This 20 mark methods in context question came up in the 2018 A-level sociology 7192/1 paper, below is the full question and some thoughts about how you might go about answering it!
Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using participant observation to investigate pupil exclusions
Hints for answering
The item mentions many different types of exclusion, you should address them all and contrast the usefulness of participant observation for researching different types. E.G….
- Permanent (although you are really directed away from this
- Fixed (1/20 pupils)
- Pupils excluded from lessons (‘no reliable data’)
- Self-exclusion for truanting
- Self-exclusion by ‘switching off’.
You’re also directed to discuss particular types of students – those with special educational needs and those from traveller backgrounds for example.
The paragraph on the method directs you to discuss the role you would take amongst other things. NB the method is participant observation in general, so you could contrast overt and covert.
Here are some of the points you could develop:
- Overt participant observation as a learning support assistant is probably the only way you could do this – useful for gaining insight into pupils being excluded from lessons and those self-excluding by switching off, but not for truancy.
- If you took that role you could get close to SEN students – some of the students more likely to be excluded, but less so for traveller children.
- An SEN learning support assistant could view more than one teacher/ classroom over the course of a few weeks, so reasonable representativeness.
- You could check for teacher bias agains certain students in terms of why they get excluded – but this might be difficult IF you are actively trying to support learners in your role.
- Also, your presence might improve behaviour and lesson the likelihood of exclusion.
- Practically you’re limited to one school.
- To be ethical you would have to tell management your true purpose for wanting to join in as an assistant, maybe investigating teachers with the highest exclusion rate, but you would have to not tell them for validity purposes, which would be unethical.
- Practically you would still have to be trained as an LA.
- Exclusions are rare, so you might be hanging around a long time waiting for one to happen.
- You could embed yourself within a group of traveller or SEN children to get their take on school, which might give you insight, but this is not practical for adults.
- Ultimately you’d have to combine it with Unstructured Interviews to really find out why exclusions take place, which is possible if you’re overt, not covert.
Not an exhaustive list, just a few ideas…. NB you would have to use more methods concepts.