Global Radio

One of the upsides of being on lockdown is that I discovered Radio Garden (which I keep referring to in my head as ‘lockdown radio’).

Radio Garden is a navigable world map of the world’s local and national radio stations. You can browse the globe for literally thousands of radio stations, represented as green dots, click on them and play whatever is being broadcast.

I can especially recommend ‘Arctic Radio’, the world’s most northerly radio station: ‘spinning the 78s at the 77 latitude, and ‘the best protection against hypothermia’

And I couldn’t resist checking out some of the island stations around Oceania either, which are (maybe unsurprisingly?) mostly British.

Radio Garden: The local and the global

This is a really fun (if you’re a bit of nerd) way to explore the parallel global and local worlds – if you click on enough stations you’ll realize the dominance of British music for example, but in certain countries there is a very national feel – Japan and India for example.

I get the feeling that these radio stations are a really useful way to illustrate the complex nature of globalisation, especially cultural globalisation.

There are some limitations of course – radio is not that popular as a form of global media, and this website doesn’t show you online radio, or multimedia livestreams.

So really, it is just a bit of fun, enjoy!


I discovered this wonderful site thanks to this post on the Hive blockchain.

16-24 year olds hit hardest by Coronavirus Pandemic

How has coronavirus affected the young?

The government’s response to the Coronavirus Pandemic primarily focused on protecting the very old, who have the highest chance of dying with (although not necessarily from) Covid-19 if they catch it.

However, the drastic lock down strategy introduced back in March 2020, which closed all schools in England and Wales as well as many work places for several months has left children ad young adults ‘scarred for life’ according to many experts within SAGE (The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies), as summarised in this Guardian article.

Children have been negatively impacted through their schools being closed for 4 months, with some being hit further by local lockdowns more recently in September and October.

While schools did put in place online learning programmes, the quality of these varied from school to school and many children have been left 6 months behind with their learning, having now to catch up.

Then there’s the damage done to children’s social development – with their not being able to go out for 4 months and socialise face to face, and the added stress and uncertainty of just being subject to the ‘covid-climate’ in Britain (it hasn’t exactly been a fun or easy going year has it?!?).

If there’s any truth in Sue Palmer’s theory about toxic childhood, keeping children indoors for extended periods most definitely wouldn’t have done their mental health any good, which is something the SAGE experts are particularly concerned about!

While it might seem that 16 and 18 year olds who sat exams in 2020 got of relatively lightly because of their school predicted grades being inflated, let’s not forget that this would have been stressful and unpleasant for many of them, and we’ve now also got about 10% of these students enrolled on A-level programmes or degrees their probably not qualified to do because of their inflated grades, so there’s probably going to be higher failure rates and drop-out rates to come later this year.

Where young adults are concerned (18-24s) this age group has been most affected by the increase in unemployment in the wake of the Pandemic:

(The graphic shows 16-24s, but there aren’t that many under 18s in employment, so it’s mainly 18-24 year olds)

I guess this is because they are more likely to be working in the kinds of sectors which have been hit hardest by the virus – namely the hospitality sector, and while Furlough would have offered some protection, many hospitality sectors businesses are now starting to fold as consumers are just more reluctant to eat and drink out.

Looking at the longer term – if we have a recession, it’s likely to be younger people that suffer more as they struggle with the legacy of a disrupted education and fewer opportunities to get their first jobs.

Relevance to A-level sociology

Age stratification isn’t a major topic in most options, but perhaps it should be, as this is a great example of how the young seem to be suffering more than any other age group.

It certainly shows the limitations of the government’s capacity to deal with a crisis. Anthony Giddens famously said that Nation States are too small to deal with global problems – and here we have a government simply not having the resources to help everyone in society when faced with a global pandemic.

IF you think we need the government to help us through this mess, then this is a criticism of neoliberalism, which argues for less government.

However, you might just regard such reports as the one linked above by The Guardian as part of an exaggerated risk consciousness, and think that maybe young people haven’t been harmed at all by this crisis – maybe they are perfectly capable of being innovative and adapting to this crisis in new ways we haven’t even thought about yet?!?

