Teaching Resources for A-level Sociology: Research Methods

teaching resources for A-level sociology AQA focus 2020

I’ve just released the latest research methods teaching resources for sale as part of my sociology teaching resources subscription package, available for only £9.99 a month!

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Research Methods teaching resources

The November download includes the following lesson materials:

  1. Unstructured interviews            
  2. Participant Observation lesson
  3. Participant observation lesson 2         
  4. Non-Participant observation     
  5. Official Statistics
  6. Cross National Comparisons
  7. Secondary Qualitative data      
  8. Content analysis
  9. Bringing it all together: stages of the research process

NB the October release contained all of the preceding methods (intro, surveys and experiments) and the next release in December will include Methods in Context material – the monthly subscription will give you access to all the methods material, and all material to date (education and families and households), so that’s almost the entire first year of A-level sociology teaching!)

Resources in the bundle include:

  • 5 workbooks covering  the methods above
  • 5 Power Points covering most of the above lessons
  • 9 lesson plans covering all of the above lessons.
  • Various supplementary hand-outs for some of the above lessons as necessary.

Fully modifiable resources

Every teacher likes to make resources their own by adding some things in and cutting other things out – and you can do this with both the work pack and the PowerPoints because I’m selling them in Word and PPT, rather than as PDFs, so you can modify them!

NB – I have had to remove most the pictures I use personally, for copyright reasons, but I’m sure you can find your own to fit in. It’s obvious where I’ve taken them out!

More resources to come…

I’m making resources available every month as part of this teacher resource subscription package. The schedule of release of resources is as below:

  • March – June 2020 – Education Resources
  • July – September 2020 – Research Methods, including methods applied to education 
  • October – December 2020 – Families and Households
  • January – April 2021 – Global Development 
  • May – August 2021 – Crime and Deviance 
  • September – October 2021 – Theory and Methods 
  • November 2021 – January 2022 – Revision Material
  • February 2022 – Intro material. 

What is Deviance?

What is Deviance?

Deviance refers to rule-breaking behaviour of some kind which fails to conform to the norms and expectations of a particular society or social group.   

Deviance is closely related to the concept of crime, which is law breaking behaviour. Criminal behaviour is usually deviant, but not all deviant behaviour is criminal.

The concept of deviance is more difficult to define than crime. Deviance includes both criminal and non-criminal acts, but it is quite difficult to pin down what members of any society or groups actually regard as deviant behaviour. Downes and Rock (2007) suggest that ambiguity is a key feature of rule-breaking, as people are frequently unsure whether a particular episode is truly deviant or what deviance is. Their judgement will depend on the context in which it occurs, who the person is, what they know about them and what their motives might be.

Societal and Situational Deviance

Plummer (1979) discusses two aspects of defining deviance, using the concepts of societal deviance and situational deviance.

Societal deviance refers to forms of deviance that most members of a society regard as deviant because they share similar ideas about approved and unapproved behaviour – murder, rape, child abuse and driving over the alcohol limit in the UK generally fall into this category.

Situational deviance refers to the way in which an act being seen as deviant or not depends on the context or location in which it takes place. These two conceptions of deviance suggest that, while there may be some acts that many people agree are deviant in one society, those acts defined as deviant will vary between groups within a society. Whether or not an act is seen as deviant often depends on:

The historical period – definitions of deviance change over time in the same society as standards of normal behaviour change. For example, cigarette smoking used to be very popular, now it is illegal to smoke in restaurants or buses.

The place or context – nudity is often seen as deviant in public (though in itself it is never criminal), but rarely in private; playing loud music is deviant on public transport, but not at music festivals, and drinking to excess is deviant almost anywhere, but not necessarily in pubs or clubs.

The social group – What may be regarded as unacceptable at a societal level may be regarded as acceptable in small groups or even whole age cohorts – binge drinking and sexual promiscuity are two such examples. 

