich generation’ – they are now caught between having to provide care for their elderly parents, while still having their 20 something children living at home.

However, things are even worse for today’s teenagers – the retirement aged has now been pushed back to 68 – young people today are going to have to retire much later than their current grandparents.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Arguments against the view that the ageing population is a problem

We ned to be careful not to exaggerate the extend to which old people are a ‘burden’ on society, these often come from stereotypical ways of thinking about age. Not all old people are incapable or in poor health! Most older people live healthy lives into old age and increasing numbers of the over 65s are economically active.

Effective long-term planning and forward-looking social policy changes today can help reduce some of the problems associated with the dependency ratio, such as raising the state pension age.

Marxists think attitudes to old age are influenced by capitalism. Marxist suggest that age groups are defined by the capitalist system. For example, adults are people of working age, and the elderly are told old to work. Philipson (1982) capitalism views the elderly as burden on society. This is because their working life has ended, and they usually have less spending power. Therefore, old age become stigmatised in society.

Postmodernists argue attitudes to age are changing. Magazine, advertisers and the media generally often portray “youthful” old age – old people enjoying holidays, sport, wearing fashionable clothes etc. People can also mask their old age through plastic surgery. The strict identity of old age no longer exists.

Sources

Related posts

The aging population is a consequence of the declining death rate, and the increasing dependency ratio is a consequence of this plus the declining birth rate. Hence these two posts might be worth reviewing:

For some extension work, you might like this: The consequences of an ageing population – summary of a Thinking Allowed Podcast from 2015 which focuses on the challenges of a future in which increasing numbers of people will be aged over 70.

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Laboratory Experiments in sociology

This post focuses on the practical, theoretical and ethical and strengths and limitations of laboratory experiment, applied mainly to sociology…

What are laboratory Experiments?

Laboratory experiments take place in controlled environments and are the main method used in the natural sciences such as Physics, Chemistry and Biology. There are numerous experiments which have been designed to test numerous scientific theories about the temperatures at which various substances freeze or melt, or how different chemicals react when they are combined under certain conditions.

The logic of the experimental method is that it is a controlled environment which enables the scientist to measure precisely the effects of independent variables on dependent variables, thus establishing cause and effect relationships. This in turn enables them to make predictions about how the dependent variable will act in the future.

For a general introduction to the key features of experiments and the experimental method (including key terms such as hypothesis and dependent and independent variables) and some of their advantages please see this post: experiments in sociology: an introduction.

The laboratory experiment and is commonly used in psychology, where experiments are  used to measure the effects of sleep loss and alcohol on concentration and reaction time, as well as some more ethically dubious experiments designed to measure the effects of media violence on children and the responses of people to authority figures.

However, they are less common in sociology. Having said that, they are still a requirement within the research methods component of A-level sociology and the AQA exam board does seem to like setting exam questions on experiments!

Laboratory Experiments: Theoretical Factors

Theoretical Advantages of Laboratory Experiments

Accuracy and Precision– Laboratory experiments allow the precise effects of independent variables on dependent variables to be measured. This in turn makes it possible to establish cause and effect relationships between variables.

Isolation of Variables – The controlled conditions of laboratory experiments allows researchers to isolate variables more effectively than with any other research method. This further allows researchers to precisely measure the exact effect which one or more independent variables have on the dependent variable. With the ‘tomato experiment’ for example, laboratory conditions would allow the researcher to control precisely variations in temperature, moisture and light, this would not be possible in a field (no pun intended).

Controlled conditions also allow the researchers to eliminate the effects of ‘extraneous variables’. Extraneous variables are undesirable variables which are not of interest to the researcher but might interfere with the results of the experiment. If you were trying to measure the effects of alcohol on reaction time for example, keeping respondents in a lab means you could make sure they all at and drank similar things, and did similar things, in between drinking the alcohol (or placebo) and doing the reaction time test.

Laboratory experiments have excellent reliability for two major reasons:

Firstly, the controlled environment means it easy to replicate the exact environmental conditions of the original experiment and this also means it is relatively easy for the researcher to clearly outline the exact stages of the experiment, again making exact replication easier. This is not necessarily the case in a field experiment, where extraneous variables may interfere with the research process in different ways with repeat-experiments.

Secondly, there is a high level of detachment between the researcher and the respondent. In an experiment, the researcher typically takes on the role of ‘expert’ and simply manipulates variables, trying to have as little interaction with the respondents as the experiment will allow for. This means there is little room for the researcher’s own values to influence the way the respondent reacts to an experiment.

Theoretical Limitations of Laboratory Experiments

Laboratory experiments lack external validity – sociologists hardly ever use lab experiments because the artificial environment of the laboratory is so far removed from real-life that most Sociologists agree that the results gained from such experiments tell us very little about how respondents would actually act in real life. Take the Milgram experiment for example – how likely is it that you will ever be asked by scientist to give electric shocks to someone you’ve never met and who you can’t see when they give the wrong answer to a question you’ve just read out? Moreover, when was they last time you were asked to do anything to anyone by a scientist? In the real world context, many of the Milgram respondents may have responded to real-world authority figure’s demands differently.

Laboratory Experiments: Practical Factors

The practical advantages of lab experiments

In terms of practical advantages experiments (assuming they are ethical) are attractive to funding bodies because of their scientific, quantitative nature, and because science carries with it a certain prestige.

Once the experiment is set up, if it takes place in a lab, researchers can conduct research like any other day-job – there is no travelling to visit respondents for example, everyone comes to the researcher.

The practical problems of lab experiments

Practical problems include the fact that you cannot get many sociological subjects into the small scale setting of a laboratory setting. You can’t get a large group of people, or a subculture, or a community into a lab in order to observe how the interact with ‘independent variables’.

Also, the controlled nature of the experiment means you are likely to be researching one person at a time, rather than several people completing a questionnaire at once, so it may take a long time to get a large-sample.

Laboratory Experiments: Ethical Factors

The ethical limitations of laboratory experiments

Deception and lack of informed consent are an ethical problem- The Hawthorne effect gives rise to the firs ethical disadvantages often found in experiments – it is often necessary to deceive subjects as to the true nature of the experiment so that they do not act differently, meaning that they are not in a position to give full, informed consent. This was the case in the Milgram experiment, where the research subjects thought the (invisible) person receiving the shocks was the actual subject rather than themselves.

A second ethical problem concerns harm to respondents. In the case of the original Milgram experiment, ‘many research participants were observed to sweat, stutter, tremble, bit their lips and dig their nails into their flesh, full-blown, uncontrollable seizures were observed for three subjects’.

The ethical strenghts of laboratory experiments

While some laboratory experiments are notorious for their ethical problems, it is at least usually obvious that research is taking place (even if the exact purpose of the research may be hidden from respondents). Also, the benefits to society might well outweigh the costs to respondents.

Related Posts

Intro to Experiments in Sociology

Field Experiments in Sociology

Sources/ References

Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience to Authority, which cites Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York: Harper and Row. An excellent presentation of Milgram�s work is also found in Brown, R. (1986). Social Forces in Obedience and Rebellion. Social Psychology: The Second Edition. New York: The Free Press.