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Researching in Classrooms

The classic method for researching in classrooms is non-participant observation, the method used by OFSTED inspectors. However, there are other methods available to the researcher who wishes to conduct research on actual lessons within schools.

Classrooms are closed environments with very clear rules of behaviour and typically containing around 20-30 students, one teacher and maybe one learning assistant, and lessons usually lasting from 40 minutes to an hour.

The obvious choice of research method for using in a classroom is that of non-participant observation, where the researcher takes on the role of the OFSTED inspector.

The fact that there are so many students in one place, and potentially hundreds of micro-interactions in even just a 40-minute lesson gives the observational researcher plenty to focus on, so classrooms are perhaps some of the most data rich environments within education.

Arguably the most useful way of collecting observational data would be for the researcher to have an idea about what they are looking for in advance – possibly how many times teachers praise which pupils, or how many times disruptive behaviour takes place, and how the teacher responds, rather than trying to watch everything, which would be difficult.

And students will probably be used to OFSTED inspections, or other staff in the school dropping in to observe lessons occasionally, thus it should be relatively easy for a researcher to blend into the background and observe without being too obtrusive.

The fact that classrooms are usually organised in a standardised way (they tend to be similar sizes, with only a few possible variations on desk layouts) also means the researcher has a good basis for reliability – any differences he observes in teacher or student behaviour across classrooms or schools is probably because of the teachers or pupils themselves, not differences in the environments they are in (at least to an extent!).

There are, however, some limitations with researching in classrooms.

Gaining access could be a problem – not all teachers are going to be willing to have a researcher observing them. They may regard their classroom as their environment and think they have little to gain from an outsider observing them – although if a researcher is a teacher themselves, they could maybe offer some useful feedback about teaching strategies applied by teachers.

Teachers will probably act differently when observed – if you think back to OFSTED inspections, teachers usually ‘up their game’ and make sure to be more inclusive and encouraging, this is likely to happen when anyone observes.

Similarly, pupils may behave differently – they may be more reluctant to contribute because of a researcher being present, or disruptive students may act up even more.

Classrooms are very unique, controlled environments, with only two roles (teachers and students) and clear norms. Teachers and students alike will not be themselves in these highly unusual situations.

Finally, researchers wouldn’t be able to dig deeper and ask probing questions when part of a lesson, unless they took on the role of participant observer by becoming an learning assistant, but even then they would be limited to what they could ask if they didn’t want to disrupt the lesson flow.

It’s not all about direct non-participant observation

Researchers might choose a more participatory approach to researching in classrooms, by training to be a learning assistant or even a teacher, and doing much longer term, unstructured observational research with students.

This would enable them to get to really know the students within a lesson, and make it very easy to to ask deeper questions outside of lessons.

The problem with this would be that they would then be part of the educational establishment and students may not wish to open up to them precisely because of that reason.

A further option would be to put up cameras and observe from a distance, but this might come up against some resistance from both teachers and students, and it would be more difficult to ask follow up questions if reviewing the recordings some time after the actual lesson took place.

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Issues surrounding researching in schools

There are tens of thousands of schools in the United Kingdom, which means that observational research which focuses on just one, or a handful of schools will be unrepresentative. This is also a  problem with any of the popular documentary programmes which focus on just one school – they are very interesting as they focus on the stories of the school, and some (but only some) of the pupils and teachers, but they are never going to be representative of all schools!

There are a lot of official statistics available on schools, much of it freely available on the DFES website – information on results, attendance, exclusions are all available, as are the latest OFSTED reports, so using a mixture of secondary qualitative and quantitative data may be a good choice for researchers given that schools are ‘data rich’ institutions.

A researcher could also use official statistics to easily select a sample of schools which represent all the regions in the UK, different OFSTED grades, and/ or different school types.

However, official statistics on education can be misleading – exam results may not reflect the underlying ethos of a school, or show us the difficulties a particular school faces, and schools can manipulate their data to an extent – for example, they can reduce their exclusion statistics by ‘off-rolling pupils’ – getting parents to agree to withdraw them before they exclude them.