The context dependency of deviance

The context dependency of deviance simply refers to the idea that deviance is socially constructed – whether or not an act is seen as deviant depends on the historical period, the place, and the group witnessing the act.

The context dependency of deviance can be illustrated by a simple example:

Wearing a mini skirt is Deviant in Saudi Arabia:

But its clearly not on Tik Tok in Western Culture…

Task: Try to come up with your own examples which illustrate the Context Dependency of Deviance.

Discussion Question: Is there any act which is inherently deviant (deviant in every context)?

What is Crime?

What is crime? An introduction to crime and deviance for A-level sociology

Crime, or behaviour which goes against the criminal law, covers a very wide variety of acts, from the relatively trivial, such as possessing class C drugs to the very serious such as murder.

A definition of Crime

A simple, starting point definition of crime is:

Crime – the term used to describe behaviour which is against the criminal law. Crime is law-breaking behaviour.

What counts as criminal behaviour thus varies depending on what the laws of a society deem to be illegal. What is legal in one country may not be legal in another.

(A closely related concept to crime is deviance which is rule-breaking behaviour which fails to conform to the norms and expectations of a particular society or social group.  Criminal behaviour is usually also deviant behaviour, but there is a lot of deviant behaviour which isn’t criminal.

This post focuses on the questions of what crime and criminal behaviour are (for deviance please see this post). It has been written primarily as an introduction to the Crime and Deviance module for A-level sociology students.

The social Construction of Crime

Newburn (2007) suggests that crime is basically a label that is attached to certain forms of behaviour which are prohibited by the state (government), and have some legal penalty against them. While crime therefore seems easy to define, as the law states what a criminal act is, there is no act that is criminal in itself. An act only becomes a crime when agents of the state label that act as criminal in a particular context. For example, killing someone with a knife during a fight outside a pub in the UK is a criminal offence, but killing an armed combatant during wartime with a knife is not.

Criminal law also varies from country to country, and criminal law changes over time within one country, which reinforces the idea that there is no such thing as an inherently criminal act.

If we examine how the law differs from country to country, it shows us the extent to which ‘crime is socially constructed’.

One example is the variations in the laws surrounding homosexuality – which is punishable by death in 12 countries, but in the United Kingdom and many other European countries it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

A second example is that women in Saudi Arabia are still effectively banned from wearing clothes which ‘show off their beauty’ (according to this article in The Week, January 2020), however this is open to interpretation, and some resistance from women flouting the rules, as the case from 2017 below demonstrates…

Discussion Question: why might the law (and thus the nature and extent of ‘crime’) vary so much across countries?

The Law in England and Wales

While you don’t need an in-depth understanding of the legal system it is useful to know something about it because it will help you understand where the law comes from and thus how the law changes, and consequently how crime changes over time.

There are two main sources of law in England and Wales

  • Common Law, which evolves through decisions made by judges at trials, which set precedents for future trials.
  • Statute Law, which comes about through an Act of Parliament – typically  through bills proposed by members of parliament which are debated and modified, often over several months, which then become acts of law.

The Gradual Evolution of Common Law in England and Wales

English criminal law derives its main principles from common law. The main elements of a crime are the actus reus (doing something which is criminally prohibited) and a mens rea (having the requisite criminal state of mind, usually intention or recklessness). A prosecutor must show that a person has caused the offensive conduct, or that the culprit had some pre-existing duty to take steps to avoid a criminal consequence. The types of different crimes range from those well-known ones like manslaughter, murder, theft and robbery to a plethora of regulatory and statutory offences. Today it is estimated that in the UK, there are 3,500 classes of criminal offence.

Parliamentary Acts and Changes to Law in England and Wales

Over the last two centuries, many new laws have been introduced through over 4500 Acts of Parliament which have responded to various social changes, one of the most recent being the ‘Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 which made it illegal to supply a number of so called ‘legal highs’.

One single act can also make a number of behaviors illegal – such as with the 2010 equality act, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate against Transgender people and pregnant women.

