A recent report published by the Education Policy Institute examined the trend in the education disadvantage gap in England over the last decade.
It found that the gap for ‘disadvantaged’ pupils (pupils who had been eligible for Free School Meals for one out of the last six years) had decreased over the last decade – meaning there is less of a gap (more equality) between the results of disadvantaged and all other pupils…
However, for ‘persistently disadvantaged’ pupils (who had been on FSMs for 80% of their school careers) there had been no closing of the achievement gap.
This means that government policies which have aimed to reduce inequality of educational achievement over the last decade (such as the Pupil Premium) have had mixed success… they seem to have helped those pupils who have been in ‘not too bad’ deprivation, but none nothing for those in persistent poverty.
The impact of Teacher Predicted Grades on educational inequalities…..
The report also notes that teacher predicted grades did not confer advantage of wealthier pupils overall at GCSE level – it seems that teachers were ‘fair’ in their awarding grades based on the social class backgrounds of their pupils.
HOWEVER, at A-level – A-level students were awarded on average a grade higher than previous years (when students actually sat exams) while BTEC grades did not increase from the previous year.
This means that at the 16-19 more affluent students got a relative advantage because they are more likely to do A-levels.
Sources and Relevance to A-level Sociology
This is a useful update for the education policies topic and social class and educational achievement topics.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having profound negative implications for not only Ukrainians but also the populations of every European country, and Russia itself.
This post explores some of the sociological concepts we might use to better understand the war and its consequences….
Students need to be able to apply contemporary events to their answers in their exams where ever possible, and this event is the most recent and ‘highest consequence’ event since the Pandemic, so it’s worth thinking about how you can make it relevant.
This conflict is immediately relevant to the War and Conflict topic. It reminds us that conflicts do not only happen in the developing world and it’s also a grim reminder of the extreme social and economic consequences of war.
The war has disrupted the majority of Ukraine’s businesses meaning it’s economic output is well down, including its wheat production – which has implications for the cost of basic food stuffs in other countries as wheat is one of Ukraine’s major exports.
Also the damage done to infrastructure in Ukraine is going to mean billions of pounds of rebuilding after the war is over, hopefully sooner rather than later!
Crime and Deviance
Under United Nations conventions Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal – one country isn’t supposed to invade another member country of the UN without the agreement of all the other nations, and Russia doesn’t have this consent in this case.
From a ‘human rights perspective’ this invasion is also a disaster – Russia is shelling civilian areas and killing children, and allegedly forcibly deporting prisoners of war back to Russia.
However the international community has been powerless to prevent this invasion, showing us that those Nation States with huge military power still have the capacity to do what they want.
European nations are generally in consensus about the immorality and illegality of the war, but that’s nominal (in name only) – but they aren’t prepared to go to war with Russia preferring ‘softer’ sanctions such as stopping buying Russian oil, but so far that is having limited affect.
The issue migration is relevant here. Consider the contrast between how the UK welcomed wealthy Russian Oligarchs since the collapse of the Soviet Union, without really asking any questions about how they accumulated their wealth or what links they may have had to an increasingly repressive regime under Putin. In sociological terms these are the ‘global elite’ – countries tend to try to attract these types of immigrant by offering favourable tax policies and turning a blind eye to any shady business and political connections they may have.
Contrast this to the difficulties so many Ukrainian refugees have faced trying to get into Britain despite the fact that there are people who have signed up to let them live in their houses. The Home Office seems to be deliberately delaying the issuing of visas – this is typical, countries tend not to welcome the poor and needy.
The extra funding amounts to around £600 million, which sounds like a lot, but this is only equivalent to £80 per pupil, but with more being allocated for students with special educational needs.
If you are studying for this years A-level sociology exams you should consider and critically evaluate this policy, not only as it should have affected your own life, but also because you should be able to use this in the PAPER 1 exam as ‘education policies’ is the topic selected in the pre-release advanced information – something about Policies WILL come up, most likely an essay, and so you SHOULD be able to use material on covid catch-up policies.
