The series subjects a number of twins to various experiments in order to try and isolate the effect of one variable on another.
For example in one experiment in a recent episode, the twins were split into two groups and made to sit an IQ test, under identitical conditions, except that group A had their phones taken away, while group B were asked to place their phones on the desk.
The point of the experiment was to measure how the mere presence of a mobile phone affected performance in the IQ test – given that everything else was controlled for (both the environmental conditions and presumably the twins having similar intelligence levels because of their similar genetics and social backgrounds) this seems to be an effective way of isolating one variable, in this case, the presence of a mobile phone.
The results were quite stark – the group with the phones on the desk got significantly lower test scores than the group who had their phones taken away, which supports similar findings of other experiments which also suggested that the mere presence of a phone can be distracting, and hence means you are less able to focus on a particular task, such as doing a n IQ test.
In another (not so robust) experiment, two pairs of twins are subject to a sleep deprivation experiment in which all the twins have to stay awake for 30 hours, but one pair ‘sleep bank’ before the 30 hours, getting an extra 4 hours of sleep a night (4*1 hours for for days previous), while the other pair are allowed to nap for 12* 20 minutes during the 30 hours.
The twins are tested on reaction times before and during the experiment – everyone does worse after the 30 hours, but the ‘sleep bankers’ perform much better, which was quite surprising.
The limitations of the above experiments
While the first experiment seems to be reasonably valid, in that it’s tightly focused, and quite narrow, and has several participants, the second seems much weaker – only 2 pairs is hardly representative, but with such a long experiment and such extensive testing, one can see how to increase the numbers would get expensive very quickly, given that every respondent needs monitoring for 30 hours.
Also with the second, I would have liked to have seen a control group – another twin pair who just went for the 3o hours sleep with no banking or napping.
We don’t tend to use experiments in sociology very much, but this series touches on experiments which are of sociological relevance, so it’s very much worth a watch!
This seems to be a good example of how the courts in Cyprus engage in ‘victim blaming’ when it comes to rape, and seems to illustrate many of the ideas of radical feminism – about how patriarchal institutions punish women for the violence men do against them. It’s of obvious relevance to Feminist theory applied to Crime and Deviance.
The Cyprus Rape Case…
On 17th July 2019 a British woman filed a report in a police station in Ayia Napa claiming she had been gang raped by 12 Israeli men. The men were detained, and various examinations carried out, linking 7 of them to the alleged victim through DNA evidence and or shared scratches/ bruises. The incident was also filmed.
On 27th July the victim visited the police station again, to give a statement, but after 8 hours of questioning without a lawyer retracted her original report saying she had consented to having sex with all 12 men.
The alleged rapists were then released and allowed to go home to Israel while the British woman was charged by the Cypriot authorities with making a false statement – and had to spend the next 6 months on bail why she waited for her trial to take place.
On the fourth of January, the woman was found guilty of misleading the police, but the judge refused to take into account certain crucial pieces of evidence – he didn’t even look at the video footage which was taken, for example.
As punishment she received a four month sentence, and was allowed to return home to the UK, and she is now going to appeal her conviction.
A level Sociology teaching resources for sale – perspectives in sociology.
I’ve just release a new sociological perspectives teaching resource bundle as part of my A-level sociology teaching resources subscription package.
This teaching resource bundle contains everything teachers need to deliver 10-hour long theory lessons for A level sociology, focusing on perspectives in sociology.
An overview of the ten theory lessons
of the perspectives/ key sociological questions (2 lessons)
Action Theory (1 lesson)
Resources in the bundle include:
Six Student workbooks covering all of the above
Six Power Points covering most of the above
lessons (not for riots or the corporate crime research lesson.
Lesson plans covering all of the above lessons.
Various supplementary hand-outs for some of the
above lessons as necessary.
LOTS of different types of
theory grids and concepts for cutting and doing sentence sorts with
Full theory and methods scheme of work.
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!
Is the UK biased against the conservatives? How do we even measure this?
More conservatives complained to the BBC about anti-Tory bias in its 2019 election coverage than Labour supporters complained about there being an anti-Labour bias. (Source).
