Evaluate group interviews to investigate subject choices made by pupils

Last Updated on May 11, 2024 by Karl Thompson

This methods in context question came up in the June 2022 A-level sociology education with theory and methods paper. 

Below I include the item, a plan and a possible response. NB this isn’t an easy question IMO!

The Item and Question 

Read Item C below and answer the question that follows

As well as compulsory subjects at school, pupils can often choose optional ones. Pupils may choose different subjects for a variety of reasons. They may have a personal interest or talent in a subject or act on the basis of advice given by parents, professionals working within schools or others. However, there are patterns in subject choices linked to class, gender and ethnicity which could result from factors external to schools. 

One way of studying differences in the subject choices made by pupils is to use group interviews. This type of interview can encourage deeper thought as participants can develop ideas put forward by other group members. However, participants may be influenced by peer pressure. Furthermore, some pupils, teachers and parents may find it difficult to find a time to meet as a group.

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using group interviews to investigate the reasons for subject choices made by pupils.

Hints for Methods in Context Questions 

The difficulty with Methods in Context questions is keeping three things in mind at once:

  1. The specific topic as elaborated on by the item – in this case subject choice. 
  2. The research contexts – where and who you are researching. 
  3. The theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of the specific method – in this case group interviews.  

The easiest way to do this is to highlight the main points in the item and then do quick bullet points for the contexts and method. 

For example my plan to cover would look something like this: 

Topic (subject choice)Contexts Method – Group interviews
– Personal interest/ talent
-Advice from parents/ teachers/ others
– External factors (home, socialisation/ poverty/ culture)
-Influence of class, gender, ethnicity. 
– Who… pupils/ teachers/ parents. Mixture of the above 
– Practical – access/ time. 
-Theoretical – validity, reliability, representativeness.
-Also ethical factors such as consent.
  • I would then start with each of the four things on the left and TRY and relate them to BOTH context and then practical, ethnical, and theoretical issues. 
  • Then Contexts in relation to the method (and the topic)
  • And finally if you have time start with the method and relate to the other two. 
  • Try to not repeat yourself, but if you do it doesn’t matter, there are no points for style, but do make sure you have a conclusion!
  • Careful NOT to just recycle what’s in the item. 

This is NOT an easy question to answer!!! 

For more information on how to answer questions on methods in context

I briefly cover group interviews here

Evaluate group interviews to investigate subject choices made by pupils

Suggested answer below…

(First a reminder of the question AND item!)

an item for an A-level sociology methods in context exam question.

One of the general strengths of group interviews is it allows for respondents to bounce ideas off each other. This means you could get more in-depth answers than when interviewing individuals. It also allows for respondents to check each other’s answers for accuracy. A group interview can also be like a conversation, where the respondents are talking among themselves, which is natural. If the researcher is skilled they may even drift into the background. The researcher can also check group dynamics to know when to interject and possibly detect if respondents are exaggerating or lying based on the responses of others. All of this means group interviews should have relatively high validity. 

However these strengths may not apply when researching this particular topic of subject choice. 

If you are researching small groups of students and trying to find out their personal motives for choosing say science, or maths or performing arts, for example, they may not be forthcoming with their real motives if those motives are not perceived as being acceptable to peers. Embarrassment may prevent individuals from telling the truth in a group setting because of peer pressure. 

Similarly ideas about what is acceptable or cool may result in students in a group giving you what they see as socially desirable motives rather than their actual motives. For example among boys it might be desirable to make a lot of money, so that might be the reason given for choosing economics, rather than them just being interested in the subject.

Validity may further be reduced by the types of student, as mentioned in the item. Working class boys are more likely to see taking an interest in school as cool, thus you are less likely to get valid information about students liking a subject as the motive. However with middle class boys it is more acceptable to express interest in school work. 

Where parental influence is concerned it may be seen as shameful to admit this in front of one’s peers, so this method wouldn’t be good here. 

Girls are more comfortable with conversational settings and discussing their feelings, thus you are more likely to get valid information about why girls choose their subjects compared to boys. 

The mix of different classes, different genders and ethnicities in the group would also influence the results. In terms of reliability, it would be more difficult to repeat if you had a mixture because you may not be able to get the same mix in other schools. 

Thus if you want reliability, you might want to do research on just boys and girls from one class background and ethnicity. 

Another way of doing this would be to research on a subject by subject basis, and ask students why they chose that subject, here you would probably get more specific information compared to asking students in general. 

Another possible way of getting validity in group settings might be to get all the boys, for example, who chose typically girls subjects, they might be more willing to open up if they are with other students who have chosen subjects outside of their gender domain. .

You can also research with parents and teachers, the latter may be able to tell you their take on why students choose different subjects. In terms of researching parents I think you’d have little to gain because they don’t necessarily know their children’s real reasons, and they could be just as unwilling to open up about their role in subject choice in a group. 

From a practical point of view you would have to do these interviews in school, it’s going to be difficult to get groups of students together outside. This means you’d need to get past the headmaster, the teacher, gain parental consent ideally, it would be tricky practically. 

And students would either need to agree to stay after school or be given time off lessons. 

Group interviews would be quicker than individual interviews initially, you could research up to 5 students, any more and some students may clam up or sit back given the size of the group, but it would take a long time to transcribe. 

You would be able to interview dozens of students in say a week, in one school, using this method, so it’s good for representativeness. 

Ethically this allows for students to speak for themselves. 

It might be best to do this BEFORE students take their subject choices, that way students are more likely to be open about pressure, and it might make them think more about making choices independently. This could be a good method for improving reflexivity in the research process. 

In conclusion I don’t think this is a good method for researching this topic, it is too sensitive to reasonably expect students to open up about it. 

However if you were to be very selective and select all the non typical students who have chosen one subject it could work to yield valid, if not very representative data. 

Thoughts on this question 

It is not an easy question. This is mainly because this is not a particularly good method for this topic. Also it’s one of the LEAST interesting topics for students to have to think about. 

Because of these two factors, it is precisely the kind of question that will give you that empty and numb feeling. Especially in the exam you might well sit there and feel a sense of dredd. You might feel angry: ‘what is the point of this’? I think this and I’m a teacher INTERESTED in this kind of stuff. I can only imagine how bad this must have been for an average A-level student. 

For the most part the examiners have provided some pretty good questions over the last few years. THIS is an exception, you just had to suck it up and get on with it! 

But it is what it is. 


For more information on how to answer questions on methods in context

For more general advise on all sociology exam papers.

Mark Scheme for 2022 paper 7192/1

The examiners report June 2022 for paper 7292/1

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