Schools are potentially very convenient places to conduct research – because the law requires pupils to attend and teachers/ managers need to attend to keep their jobs, you can be reasonably certain that most people you want to research are going to be in attendance! You have a captive audience!

However, school gatekeepers (i.e. head teachers) may be reluctant to allow researchers into schools: they may see research as disruptive, fearing it may interfere with their duty to educate students.

Schools are also highly organised, ‘busy’ institutions – researchers may find it difficult to find the time to ask questions of pupils and teachers during the day, meaning interviews could be a problem, limiting the researcher to less representative observational research.

The researcher will also need to ensure they blend-in, otherwise they may be seen as an outsider by teachers and students alike, which would not be conducive to getting respondents to open up and provide valid information.  

Research Methods in Context: Experiments and Education

Experiments are the only method educational researchers can use if they wish observe the effects of one specific variable on student behaviour or outcomes (results).

Experiments are probably conducted more by schools themselves to test out things like new teaching techniques before rolling them out to the whole school, and there are also several examples of policy changes providing us with some examples of ‘natural experiments’, as when academies were introduced, they allowed researchers to compare the performance with LEA schools.

Examples of sociologists going into schools to conduct their own research are a lot rarer, and laboratory experiments on how social factors relate to educational performance are rarer still.

This post provides examples of all ‘four types’ of these experiment. It has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology studying the Methods in Context aspect of the specification.

Field Experiments within Schools by schools themselves

There are a number of variables schools might try to change in order to improve student behaviour, performance, or just to enhance student well-being.

Experimenting with setting and streaming, the gender mix of classrooms, different teaching techniques, online learning, or even the length of the lessons themselves are all possible focuses for small scale experiments.

I discuss this more in this post: experiments within schools.

One of the most extreme field experiments conducted recently was by a school in Devon, in which they subjected some of their students to a Chinese style of teaching, involving Chinese teachers, for a three month period. For more on this, please see this post.

Field Experiments by Sociologists within Schools

The classic field experiment relevant to education is Rosenthal and Jacobsnen’s Pygmalion in the Classroom, in which they set out to measure the impact of high teacher expectation on student performance.

They went into a school, and tested a sample of the students, keeping the actual results hidden from the teachers. They then told the teachers that a randomly selected sample of students were especially gifted (when in reality the students had a range of abilities).

The researchers then left the school, returned some months later and re-tested all the students. They found that the ones who teachers had been told were higher ability had improved at a faster rate than the rest.

The conclusion is that this supports the Self Fulfilling Prophecy Theory, however other repeat experiments have yielded different results.

For more details on this experiment, please see this post

Natural Experiments and Education

There have been two notable government policies which have introduced new school types in recent years: Academies and Free Schools.

We now have several years of data to compare the performance of both of these types of school with regular Local Education Authority schools, which is a natural experiment.

We could also do the same at a global level, by looking at the PISA league tables and then looking at what features the education systems of the top performing countries have in common, if any.

Coronavirus has also provided us with an interesting opportunity to measure the effects of online learning on education. Some recent initial studies report that poorer students are negatively impacted more than wealthier students.

Be careful discussing ‘natural experiments’ in an exam, as we are getting into ‘secondary data’ here rather than pure experiments, but there are links!

Laboratory Experiments relevant to education

There are a couple of interesting historical examples:

Charkin et al (1975) conducted research with a sample of 48 university studetns who each taught a lesson to a 10 year old boy.

One third of the university students were told they boy was highly motivated and intelligent

One third were told he was poorly motivated and with a low IQ

One third were given no information

Charkin et al videod the lessons and found that those in the high expectancy group made more eye contact and used more encouraging body language than the low expectancy group.

This seems to suggest support for labelling theory.

Mason (1973) looked at whether negative or positive expectations had a greater effect.

Teachers were given positive, negative or neutral reports on a pupil. The teachers then observerd video recordings of the pupil taking a test, watching to see if any errors were made, and then asked to predict the pupil’s end of year attainment.

Mason found that the negative reports had a much greater impact on the teachers’ expectations than the positive reports.

A much more recent experiment, aired by the BBC, showed how simply having a mobile phone on a desk lowers the test scores of students. For more details on this, please see this post.