This trend is consistent with complaints about bias received by the BBC throughout 2019 – most complaints were from conservatives, complaining about the BBC being anti-Tory or anti-Boris – especially The Today Progamme, Andrew Marr Show and Newsnight.
However, the above analysis is based on formal written complaints, which is not a valid indicator of the nature or extent of bias in the media – there may have been more complaints on Twitter and Facebook about the BBC being pro-Tory in its election coverage, but these aren’t ‘formal’ complaints and so don’t need to be dealt with by the BBC.
Hence we need to treat the above figures with caution, especially when Tory voters tend to be older, and Labour voters tend to be younger – the former are more likely to make formal written complaints, the later more likely to take to social media.
Writing in the Observer, Peter Oborne calls out the BBC for being biased towards to Tories and against Labour, so there is definitely a difference in subjective opinions over what counts as bias.
NB – sociologically speaking, all of the above should be dismissed as subjective value judgments – there is nothing factual about the nature or extent of bias in the BBC in any of this!
Is it possible to measure political bias in the BBC objectively?
For the BBC as a whole, probably not, because it’s so difficult to measure agenda setting – what’s kept out of the news, which is itself ideological.
Where the narrow news agenda is concerned I guess any attempt to objectively measure bias would need to focus on specific programmes – say Newsnight, where one could count the air time given to different guests, and the kind of interaction between the presenter and the guests too, and the amount of time given to pro-Tory and pro-Labour issues.
However, the later is tricky – although inequality is more of a Labour issue, is devoting half a Newsnight programme to it biased towards Labour? It’s still something the Tories have to deal with.
Also, how do decide whether a presenter ‘asking hard questions’ is biased against an interviewee or just doing their job?
In short, it’s difficult to measure bias on Live T.V. shows, much easier in News Papers.
This is a ‘first thoughts’ off the top of my head ranking based on a combination of what I know about these social issues and social theory/ research evidence.
Also, this isn’t comprehensive – I’ve taken the above from the Ipsos-Mori September 2019 survey – so really this is my ‘top 14’ social issues as identified by 1027 members of the British public in 2019.
This is what the British public thought were the most important social issues in September 2019….
Actually not quite, I’ve added in mental health and sexual inequalities just because I think they deserve a mention, unlike at least 95.5% of the British population sampled last September!
A broadly Marxist Rationale for my Ranking
I’ve put pollution and the environment at number 1 as if we don’t stop living within planetary limits soon we’re just lining up more social problems in the future – the more we consume and pollute the fewer resources there are to go round and the fewer resources the more inequality, the higher the cost of living, the more social unrest and so on.
Inequality comes second following Wilkinson and Picket’s work in the Spirit Level – inequality seems to be the number one variable correlated with all other social problems. I’ve included poverty with inequality as (simplifying to the extreme) in Britain we only really have relative poverty, which is a function of inequality.
At three is the ultimate economic challenge – keeping the cost of living down. I think this is fundamentally related to inequality – for example landlords owning several houses and renting them out make themselves rich while impoverishing their tenants.
I’ve included unemployment and underemployment at four as these is these are not only fundamentally linked to inequality, but also a future challenge as technological change strips out jobs from the economy.
Race relations goes in at five because Racism does still exist and it is the most common tool for scapegoating the causes of all other social problems. If we can just get rid of silly notions of Racism, the masses might direct their attention at the elites who create most of our social problems.
The ageing population is next as it’s something of a ticking time bomb – we haven’t yet addressed as a society how we are going to pay for the increased health and social care costs of people in old age in the context of a less favourable dependency ratio in future years.
To skip to the final two, I regard these as positive things – lack of faith in national politics I think is a necessary precursor to more decentralized, autonomous solutions to social problems and as to immigration and migration more generally, not only can this solve the ‘problem’ of the ageing population, I think in general we need more of it – if nothing else to combat the problem of racial prejudice!
How valid are Mori’s survey’s as an indicator of the social problems facing Britain today?