NB – The fact that there are so many acts of Parliament demonstrates the extent to which crime is socially constructed. Since 2010 there have been more than 200 new Acts of Parliament.

The gradual evolution of the law and thus crime can be illustrated by some examples outline in this blog post: the social construction of crime.

The main categories of crime in England and Wales

Today, The Crown Prosecution Service recognises eleven classes of criminal offence, ranging from very serious (class A) through to Miscellaneous lesser offences (class I).

  • Class A: Homicide and related grave offences. E.g. Murder
  • Class B: Offences involving serious violence or damage, and serious drugs offences. E.g. kidnapping, armed robbery.
  • Class C: Lesser offences involving violence or damage, and less serious drugs offences – e.g. possession of firearm without certificate.
  • Class D: Sexual offences, and offences against children – e.g. sexual assault.
  • Class E: Burglary etc. – Domestic and Non-Domestic and ‘going equipped to steal’.
  • Class F- K: Theft and Fraud etc. – e.g. possession of articles for use in frauds; counterfeiting notes and coins.
  • Class H: Miscellaneous lesser offences – e.g. – Possession of Class B or C drug.
  • Class I: Offences against public justice and similar offences –e.g.  Intimidating Witnesses
  • Class J: Serious sexual offences, offences against children – e.g.  Trafficking out of UK for sexual exploitation

A quick look at a snapshot of the Crown Prosecution’s categories of offences demonstrates how crime is socially constructed – More acts become criminal as the law evolves. The table below shows how a whole raft of behaviours suddenly became ‘constructed’ as criminal following the 1998 criminal justice act, such as breaching an ASBO (ASBOs didn’t exist prior to 1998!).

The Criminal Justice System (FYI)

For those that are charged, they will either appear in Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.

Magistrates’ Courts

Virtually all criminal cases start in the Magistrates’ courts. The less serious offences are handled entirely in the magistrates’ court. Over 95% of all cases are dealt with in this way. The more serious offences are passed on to the Crown Court, to be dealt with by a judge and jury.

Magistrates mainly deal with

  • Summary offences. These are less serious cases, such as motoring offences and minor assaults, where the defendant is not entitled to trial by jury and
  • Either-way offences. As the name implies, these can be dealt with either by the magistrates or before a judge and jury at the Crown Court. Such offences include theft and handling stolen goods. A suspect can insist on their right to trial in the Crown Court. Similarly, magistrates can decide that a case is sufficiently serious that it should be dealt with in the Crown Court – which can impose tougher punishments.

If a case is to be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, the defendant will have to enter a plea.If they plead guilty or if they are later found to be guilty, the magistrates can impose a sentence of up to six months imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000. If the defendant is found not guilty (if they are ‘acquitted’), they are judged innocent in the eyes of the law and should be free to go – provided there are no other cases against them outstanding.

Crown Court

Because of the seriousness of offences tried in the Crown Court, these trials take place with a judge and jury. The Crown Court deals with Indictable-only offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape and robbery or less serious offences that are too complex for the magistrate’s court

If the defendant is found not guilty, they are discharged and no conviction is recorded against their name. If the defendant is found guilty, they are sentenced and the courts can impose four levels of sentence, depending on the seriousness of the offence:

  • Discharges
  • Fines
  • Community sentences
  • Imprisonment

 

When deciding what sentence to impose, magistrates and judges have to take account of both the facts of the case and the circumstances of the offender.

A sentence needs to:

  • Protect the public;
  • Punish the offender fairly and appropriately;
  • Encourage the offender to make amends for their crime;
  • Contribute to crime reduction by stopping reoffending.

Global Radio

One of the upsides of being on lockdown is that I discovered Radio Garden (which I keep referring to in my head as ‘lockdown radio’).

Radio Garden is a navigable world map of the world’s local and national radio stations. You can browse the globe for literally thousands of radio stations, represented as green dots, click on them and play whatever is being broadcast.