Let’s assume that this school is going to focus on the 35% disadvantaged pupils….
So that would be £68 000 for 350 pupils (approximately), each of whom would have missed around 20 weeks of schooling over the last two years.
So what can that $68K buy for the school….
Let’s assume like for like and that they’re going to fund 6 months worth of catch up, then that £68K would buy….
About 3 qualified teachers (pay their salaries for 6 months) – with classes of 35 and 5 lessons of an hour a day (to make the maths easier) that could mean an extra 2.5 hours of lesson per pupil per week.
With smaller classes of 15-20 that’s 1 hour and 15 minutes a week.
Or about 3400 hours of one on one tuition (at £20 an hour) – a total 10 hours each per pupil over 6 months.
Or they could pay for around 6 Full time support workers, but the benefits of those are more difficult to quantify.
NB all of the above assumes ONLY the 35% of disadvantaged students getting extra help at the same rate, it doesn’t factor in SEN pupils and assumes 65% of students get nothing.
So TLDR – this catch up funding means 10 hours of extra tuition for disadvantaged pupils for 6 months in smallish classes of around 15 pupils.
So ask yourself – is 10 hours enough to catch up on 20 weeks of missed schooling?
Is it fair that 65% of pupils get nothing? (In my hypothetical model)
Oh and one final thing, if you feel as if you’ve got no extra support to catch up following lessons lost due to Covid, this might explain why!
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This is directly relevant to the Education topic, and should be useful in this year’s 2022 exam!
Black children are still three times as likely than white children to be excluded from school according to a recent report by the Commission for Young Lives.
One of the main reasons for this is what the report calls the ‘adulfication’ of black children – where teachers (and other authority figures such as the police) tend to see black children as being older and less innocent than children from other ethnic minority backgrounds. This enables those in power to justify treating black children more harshly.
Exclusion rates saw an overall increase in the decade up to 2019, before the socially chosen reaction to the Pandemic (i.e. Lockdown which included school closures) made comparisons of such trends more difficult.
Immediately prior to the Pandemic, some types of student were much more likely to be excluded than others.
Depressingly not that much seems to have changed since the 1990!
Why are some children more likely to be excluded than others?
There are different reasons depending on each case, but one thing the report highlights is the ‘adultification’ of black children.
This is where authority figures such as teachers tend to see black children, both boys and girls, as more grown up and less innocent than white children. Thus they think they are more responsible for their actions and this can justify the harsher punishments they receive for deviant behaviour, such as being excluded.
The report also includes a story from a mother of a boy with Autism which documents his journey of being labelled with ‘behavioural difficulties’ in school, to being temporarily and then permanently excluded.
The boy moved to a Pupil Referral Unit, then back to mainstream education, but his mother and the school kind of lost track of him during the Pandemic somehow, he got involved with ‘the wrong friends’, possibly gang and drug connected, and ended up murdering someone before he turned 16.
in this case the mother claimed that the school system let her son down through inadequate provision for his special educational needs.
The consequences of being excluded
While it’s not a path set in stone the report notes that 60% of young people getting court orders and 60% of those in prison have been excluded from school.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other, there are multiple factors at work in such pathways!
The Advance Information for the 2022 Sociology A-levels specifies that students WILL be assessed on the area of consensus, conflict, structural and/ or action theories.
The easiest way to revise these topics at A2 level is to briefly cover the key ideas of each theory AND ALSO revise how each of these theories applies to the topic areas you have studied – usually families, education, crime and deviance and research methods, and then to evaluate.
This post is a summary revision post of the key ideas of social action theory. Before reviewing it you might like to look at these posts:
We need Verstehen to understand human action, because the same actions can mean different things to different people. Statistical methods and observation alone are not enough to understand human action (Weber)
We need to understand action in terms of shared meanings within a group (Mead) and how the members of that group see themselves (their identity) and how the individuals and the group understand society.
We need to understand whether an individual is just putting on an act (manipulating props and just managing an impression)
We need to understand whether a person has been labelled by agents of social control, whether they have been stigmatised by society.