Brexit, the NHS and Crime were the three most important
issues facing Britain in 2019, according to a recent poll conducted by Mori.
The following percentages of people responded that the
issues below were ‘important’:
The Common Market/Brexit/EU/Europe – 65%
NHS/Hospitals/Healthcare – 36%
Crime/ Law and Order/ Anti-social Behaviour –
Education/ schools – 21%
Poverty/ Inequality – 17%
Housing – 15%
Pollution/ Environment – 15%
Economy – 15%
Lack of faith in politics/ politicians/
government – 15%
Immigration/ immigrants – 10%
The above results come from Ipsos Mori’s ‘issues’ index/ poll, which is carried out every month, but at time of writing the September results are most up to date published version.
These results are based on a sample of 1027 adults aged 18
or over and it asks respondents to basic questions:
Q1 – what is the most important issue facing Britain today?
Q2 – what are other important issues facing Britain today?
The above results are a combination of the responses to Q1 and Q2. As I understand it these are open questions and there is no prompting from the person administering the survey.
Analysis of these results
It’s no surprise that Brexit came out on top as the main
issue facing Britain in 2019. NB if you look back at previous polls in preceding
months, the results are similar, so the end of year 2019 issue review will no
doubt show something quite similar to this September poll when it’s published
later in the year.
Brexit hasn’t ‘stolen’ the importance of other issues either
– if you take a long look back, before Brexit was on the agenda, the
percentages for the next most important issues other than Brexit were mostly
around the 10-40%s.
What’s interesting is how few people think anything other
than Brexit and the NHS are ‘issues’ at all – even the third most important
issue, Crime etc. is only regarded as an ‘issue’ by 22% of the public, and the
topic closest to my heart, and no doubt most other sociologists’ – poverty and
inequality – is only seen as an issue by 17%, or around 1 in 6 of the
population – it’s no surprise Labour had such a dismal 2019 election results
based on this!
If people are taking this poll seriously, then the British
public seem to be pretty upbeat about what’s occurring in the UK at the moment,
seeing an absence of social problems?
The following ‘issues’ have been growing as concerns over recent years….
There are quite significant differences in results by age and social class – the environment and housing come out much higher for younger people and crime and immigration higher for older people. Concern over immigration is twice as high for the lower social classes as it is for the higher social classes. Check out the later part of report for more details.
I’m very surprised mental health isn’t in the list, perhaps people don’t regard this as a ‘social’ problem?
Are social issues the same as social problems?
Common sense tells me that when people say something like
Brexit or Crime is ‘an important issue’, they are really saying that’s it’s a
problem, or a potential problem – that is something that is doing harm to
society and needs something doing about it.
However, this remains an assumption on my part. There are issues
of subjectivity with the interpretation of the word ‘issues’, sort-of pun entirely
If this is the case, and people are reading ‘social problems’
when they read issues, it’s worth noting how few people think there are problems
A few thoughts on the methods involved with this poll
This is research on opinions at its most very basic – a basic open question survey with two questions and the responses coded into ‘said it was an important issue’ or not.
We do get some very clear results from this survey, but as
mentioned above, these are very general results and there could be a whole
range of different meanings and opinions behind them. 65% of people might think
Brexit is an important issue/ problem that needs something doing about it, but
there’s no indication here of why they think it’s important or what should be
done about it!
There are some validity concerns over the way the researchers have grouped some of the issues – why lump the three ‘Brexit’ and ‘Europe’ issues together but not put ‘drugs’ with crime for example? And why not put all of the economic type issues into a category called ‘money’. Also, ‘ageing population’ could be combined with the NHS issue as the two are fundamentally related.
Possibly the ‘Brexit’ issue has been exaggerated because of invalid grouping of anything to do with Europe being put in one category?
I also think ‘crime’ could be broken down into different types of crime. It’s much more general compared to say ‘housing’ for example.
It will be interesting to see what happens to public opinion on social issues/ problems in 2020 now that ‘Brexit’ has kind of been resolved and we have a majority Tory government in place.
Hopefully World War Three won’t replace Brexit as the most significant issue facing Britain this year!
