Using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school

Last Updated on April 26, 2017 by Karl Thompson

An example of a methods in context question, mark scheme, and some thoughts on how to answer the question. The ‘methods in context question’ appears on paper 1 at both AS and A Level, and it’s the same format in both papers.

The item and question below are taken directly from an AQA AS sociology specimen paper, I’ve put in bold the useful ‘hooks’ in the item.

Example of a Methods in Context Question:

(05) Read item B, then answer the question below

Item B

Investigating unauthorised absences from school

There is a close correlation between frequent unauthorised absence from school and educational underachievement. Those pupils who are not doing well at school are more likely to truant. Similarly, those who truant regularly are likely to finish their school career with poor qualifications. Pupils may be absent without authorisation for many reasons, from caring responsibilities at home or dislike of school, to parents arranging family holidays in term time.

Sociologists may use self-completion written questionnaires to study unauthorised absences. These can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents or teachers. The findings of the questionnaires can also be used to establish patterns and trends in relation to unauthorised absences. However, self-completion questionnaires often have very low response rates, especially when they ask about sensitive issues.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school (20 marks)

Examples of ‘Top Band’ Statements

If you top and tail this with an intro paragraph about Positivism and the strengths/ limitations of the method (thus show good knowledge and evaluation of the method in general) and a conclusion saying it’s a pretty crap method, then just 3-4 of these statements below should be enough to get you into the top mark band (17-20)

  • An advantage of self-completion questionnaires is that they can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents, or teachers, HOWEVER there are numerous reasons why pupils who are absent from school without being authorised won’t want to fill in the questionnaires – as the item states, such pupils may not be doing well at school and would be reluctant to fill in a questionnaire about something they don’t like (school), which could result in a low response rate
  • A second reason for a low response rate is, as the item states, because students have caring responsibilities at home, and they may not have time to complete the questionnaire, or they may not see it as important as their caring duties.
  • Another problem is that validity of responses may be low – if unauthorised absences are due to parents arranging holidays in term time, they may not want to admit to this in a questionnaire because they may have lied about this reason to the school to avoid a fine.
  • The item states that self completion questionnaires are a good way of finding trends and you could use them to explore the relationship between unauthorised absences and low qualifications, however, if people have low qualifications they may have low literacy levels, meaning they would not be happy filling in a questionnaire, so a booster sample would be required, or another method for such people, such as structured interviews, but this would reduce the reliability.
  • One advantage of the method is that you can distribute large numbers of questionnaires quickly, and they are usually quick to fill in, so teachers would like them as they have busy schedules, and would also probably be happy to talk about this issue, given its negative effects.
  • One problem with this method is the imposition problem – you need to set questions in advance, and as the item says, there are many reasons for unauthorised absences, they problem is that you may not discover these reasons if you don’t include it in the questionnaire in the first place.
  • This imposition problem would be a problem especially if absences are due to bullying, which is a sensitive issue – even if it is on the questionnaire, it’s quite a cold method and so respondents may not want to discuss it in a ‘tick box’ manner.
  • A final advantage of this method is that it is anonymous, which may outweigh some of the problems above.

Methods in Context CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then why not purchase my handy ‘How to Write Methods in Context Essays‘ hand-out, a bargain at only £1.49, and who knows, it may prevent you from being the victim in a future research study focusing on why certain students fail their A levels… 

It covers the following processes of how to deal with Methods in Context (MIC) questions.

  1. It starts off by looking at an example of a methods in context question and a mark scheme and outlines what you need to do to get into the top three mark bands.
  2. It tells you how to plan methods in context essays.
  3. It tells you how to actually write methods in context essays – presenting a ‘safe’ strategy to get into at least mark band 4 (13-16)
  4. In total it provides three examples of how you might go about answering a three different MIC questions.

The Mark Scheme (top three bands)

Top Mark Band (17-20) – Good knowledge of method and applies the method to the specific topic

‘Students will apply knowledge of a range of relevant strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to research issues and characteristics relating to unauthorised absences from school.

These may include some of the following and/or other relevant concerns, though answers do not need to include all of these, even for full marks:

the research characteristics of potential research subjects, eg individual pupils, peer groups, parents, teachers (eg class, ethnic and gender differences; parental literacy skills; teachers’ professionalism, self-interest or stereotypes of pupils)

contexts and settings (eg classrooms; staffrooms)

the sensitivity of researching unauthorised absences from school (eg policy and resource implications for schools; schools’ market and league table position; its impact on achievement or behaviour; stigmatisation; parental consent).’

Fourth Mark Band (13-16) – Good knowledge of method and applies the method to education in general.

‘Application of knowledge will be broadly appropriate but will be applied in a more generalised way or a more restricted way; for example:

applying the method to the study of education in general, not to the specifics of studying unauthorised absences from school, or

specific but undeveloped application to unauthorised absences from school, or

a focus on the research characteristics of unauthorised absences from school, or groups/contexts etc involved in it.’

Middle Mark Band (9-12) – Good knowledge of method, loosely applied to education

‘Largely accurate knowledge but limited range and depth, including a broadly accurate, if basic, account of some of the strengths and/or limitations of self completion written questionnaires.

Understands some limited aspects of the question; superficial understanding of the presented material.

Applying material (possibly in a list-like fashion) on self-completion written questionnaires, but with very limited or non-existent application to either the study of unauthorised absences from school in particular or of education in general. ‘

Related Posts 

Methods in Context Mark Scheme (Pared-Down)


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