Research Methods Implications
Getting to people’s own motives for action requires in-depth qualitative methods
In order to understand shared meanings we need at the very least to use unstructured interviews.
In order to assess whether the extent to which people are ‘acting out’ identities we need to use Participant Observation, which in many cases will not be possible.
How Social Action Theorists understand family life
The Personal Life Perspective argues that we need to start by abandoning standard definitions of the family and focus instead on what ‘family’ means to them – when we do this, we find that many people see a whole load of unusual relationships as being more significant to their intimate lives (pets and dead relatives for example) than their actual ‘family members’. This critics the Functionalist idea that families are necessary parts of society – families are much more fluid than ever before, and friends can perform many of the functions as formal family members.
How they understand achievement in education
(Following Mead) – In depth research of anti-school subcultures has revealed a wide variety of meanings and identities which different students bring to the school…which conflict with the school’s value system. For example, Paul Willis’ study found that the lads saw school work as irrelevant to their future lives, while Tony Sewel argues that being a ‘swot’ may compromise young black boys’ ideas about masculinity. We thus cannot truly understand underachievement without understanding these boys’ identities and why school doesn’t fit in with their identities.
Labelling theory however explains underachievement in terms of middle class white teachers labelling students not like them as problem students, which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Goffman’s dramaturgical theory is useful – ‘good’ students may just be better at putting on an act – better at ‘impression manageme
How Social Action Theorists understand Crime and Deviance
Following Mead – Research on gangs has shown that being in a gang doesn’t necessarily mean ‘being bad” – gang membership is typically casual and fluid, it does not mean that much at all to many members, and is about protection for many, rather than criminality. There are several different types of gang, several different meanings. This criticise structural subcultural theories of deviance.
Following Becker’s labelling theory – The Police act in terms of stereotypes when it comes to stop and search, as do the courts, this goes some way to explaining why there are more EM’s in jail.
Following Goffman’s dramaturgical theory – elites may be just as criminal as non-elites, they are just better at acting in ways which mean they avoid attention from the police.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
The ‘action’ bit of Paul Willis’ study of the lads.
John Heale’s One blood – gangs as self-defence, gangs as fluid;
Gok Wan – People dressing up
Howard Becker – The Ideal Pupil
David Gilborn – Teachers labelling African Caribbean boys
Social Action Theory: Evaluations
It doesn’t pay sufficient attention to how social structures constrain action – for example, material deprivation can have a real, objective impact on your ability to well at school, thus failure is not just all about labelling.
It tends to ignore power-distribution in society – it can’t explain patterns in class, gender, ethnicity.
If people are so active, then why do so many people choose to be so normal?
Labelling theory can also be criticised for being deterministic
The small-scale methods associated with this theory can equally be criticised for lacking reliability and representativeness
the significance of educational policies, including problems of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy’.
The problem is, this is very broad topic, probably best further broken down into a number of separate bullet points:
There are FOUR broad types of policy:
policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome,
You need to be able to consider all of the above policies have affected the social structure and other institutions, the way in which (different types of) student experience school, and how they have affected equality of access to education, and educational outcomes (who gets what results.
In addition to all of the above you also need to be able to discuss and evaluate the impact of globalisation on educational policy!
NB I don’t think there are any quick fixes with this topic area, it’s just going to be a hard grind of revision trying to cover all the material!
Where I covered these topics on ReviseSociology.com
NB the exam board has been asking students to focus on policies ‘since 1988 for several years’ so I think it’s reasonable to expect the same
Polyamory (having more than one long-term intimate sexual partner) is increasing in popularity in the UK, and it has many advantages compared to committing to monogamy, at least according to Ana Kirova, CEO of the FEELD app – which helps people interested in Polyamory find others with similar interests.
Polyamory literally means ‘many loves’ and engaging in a Polyamorous relationship is certainly a challenge to the standard monogamous relationship with the idea of committing to one sexual parter at a time.