An exploration of the key facts on private or independent schools and some of the arguments and evidence for or against their existence.
Private, or Independent schools are a key feature of the British education system, attended by around 6% of children, the vast majority from the wealthiest families. In this post I explore some of the arguments and evidence for and against independent schools.
Private (aka independent) schools are privately funded through fees or donations from parents or other donors, rather than being funded by the state through taxation. Independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum like state schools.
Private schools are also known as Independent schools, and the two terms are usually used interchangeably, and I will use the two terms interchangeably in this post
Different types of Independent school
Independent schools exist for all ages of pupil – from prep-schools (infant schools) to secondary schools and 16-19 colleges. Some will specialize in one age group, others will have provision from 3 years to 19 years of age.
Somewhat confusingly ‘Public Schools’ such as Eton and Harrow are actually ‘private’ or ‘independent’ schools. Public schools are the ‘elite’ independent schools – they are the oldest and most well established independent schools and typically have annual fees of over £30 000 year per pupil.
The term ‘public’ school comes from 1868 when a group of seven elite boys boarding schools were granted independence from the state and the church and allowed to be run by groups of local governors, so they are really elite private schools.
Most independent schools are day schools, but some are boarding schools.
Independent Schools and State Schools: similarities and differences
Statistics on Private schools in the UK
The main source for the states below is the 2019 Independent Schools Council 2019 survey of independent schools.
1,364 schools are members of the Independent Schools Council.
In 2019 there were 536,109 pupils at ISC member schools, a record number of pupils.
6,169 pupils in ISC schools paid no fees at all, a figure which is increasing as a proportion of Independent school pupils but still only represents just over 1% of all pupils in independent schools.
33.8% are minority ethnic pupils, reflecting general population
84,293 pupils identified as having SEND, equating to 15.7% of all pupils, marginally higher than last year.
The most common SEND is Specific Learning Difficulty (SPLD), which includes conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia and represents 57.5% of all SEND pupils in ISC schools.
5.4% of all pupils are foreign students, whose parents reside permanently abroad, the highest number of students being from China.
There were 69,155 boarding pupils on Census day – 17th January 2019.
An increasing number of ISC schools operate campuses overseas, educating 39,616 pupils.
Arguments for private schools
One argument for independent schools is that they are like Beacon schools, showcasing the very best of education. Independent schools provide a very positive learning environment for their pupils, with some of the best teacher-pupil ratios in the country, excellent learner support facilities and other resources deployed in IT, sports and the arts, to give students a well-rounded, broad education. They also tend to instill good discipline in students, so truancy and exclusion rates should be lower than for state schools.
Then there’s the results, which are far better than for state schools. In 2018 48% of private-school students achieved A*s and As at A-level was 48%, nearly double the national average of 26%.
There is also an economic arguemnt for independent schools, in the context of an increasingly global education market – increasing numbers of parents from abroad (especially China) pay fees to have their students attend British independent schools – meaning these schools are an econmic asset, they bring money into the country.
Finally, from a Liberal (or broadly postmodern) perspective, surely parents have the right to send their children to private schools rather than state schools?
Arguments against private schools
I’ve taken many (but not all) of the arguments below from Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem by Francis Green and David Kynaston.
Green and Kynaston argue that the existence of private schools limits the life chances of those who attend state schools and damages wider society.
One in every 16 pupils attends an independent school, and yet one in every seven teachers works at an independent school, meaning that as a nation we spend twice as much on the 6-7% of privately educated pupils as we do on pupils attending state schools. Green and Kynasaton argues that the primary effect of this intense focus of resources on the top 6-7% is to give them an increased chance (read unfair advantage) of getting into a top university and then into one of the elite professions.
Between 2010 and 2015 an average of 40% from Oxford and Cambridge were made to the 6-7% of students who had been privately educated, which effectively blocks offers going to those who attended state schools. 54% of ISC pupils continue to a Russell Group university.
The private school advantage carries on throughout the life cycle – Politics, the media, and public service all show high proportions of privately educated in their number, including 65% of senior judges, 59% of civil service permanent secretaries and 57% of the House of Lords.