I can especially recommend ‘Arctic Radio’, the world’s most northerly radio station: ‘spinning the 78s at the 77 latitude, and ‘the best protection against hypothermia’

And I couldn’t resist checking out some of the island stations around Oceania either, which are (maybe unsurprisingly?) mostly British.

Radio Garden: The local and the global

This is a really fun (if you’re a bit of nerd) way to explore the parallel global and local worlds – if you click on enough stations you’ll realize the dominance of British music for example, but in certain countries there is a very national feel – Japan and India for example.

I get the feeling that these radio stations are a really useful way to illustrate the complex nature of globalisation, especially cultural globalisation.

There are some limitations of course – radio is not that popular as a form of global media, and this website doesn’t show you online radio, or multimedia livestreams.

So really, it is just a bit of fun, enjoy!

Credits

I discovered this wonderful site thanks to this post on the Hive blockchain.

16-24 year olds hit hardest by Coronavirus Pandemic

How has coronavirus affected the young?

The government’s response to the Coronavirus Pandemic primarily focused on protecting the very old, who have the highest chance of dying with (although not necessarily from) Covid-19 if they catch it.

However, the drastic lock down strategy introduced back in March 2020, which closed all schools in England and Wales as well as many work places for several months has left children ad young adults ‘scarred for life’ according to many experts within SAGE (The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies), as summarised in this Guardian article.

Children have been negatively impacted through their schools being closed for 4 months, with some being hit further by local lockdowns more recently in September and October.

While schools did put in place online learning programmes, the quality of these varied from school to school and many children have been left 6 months behind with their learning, having now to catch up.

Then there’s the damage done to children’s social development – with their not being able to go out for 4 months and socialise face to face, and the added stress and uncertainty of just being subject to the ‘covid-climate’ in Britain (it hasn’t exactly been a fun or easy going year has it?!?).

If there’s any truth in Sue Palmer’s theory about toxic childhood, keeping children indoors for extended periods most definitely wouldn’t have done their mental health any good, which is something the SAGE experts are particularly concerned about!

While it might seem that 16 and 18 year olds who sat exams in 2020 got of relatively lightly because of their school predicted grades being inflated, let’s not forget that this would have been stressful and unpleasant for many of them, and we’ve now also got about 10% of these students enrolled on A-level programmes or degrees their probably not qualified to do because of their inflated grades, so there’s probably going to be higher failure rates and drop-out rates to come later this year.

Where young adults are concerned (18-24s) this age group has been most affected by the increase in unemployment in the wake of the Pandemic:

(The graphic shows 16-24s, but there aren’t that many under 18s in employment, so it’s mainly 18-24 year olds)

I guess this is because they are more likely to be working in the kinds of sectors which have been hit hardest by the virus – namely the hospitality sector, and while Furlough would have offered some protection, many hospitality sectors businesses are now starting to fold as consumers are just more reluctant to eat and drink out.

Looking at the longer term – if we have a recession, it’s likely to be younger people that suffer more as they struggle with the legacy of a disrupted education and fewer opportunities to get their first jobs.

Relevance to A-level sociology

Age stratification isn’t a major topic in most options, but perhaps it should be, as this is a great example of how the young seem to be suffering more than any other age group.

It certainly shows the limitations of the government’s capacity to deal with a crisis. Anthony Giddens famously said that Nation States are too small to deal with global problems – and here we have a government simply not having the resources to help everyone in society when faced with a global pandemic.

IF you think we need the government to help us through this mess, then this is a criticism of neoliberalism, which argues for less government.

However, you might just regard such reports as the one linked above by The Guardian as part of an exaggerated risk consciousness, and think that maybe young people haven’t been harmed at all by this crisis – maybe they are perfectly capable of being innovative and adapting to this crisis in new ways we haven’t even thought about yet?!?

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Researching in Classrooms

The classic method for researching in classrooms is non-participant observation, the method used by OFSTED inspectors. However, there are other methods available to the researcher who wishes to conduct research on actual lessons within schools.