Ana Kirova who is herself polyamorous defines polyamory as an ‘Ethical non-monogamous’ relationship in which more than two people make up a ‘polycule’ (excuse spelling) – everyone within the polycule consents to everything everyone else is doing.
She describes polyamory as an open and explorative relationship which has at its core the concept of ‘Dynamic Consent’ – Communication is essential in this ‘contemporary’ form of polyamory – there has to be regular ‘checking in’ sessions to make sure that everyone is oK.
As an example of a Polyamorous relationship you might have two couples, and each couple is for most of the month a regular couple (even with children in some cases) but maybe once or twice a month they just swap partners.
Of course there are many other possible variations – the more people involved the more complex obtaining dynamic consent is going to be.
Kirova describes regular monogamous relationships as ‘static’ whereas Polyamorous relationships allow people to explore their sexualities and identities more fully than being committed to just one person.
Jealousy is an obvious problem that can arise with this type of relationship, but Ana says with her and her partner this was an early stage problem which they worked through and after that it was all fine, it’s just a matter of working through it!
Who is into Polyamory and why is it growing?
Anecdotally younger people in their 20s are most likely to adopt this type of relationship.
Ana Kirova suggests this is because younger people grew up with the internent which exposed them to a wider range of identities and possibilities.
The empowerment of women and LGBTQ plus people has also had a massive impact, as the later especially have had to redefine what a ‘good relationship’ looks for them.
35% on the Feeld App identify as different to heterosexual and most are in the 20 to 30 age bracket.
The show had three ‘experts’ in to discuss Polyamory…..
Pam Spur – psychologist and relationship expert
Anita Cassidy – embraced a polyamorous life style, life coach 38
Andrew G Marshall- marriage therapist.
Together they made the following evaluative points:
Monogamy seems to work best for most people – there are many supposed advantageous of Monogamy which stand in contrast: Monogamy is…
Easy to legislate
HOWEVER, there is no suggestion from Ana that Monogamy isn’t an option, one of the panelists, herself polyamorous, was going through a phase of being ‘consciously monogamous’ while her parter had a ‘play partner’ he met up with once a month.
They seemed to agree that ‘Toxic relationship normality’ is a problem – having a concept of ‘normal’ can be harmful. IF we all think we have no choice but to stick with a monogamous relationship this might just lead to more abuse and affairs within that relationship. This inks to the dark side of family life uncovered by Feminists.
Furthermore, children may be better off with their parents NOT sticking to a dead monogomous relationship…
Kirova for example says her parents had fallen out of love after 20 or 30 years, and they were unhappy because they didn’t know how to live a life apart. She says she had stability but with parents who were not their best selves, and possibly having the option of polyamory may be better all round.
So what’s she’s saying is that it’s maybe even better for children to learn relatively early on that it’s OK to leave a monogamous relationship behind if it’s not working and find someone else, or more than one ‘someone’ else!
Loving more than one person – jealousy…. many people just can’t get one over it, it can be pathological. HOWEVER, maybe it’s better to learn from it than run away from jealousy, and with Polyandry that’s something you’re going to have to do.
NB there is maybe a problem that you will get a lot of bored people using the app – Polyamory isn’t an easy way out of a failing relationship!
Relevance to A-Level Sociology
The programme was clearly pro-Polyamory and seems most in line with the concept of the negotiated Family associated with Late Modernism.
It’s doubtful whether the New Right would agree with the concept of Polyamory, but they’d maybe have a difficult time arguing against it when monogamy is seen as an option and there’s little evidence of people being harmed by Polyamory!
The Covid Crisis in the UK increased inequalities in several different ways such as:
School closures disrupted the education of poorer students more than students from wealthier backgrounds.
Lockdowns and social distancing meant less work for the less well educated and those in lower paid jobs compared to those in more middle class jobs.
and in the longer term missed schooling and less work experience could mean the disadvantaged fall even further behind in years to come.
This is according to a recent report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies released in December 2021, which is VERY RELEVANT for any student studying the Education Module as much of the increasing inequalities referred to are due to school closures.