Essentially what Private schools do is reproduce class inequality!
But there’s also a deeper problem, one of resource inefficiency – extra resources given to students who are doing well or OK produce diminishing returns compared to extra resources being spent on those students who are less able. For example in a classroom where there is already one teaching assistant, adding another won’t do as much good as adding one classroom assistant to a classroom where there are no teaching assistants.
The whole of the indepdent school system does just that for the children of the wealthy…. we spend twice as much to give them a little boost so they can get into the best jobs, meaning fewer resources being spent on average or the worse off students, where these resources would probably do much more social good.
Finally, James Blunt attended a private school. Maybe if he’d have gone to a regular secondary modern he would have produced some better music?
Conclusion: are private schools good or bad for Britain?
On balance it would seem that Independent schools give a significant advantages to the children of the parents of those who can afford to pay their tuition fees. As a result of attending an independent school students benefit from smaller class sizes and more support, which translates into a much improved chance of getting into a Russel Group University and then into an elite job.
For those who attend one of the elite public schools these advantages are especially significant, multiplied it seems by cultural and social capital which provide advantage through the life course.
However, whether having a concentration of the upper middle classes going into the best jobs and effectively running the country benefits Britain as a whole is much more open to debate.
If you believe that having diversity in the elite professions and government is of benefit to society, then private schools prevent this by effectively keeping out people from poorer backgrounds.
It is also possible that the huge resource expenditure on each privately educated child would be more effectively spent educating the more disadvantaged kids rather than the most disadvantaged.
Personally, I’d rather see less spending on private education and the rich kids fending for themselves, competing on a level playing field with the other 90% of kids, and more money spent on compensatory education for those at the very bottom!
If you relate this to some of the evidence from Left Realism (especially the Perry School Project) – a few thousand pounds extra spent on disadvantaged kids at a young age pays back several times over as those children are kept in school educated effectively and prevented from pursuing a life of crime.
However, abolishing private schools is unlikely to happen given that so many people in government attended a private school.
The decline is driven by the increasing death rates in young Americans, aged between 25 to 64, which the main causes of death being ‘deaths of despair’ – alcohol and drug related deaths, suicides, obesity and drugs linked to chronic stress.
Interestingly the high death rates cut across class, gender and ethnic lines, and all regions of the United States.
Why does America have such a high mid-life mortality rate?
America has one of the highest mid-life mortality rates of high income countries, despite spending more on heath care than most other countries.
The statistics tell a depressing tale – mortality from drug overdoses has increased by around 400% since the late 1990s and Obesity rates have increased dramatically too – men now way on average 30 pounds more than they did 50 years ago.
In short, the causes of high mid life mortality are that people are just making destructive life choices and choosing not to take care of themselves, with increasing numbers of people self-medicating with alcohol, drugs (both illegal and legal) and junk-food.
There are number of possible deeper economic and social explanations as to the increasing mid-life death rate in America – we could apply Strain Theory – it could be that the people making the above choices are experiencing a sense of ‘anomie’ – these are people just working to survive with no obvious chance of ‘succeeding’.
It could also be that America is one of the most unequal countries on earth – and while many struggle to survive, they see daily success stories on the media, which enhances the sense of relative deprivation and their own failure.
Or these people self-medicating may be successful in some ways – have successful careers, but they’ve sacrificed their families because of it, so these could be deaths due to to loneliness or social isolation.
Whatever the causes, I’m just glad I don’t live in the US!
Why do women offend, reoffend and how do we break the cycle?
This recent Positive Thinking Podcast on radio 4 (30 December 2019) explores why women offend, reoffend and how to break the cycle.
It has obvious relevance to the Crime and Deviance module and this is also an excellent example of a Feminist inspired programme, with the focus on stories rather than stats and solutions rather than causes.
Women make up a tiny proportion of the overall prison population and are twice as likely as men to be given a short sentence (of two years or less). However, the reoffending rates for women given short sentences is around 70% compared to men’s which is 20%.