Classrooms are closed environments with very clear rules of behaviour and typically containing around 20-30 students, one teacher and maybe one learning assistant, and lessons usually lasting from 40 minutes to an hour.

The obvious choice of research method for using in a classroom is that of non-participant observation, where the researcher takes on the role of the OFSTED inspector.

The fact that there are so many students in one place, and potentially hundreds of micro-interactions in even just a 40-minute lesson gives the observational researcher plenty to focus on, so classrooms are perhaps some of the most data rich environments within education.

Arguably the most useful way of collecting observational data would be for the researcher to have an idea about what they are looking for in advance – possibly how many times teachers praise which pupils, or how many times disruptive behaviour takes place, and how the teacher responds, rather than trying to watch everything, which would be difficult.

And students will probably be used to OFSTED inspections, or other staff in the school dropping in to observe lessons occasionally, thus it should be relatively easy for a researcher to blend into the background and observe without being too obtrusive.

The fact that classrooms are usually organised in a standardised way (they tend to be similar sizes, with only a few possible variations on desk layouts) also means the researcher has a good basis for reliability – any differences he observes in teacher or student behaviour across classrooms or schools is probably because of the teachers or pupils themselves, not differences in the environments they are in (at least to an extent!).

There are, however, some limitations with researching in classrooms.

Gaining access could be a problem – not all teachers are going to be willing to have a researcher observing them. They may regard their classroom as their environment and think they have little to gain from an outsider observing them – although if a researcher is a teacher themselves, they could maybe offer some useful feedback about teaching strategies applied by teachers.

Teachers will probably act differently when observed – if you think back to OFSTED inspections, teachers usually ‘up their game’ and make sure to be more inclusive and encouraging, this is likely to happen when anyone observes.

Similarly, pupils may behave differently – they may be more reluctant to contribute because of a researcher being present, or disruptive students may act up even more.

Classrooms are very unique, controlled environments, with only two roles (teachers and students) and clear norms. Teachers and students alike will not be themselves in these highly unusual situations.

Finally, researchers wouldn’t be able to dig deeper and ask probing questions when part of a lesson, unless they took on the role of participant observer by becoming an learning assistant, but even then they would be limited to what they could ask if they didn’t want to disrupt the lesson flow.

It’s not all about direct non-participant observation

Researchers might choose a more participatory approach to researching in classrooms, by training to be a learning assistant or even a teacher, and doing much longer term, unstructured observational research with students.

This would enable them to get to really know the students within a lesson, and make it very easy to to ask deeper questions outside of lessons.

The problem with this would be that they would then be part of the educational establishment and students may not wish to open up to them precisely because of that reason.

A further option would be to put up cameras and observe from a distance, but this might come up against some resistance from both teachers and students, and it would be more difficult to ask follow up questions if reviewing the recordings some time after the actual lesson took place.

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Issues surrounding researching in schools

There are tens of thousands of schools in the United Kingdom, which means that observational research which focuses on just one, or a handful of schools will be unrepresentative. This is also a  problem with any of the popular documentary programmes which focus on just one school – they are very interesting as they focus on the stories of the school, and some (but only some) of the pupils and teachers, but they are never going to be representative of all schools!

There are a lot of official statistics available on schools, much of it freely available on the DFES website – information on results, attendance, exclusions are all available, as are the latest OFSTED reports, so using a mixture of secondary qualitative and quantitative data may be a good choice for researchers given that schools are ‘data rich’ institutions.

A researcher could also use official statistics to easily select a sample of schools which represent all the regions in the UK, different OFSTED grades, and/ or different school types.

However, official statistics on education can be misleading – exam results may not reflect the underlying ethos of a school, or show us the difficulties a particular school faces, and schools can manipulate their data to an extent – for example, they can reduce their exclusion statistics by ‘off-rolling pupils’ – getting parents to agree to withdraw them before they exclude them.