(Source Webb et Al A-level Sociology, Book 1)

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Researching Parents

Home factors have more of an influence on pupil performance than school factors, and parents are certainly the biggest influencers of pupils at home, especially in their early years.

Parents can influence a child’s attitude towards education in various ways:

  • The amount of time they spend reading with their children in early years
  • How they play with their children more generally, and how educational that play is.
  • How strict they enforce rules.
  • The importance they attribute to education themselves
  • The amount of interest they show in their child’s education

As a result of early socialisation, children end up being either culturally deprived or having cultural capital (or somewhere in between), which means they are either ill-prepared for school or very well prepared, which will make an enormous difference in how well they adapt to school life when they first start.

If you wish to research pupils, you may well need the consent of parents, so some minimal contact may well be necessary even if it’s not them you are actually researching.

Problems of researching parents

Validity issues

Middle class, pro-school parents are more likely to want to engage with research about education, as they will be more interested and will probably be able to use it as an opportunity for self-validation – they can show off how much they care about their children’s education. They will also be more familiar with filling in questionnaires, and engaging in social research, which are quite ‘middle class’ pursuits.

Working class parents, who themselves maybe didn’t have such a positive experience of schooling, might be more reluctant to take part in research, feeling less comfortable engaging with the middle class researchers.

Parents may also try to ‘impression manage’ with researchers, exaggerating their involvement in their children’s education for example, because this paints them in a more positive light.

Practical Problems

Gaining access to parents could be difficult – if you don’t want to hang around the school gates or at parents evenings then you would have to approach them either at home or via phone/ email.

Gaining access to parent’s private addresses is going to be difficult because schools will not share that data with you because of GPDR, thus if you wanted a representative sample by postcode then you wouldn’t be able to get it.

Schools might agree to send out questionnaires or letters asking for interviewees to parents on your behalf, but then you’ve got the problem of getting a self-selecting biased sample back. The chances are only those parents who are pro-education would want to take part in your research.

It could be very difficult to gain access to the parents of traditionally underachieving groups – white working class parents or traveler parents for example.

When it comes to researching, it would be more difficult to get parents into a group to research them (also, this might be pointless anyway), so you’d probably have to do one on one research which could be more time consuming.

Reality TV School Shows – How Valid are They?

Reality shows featuring schools have become common place on British T.V. over the last decade.

One well-known example is the ‘Educating’ series, which started in Essex in 2011, then visited Yorkshire in 2014, and then another three series, with the latest airing in 2017.

Each series followed one school through an entire year, with cameras going into lessons, and interviews with several students, teachers and managers.

Another example which is more a creative work done in conjunction with the children, is ‘Our School’ on CBCC…..

In research methods terms this method is a combination of ‘non-participant observation’ and semi-structured interviews, and these sources shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand because real life educational researchers rarely get access to one school for an entire year, so there is a rich vein of data here.

However, these are not works of sociological research, they are documentaries, produced for entertainment purposes and for a profit, so we need to be cautious about how useful they are.

Practical issues

Given the problems of a researcher gaining access to a school, having these shows done for us is great, as someone else has already gained access!

Theoretical issues

Representativeness may be limited – it’s likely that only schools which are doing OK will agree to take part – schools in special measures probably wouldn’t.

Also, these shows tend to focus on the dramatic cases of students – rather than the ‘normal’ ones!

Validity may be an issue – both schools and teachers may well act differently because they know there are cameras present.

Having said that, we do get something of an insight into the stories of a limited number of students.

However, if the data is not valid, there’s little point!

Ethical issues

These documentaries do seem to be done with the co-operation of the students – so I guess this gives them a voice.

I’m not convinced the teachers would be that happy about this as a whole – maybe quite a lot of railroading by the SLT?

Using Surveys to Research Education

Social Surveys are probably the most practical method researchers can use to research education.

Both teachers and students will be relatively used to filling in questionnaires as part of providing feedback to improve lessons and school procedures, and they are relatively quick to complete compared to interviews, so they should cause relatively little disruption to the school day.