It’s worth noting that from a policy perspective, the report sees Covid catch up policies as ‘papering over the cracks’ of the widening inequalities caused by the Pandemic, the government isn’t doing enough in the short term, and almost nothing for the longer term implications.
NB this topic – policies and educational inequality is also on the advanced release information from the AQA for the 2022 Sociology exams!
This post summarises some of the key points of this study.
School closures and increasing inequality during Covid
Schools closed for two periods during the Pandemic – for 10 weeks in the Spring of 2020 and then for 9 weeks in the Winter of 2022.
School closures removed the ‘equalising’ affect of schools – by removing for a total of 19 weeks (half a school year) standardised curriculums and learning environments and replacing them with heterogeneous (different) home environments.
This meant that those students from lower income households studied less at home once home education was introduced – basically because lower class parents have less cultural capital and are less able to support home learning than middle class parents…
Once schools re-opened, schools in poorer areas were less likely to offer support for students who were off school and isolating at home (remember there was still a lot of disruption through absences even after schools reopened:
University/ Apprenticeships and Declining job Opportunities
The report notes that University learning suffered minimal disruption – online learning is well established there and the switch to ‘lockdown mode’ was relatively easy.
However, there was massive disruption to apprenticeships, most of which require people to be at work – new apprenticeships during the Pandemic fell by around 30% overall.
Something else to keep in mind is that because it is mainly lower class jobs that have suffered during the Pandemic (middle class jobs kept going through furlough and homework) there is now MORE COMPETITION for lower class jobs than before the Pandemic – meaning a further reduction in opportunities for the lower classes….
The Affect of the Pandemic on Education and Inequalities: Final Thoughts
It seems that disruption to education, apprenticeships and the job market has increased inequality because the disruption was greater for the lower classes.
And it feels unlikely that the government is going to put in place policies with sufficient funding to close these increased gaps.
The pre-release information for the 2022 A-level sociology exam from the AQA selected the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change as the topic area that WILL come up for the 20 mark essay.
NB we are talking here about the Paper 2 exam: topics in sociology the families and households option, and this post is just a reminder of the core content that comes within this sub-topic!
What is the social structure?
The idea of a social structure is most commonly associated with the two classic sociological perspectives Funtionalism and Marxism:
Functionalists argue that society is structured through institutions which all perform specific functions, all working together to maintain the whole system of society – like organs in a body (the ‘organic analogy’) – the family is seen as playing a crucial role in (obviously?) the reproduction of the next generation.
Marxists see the social structure as being organised along social class lines – with the bourgeoisie exercising control over the major institutions of society
Feminism has a more complex view of the social structure whether you’re talking about Liberal, Marxist or Radical.
Postmodernists and Late Modernists suggest the social structure which Marxists and Functionalists refer too is much more fluid than it used to be and that it constrains the individual much less today than in the late 19th and mid 20th centuries when Marxists and Functionalists did most of their writing.
Recent social changes you might consider….
The social changes associated with the shift from modernity to postmodernity are what you could address, such as:
The breakdown/ increasing fluidity of social structure
More individual freedom and choice
The relationship of the family to the social structure
The ‘classic’ approach to this topic is to address it through the main sociological perspectives, and if you know what the different perspectives think about the family and social structure, you SHOULD automatically be addressing social change at the same time, as the two are fundamentally related.
The rest of this post offers a brief summary of what the main sociological perspectives have to say on this topic.
for further details and especially evaluations be sure to check out the linked posts below!
The Functionalist view on the family and social structure
Talcot Parsons developed the Functional Fit Theory to explain how the main type of family changed from the extended family to the nuclear family with the shift from pre-industrial to industrial society.
He argued that the nuclear family better fitted the needs of an industrial society because it was smaller and more mobile, and the changes with industrialisation meant that families needed to be able to move around more easily.
He also argued that the family in industrial society had to perform fewer functions than in industrial society because other institutions developed to perform functions more efficiently than the old extended family could – schools for education, for example.
The family in industrial society performs only two functions – the stabilisation of adult personalties (emotional security) and reproduction.