Schools are potentially very convenient places to conduct research – because the law requires pupils to attend and teachers/ managers need to attend to keep their jobs, you can be reasonably certain that most people you want to research are going to be in attendance! You have a captive audience!

However, school gatekeepers (i.e. head teachers) may be reluctant to allow researchers into schools: they may see research as disruptive, fearing it may interfere with their duty to educate students.

Schools are also highly organised, ‘busy’ institutions – researchers may find it difficult to find the time to ask questions of pupils and teachers during the day, meaning interviews could be a problem, limiting the researcher to less representative observational research.

The researcher will also need to ensure they blend-in, otherwise they may be seen as an outsider by teachers and students alike, which would not be conducive to getting respondents to open up and provide valid information.  

Research Methods in Context: Experiments and Education

Experiments are the only method educational researchers can use if they wish observe the effects of one specific variable on student behaviour or outcomes (results).

Experiments are probably conducted more by schools themselves to test out things like new teaching techniques before rolling them out to the whole school, and there are also several examples of policy changes providing us with some examples of ‘natural experiments’, as when academies were introduced, they allowed researchers to compare the performance with LEA schools.

Examples of sociologists going into schools to conduct their own research are a lot rarer, and laboratory experiments on how social factors relate to educational performance are rarer still.

This post provides examples of all ‘four types’ of these experiment. It has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology studying the Methods in Context aspect of the specification.

Field Experiments within Schools by schools themselves

There are a number of variables schools might try to change in order to improve student behaviour, performance, or just to enhance student well-being.

Experimenting with setting and streaming, the gender mix of classrooms, different teaching techniques, online learning, or even the length of the lessons themselves are all possible focuses for small scale experiments.

I discuss this more in this post: experiments within schools.

One of the most extreme field experiments conducted recently was by a school in Devon, in which they subjected some of their students to a Chinese style of teaching, involving Chinese teachers, for a three month period. For more on this, please see this post.

Field Experiments by Sociologists within Schools

The classic field experiment relevant to education is Rosenthal and Jacobsnen’s Pygmalion in the Classroom, in which they set out to measure the impact of high teacher expectation on student performance.

They went into a school, and tested a sample of the students, keeping the actual results hidden from the teachers. They then told the teachers that a randomly selected sample of students were especially gifted (when in reality the students had a range of abilities).

The researchers then left the school, returned some months later and re-tested all the students. They found that the ones who teachers had been told were higher ability had improved at a faster rate than the rest.

The conclusion is that this supports the Self Fulfilling Prophecy Theory, however other repeat experiments have yielded different results.

For more details on this experiment, please see this post

Natural Experiments and Education

There have been two notable government policies which have introduced new school types in recent years: Academies and Free Schools.

We now have several years of data to compare the performance of both of these types of school with regular Local Education Authority schools, which is a natural experiment.

We could also do the same at a global level, by looking at the PISA league tables and then looking at what features the education systems of the top performing countries have in common, if any.

Coronavirus has also provided us with an interesting opportunity to measure the effects of online learning on education. Some recent initial studies report that poorer students are negatively impacted more than wealthier students.

Be careful discussing ‘natural experiments’ in an exam, as we are getting into ‘secondary data’ here rather than pure experiments, but there are links!

Laboratory Experiments relevant to education

There are a couple of interesting historical examples:

Charkin et al (1975) conducted research with a sample of 48 university studetns who each taught a lesson to a 10 year old boy.

One third of the university students were told they boy was highly motivated and intelligent

One third were told he was poorly motivated and with a low IQ

One third were given no information

Charkin et al videod the lessons and found that those in the high expectancy group made more eye contact and used more encouraging body language than the low expectancy group.

This seems to suggest support for labelling theory.

Mason (1973) looked at whether negative or positive expectations had a greater effect.

Teachers were given positive, negative or neutral reports on a pupil. The teachers then observerd video recordings of the pupil taking a test, watching to see if any errors were made, and then asked to predict the pupil’s end of year attainment.