It’s suggested that short prison sentences hit women a lot harder than men, especially the 50% of them who have children. A short sentence is just enough to mess up their lives and break down their social and emotional support networks, but not enough time for them to receive the structured support/ therapy that might help them break out bad habits such as substance abuse, for example.
The programme is co-presented by an ex-offender, Whitney, who has had 10 convictions for offences such as drugs and carrying weapons, and has spent time in jail. The programme focuses a lot on her story about why she started and continued offending ( rather than focusing on statistics) but its real focus is on solutions.
Whitney’s case is presented as ‘typical’ and it’s pretty bleak (well worth a listen first five mins of the podcast) – she was abused as a four year old by someone known to the family, and taken into foster care at 7 years of age along with here siblings, then spent the next several years in various foster homes, making 47 run-away attempts during that period. She was also excluded from multiple schools.
Eventually the authorities let the siblings go back and live with their mother, it seems because of their belligerence, but rows happened between Whitney and her mother, and that’s where her criminal record started. However, it was getting caught carrying a knife that led to her first jail sentence – she never used or drew the knife, just carried it for self defence, and she didn’t actually get a jail sentence for carrying it – she got sent down for failing to stick to the restrictions but on her as part of her remand-sentence – interfering with her tag and staying out clubbing after curfew.
She describes going to jail for 2 months as something which ‘broke her’ – she says she saw women going and coming back during that time, saw and learnt things that maybe she never should have.
Probably the most interesting section is when Whitney asks ‘could I as a four year old stopped myself from being abused? Could I as a 7 year old stopped my siblings being taken into care?’
The answer – ‘Probably not’ reminds us that Whitney is actually a victim of abuse, and that’s the root cause of her offending behaviour, so maybe being tough on such people by giving them prison sentences is not the right answer, especially when the stats show that prison does very little to break the cycle of offending.
Solutions – breaking the cycle of offending
The show looks at three projects working on solutions – one of the most interesting is a hair dressing salon in Dagenham, Essex, in which one enterprising woman trains ex offenders and drug users in level one hair dressing.
Part of the reason this works is that hairdressing is very social, and so it gives the students a connection to ‘normal’ life – and the feeling that ‘other people’ are interested in them – one student referred to didn’t have that as all she’d ever known was abusive relationships.
This project is really about going back to the very basics and just giving women the building blocks to structure their lives, and it seems to work – out of more than 40 people who took the course, only 3 didn’t complete it – 1 died and 2 went back to their own ways.
In 1950 there were 19700 young people graduated with a degree, in 2019 that figure will be around 1.4 million.
However, is this increasing number of graduates actually a good thing?
There have certainly been a lot of winners with the expansion of Higher Education, which is now big business in the UK.
More graduates has meant more money flowing into Universities (albeit from private rather than public sources, more of that later), and many of these have expanded, which has resulted in an increase in teaching jobs and various support jobs in the HE sector.
And there is a whole industry surrounding meeting students’ needs – most obviously the need for student accommodation, but also a whole host of local businesses in university towns will be partially or wholly dependent on student expenditure. The student subsistence economy is estimated to be worth £95 billion annually.
However, in 2018 only 57% of young graduates went onto ‘higher skilled employment’, while 43% ended up unemployed or in jobs which previously would not have required a degree, such as nursing.
This means that almost half of today’s graduates could be victims of what we might call ‘qualification inflation’, and rather than going straight into work at 18 and training/ qualifying on the job while earning, they are now effectively forced into having three years of no or low earnings while they study for unnecessary qualifications while being saddled with student loan debts of tens of thousands of pounds.
A final little known fact is that around 1/2 of student loans are never repaid, which means that the taxpayer is effectively subsidising these unnecessary degrees, and there does seem to be a disturbing correlation between the half of students doing unnecessary degrees and the half of loans not repaid.
This means that the taxpayer is subsidising around half a million students a year to do degrees that are in no way related to their jobs, while a good chunk of this money gets sucked upwards, to universities and landlords.
Seems like a hidden case of the state subbing the elite by stealth, while conning almost half of university students?!?