The Marxist view of the family and social structure
This stands in direct contrast to the Functionalist view – the nuclear family emerges with industrialisation, according to Engles, but only to legitimise the passing on of property down to the next generation – with Capitalism, there are now wealthy people and the family unit makes sure their new wealth stays in the family.
Before Capitalism Engles argued that families were a kind of ‘promiscuous hoard’ – when there was no property people cared for children collectively – it’s only when SOME families have property under capitalism that the nuclear family emerges.
Later Marxists suggest the nuclear family continues to perform functions for Capitalism by becoming a unit of consumption, for example.
Radical Feminists see the nuclear family as the main institution which keeps Patriarchy going.
The traditional nuclear family and the ideology of the housewife role for women keeps women in the domestic sphere and out of the work place, preventing them from developing financial independence and limiting them to a caring role and a life of dull-drudgery.
Moreover, women are effectively exploited with the nuclear family, and far from the family being a safe haven, domestic abuse within family life is a common, yet hidden feature of many relationships.
A core belief of radical feminism is that the nuclear family needs to be broken down and women are better off seeking alternative relationships.
Writing since the 1980s, Postmodernists argue that there is no such thing as a normal family anymore – rather, family diversity is now the norm – with there being more variety of families than ever before – as shown by the increase in single person households and single parent households for example.
For postmodernists, every aspect of family life is a choice – and hence we see people getting married and starting families later and divorce rates persistently high.
Late Modernists suggest it is not as simple as family life being all about choice – rather social life today makes holding down a relationship and having a stable family life more difficult – people still want these things, but busy working lives and constant distractions make family life much more difficult.
Find out More
This has been just a quick reminder post, be sure to check out the linked blog posts for further details.
Be sure to check out the New Right and Personal Life Perspective too!
Also, remember that the specific question you get asked could be either broad or very narrow, AND the 10 mark questions will probably be from other areas of the module!
P and O Ferries recently sacked 800 UK workers by video conference call. Workers were literally told in a video call from the boss of P and O, lasting less than 5 minutes and with no prior warning, that their employment was being terminated with immediate effect.
You can watch the boss of P and O sacking the 800 workers in the video below (note is old white maleness, typical profile!)
The 800 UK workers, all having been paid minimum wage have been replaced with primarily overseas workers from countries such as India, allegedly being paid as little as £1.80 an hour, employed via a third party, meaning they are agency workers rather than being employed directly by P and O.
Some of the sacked workers had been with the company for several years, a few for over a decade, suddenly made unemployed, and the replacement agency workers were shipped in by bus on the same day, some of them having been put up in a hotel the night before.
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This is a sad example of how global companies such as DP WORLD (The parent company of P and O) can simply sack more expensive workers and hire cheaper workers from other countries when their profits take a hit, as has been the case since the Covid Pandemic led to a drastic decrease in revenues for travel companies.
This kind of action is probably easier for ferry companies who can choose to register (‘flag’) their boats in a number of countries, and thus effectively pick the legislation which they want their employment laws to fall under.
Clearly P and Os legal advisors had informed the company that they could sack these British workers with immediate effect, even though British Labour laws they need to consult with Unions BEFORE sacking so many workers, which they hadn’t done.
This event is a sad reminder of Zygmunt Bauman’s quote that ‘when the rich pursue their goals, the poor pay the price’ – in this case the company is trying to save money to maintain its profitability and so it sacks more highly paid workers in the UK (although ferry employees aren’t particularly highly paid) and then employs poorer people to do exactly the same jobs, meanwhile the British tax payer is left to foot the bill of these newly unemployed people.
I doubt very much if the newly employed Ferry workers will have employment conditions anywhere near as good as the sacked British workers.
This seems to suggest that Marxism is still relevant today, offering broad support for the Marxist view of globalisation – that global companies can operate between countries, seeking to take advantage of those with the slackest labour laws, and in this case it’s clearly Britain with it’s relatively high standards of protection for workers that has lost out!
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