Mason found that the negative reports had a much greater impact on the teachers’ expectations than the positive reports.

A much more recent experiment, aired by the BBC, showed how simply having a mobile phone on a desk lowers the test scores of students. For more details on this, please see this post.

(Source Webb et Al A-level Sociology, Book 1)

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Researching Parents

Home factors have more of an influence on pupil performance than school factors, and parents are certainly the biggest influencers of pupils at home, especially in their early years.

Parents can influence a child’s attitude towards education in various ways:

  • The amount of time they spend reading with their children in early years
  • How they play with their children more generally, and how educational that play is.
  • How strict they enforce rules.
  • The importance they attribute to education themselves
  • The amount of interest they show in their child’s education

As a result of early socialisation, children end up being either culturally deprived or having cultural capital (or somewhere in between), which means they are either ill-prepared for school or very well prepared, which will make an enormous difference in how well they adapt to school life when they first start.

If you wish to research pupils, you may well need the consent of parents, so some minimal contact may well be necessary even if it’s not them you are actually researching.

Problems of researching parents

Validity issues

Middle class, pro-school parents are more likely to want to engage with research about education, as they will be more interested and will probably be able to use it as an opportunity for self-validation – they can show off how much they care about their children’s education. They will also be more familiar with filling in questionnaires, and engaging in social research, which are quite ‘middle class’ pursuits.

Working class parents, who themselves maybe didn’t have such a positive experience of schooling, might be more reluctant to take part in research, feeling less comfortable engaging with the middle class researchers.

Parents may also try to ‘impression manage’ with researchers, exaggerating their involvement in their children’s education for example, because this paints them in a more positive light.

Practical Problems

Gaining access to parents could be difficult – if you don’t want to hang around the school gates or at parents evenings then you would have to approach them either at home or via phone/ email.

Gaining access to parent’s private addresses is going to be difficult because schools will not share that data with you because of GPDR, thus if you wanted a representative sample by postcode then you wouldn’t be able to get it.

Schools might agree to send out questionnaires or letters asking for interviewees to parents on your behalf, but then you’ve got the problem of getting a self-selecting biased sample back. The chances are only those parents who are pro-education would want to take part in your research.

It could be very difficult to gain access to the parents of traditionally underachieving groups – white working class parents or traveler parents for example.

When it comes to researching, it would be more difficult to get parents into a group to research them (also, this might be pointless anyway), so you’d probably have to do one on one research which could be more time consuming.

Reality TV School Shows – How Valid are They?

Reality shows featuring schools have become common place on British T.V. over the last decade.

One well-known example is the ‘Educating’ series, which started in Essex in 2011, then visited Yorkshire in 2014, and then another three series, with the latest airing in 2017.

Each series followed one school through an entire year, with cameras going into lessons, and interviews with several students, teachers and managers.

Another example which is more a creative work done in conjunction with the children, is ‘Our School’ on CBCC…..

In research methods terms this method is a combination of ‘non-participant observation’ and semi-structured interviews, and these sources shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand because real life educational researchers rarely get access to one school for an entire year, so there is a rich vein of data here.

However, these are not works of sociological research, they are documentaries, produced for entertainment purposes and for a profit, so we need to be cautious about how useful they are.

Practical issues

Given the problems of a researcher gaining access to a school, having these shows done for us is great, as someone else has already gained access!

Theoretical issues

Representativeness may be limited – it’s likely that only schools which are doing OK will agree to take part – schools in special measures probably wouldn’t.

Also, these shows tend to focus on the dramatic cases of students – rather than the ‘normal’ ones!

Validity may be an issue – both schools and teachers may well act differently because they know there are cameras present.

Having said that, we do get something of an insight into the stories of a limited number of students.

However, if the data is not valid, there’s little point!

Ethical issues

These documentaries do seem to be done with the co-operation of the students – so I guess this gives them a voice.

I’m not convinced the teachers would be that happy about this as a whole – maybe quite a lot of railroading by the SLT?