Practical Factors

Surveys are a good choice of method if you wish to collect data from large samples in a short space of time, and because students (when they’re in class) are a ‘captive audience’ this could make this a very time efficient method for researching in schools.

If a researcher can gain access and consent they could, with the co-operation of a head teacher, get hundreds of students to complete the same questionnaire in multiple class in one day, or on smaller scale, a researcher could work with a few teachers to get a slightly smaller sample.

If the researcher puts a survey online, management might give teachers more flexibility when they get their students to complete the survey – say in one tutorial session over a two-week period.

A closed-question questionnaire might be a good method for researching teachers, given their tie constraints.

Parents would be the most difficult group to research using the questionnaire method, as they spend less time in-school, so gaining access to them would be difficult, this would probably have to be done via the school, who could direct parents to questionnaires via newsletters, or may parents evenings could be used by the researcher to administer surveys.

Gaining access

Because surveys are relatively quick for respondents to complete and it’s obvious from the outset what questions are being asked (which wouldn’t be the case with interviews), then it should be easy to convince schools to gain access to students, teachers or parents, compared to more intensive qualitative methods.

Theoretical Factors – Representativeness, validity and reliability.


Schools have ready made lists of students, which would include details of their gender, ethnicity, FSM and SEN status, address (as a proxy of broader class status) and prior educational achievement.

IF a researcher could thus gain access to such a sampling frame, it would be very easy for them to get a representative sample of different students, or to select only one type of student (all boys for example), depending on the purpose of their research.

However, getting access to such a list with all of the above details may not be possible because of GDPR (data protection) issues, unless researchers work with school staff who select a representative sample on their behalf.

Response rate

Biased samples might mean a low response rate for some types of respondent

Questionnaire research might suffer from selection bias – pro-school pupils are much more likely to take them seriously, but more rebellious students who do not like authority might either not fill in a questionnaire or deliberately lie out of spite against the system.

Working-class parents might be less willing to fill in a questionnaire truthfully about their parenting practices, whereas for middle-class parents this would be more a positive affirmation of their ‘good parenting’

Non-native English speakers might not be able to understand the questions if the questionnaire is not in English. Although today there might well be programmes online that can translate online questionnaires.


Because questions are written in advance, this does not allow for an in-depth exploration of respondents’ thoughts and feelings, hence validity may be limited for some topics.

Researchers also must be careful that concepts (such as cultural capital) are operationalised in such a way that children (especially young children) can understand them.

As mentioned above, the formal nature of questionnaires may not yield valid data from rebellious students – and the more formal and more test-like the conditions of completing a questionnaire, the more likely this is to be the case.

Reliability and making comparisons

Questionnaires do allow for excellent reliability, which is useful if findings are to be used to inform educational policy – it allows the research to be scaled up and generalised to more areas easily.

This is also a good method for exploring differences between students from different social class, ethnic backgrounds, as well as gender differences, which is a huge topic in the sociology of education  

Ethical issues and questionnaires

A big strength of questionnaires is that it is easy to make them anonymous and so to keep pupil, teacher and parent data confidential, so they’re good for exploring sensitive topics.

Researching Teachers in Education

Teachers are the ‘front line’ of education, with the primary day to day responsibility students’ education and well-being.

If you want to understand the impacts that education policies are having on different types of student, then teachers are probably best placed to be able to tell you.

However, there are a number of potential problems when researching teachers:

Teachers have hectic working lives

Teachers work very long hours and often suffer with high stress levels, and they may not be willing or able to spend more time to engage with researchers.

For this reason questionnaires may be a better choice of method than interviews and observations may also be a good choice as these don’t really take up any time, but they could add to teacher stress, so it might be difficult to get teachers to agree to being observed.

Teacher professionalism

The validity of information you get from teachers may be compromised because of their professional status.

Teachers are bound by the GDPR and have a duty of care towards their students and so probably will not share data about their students with researchers from outside of the school.

Teachers could also be concerned about ‘impression management’ – they may want to present themselves in the best light possible and some may feel duty bound to present their school in a good light, because to do so is good for marketing and student recruitment, which could limit the critical views you get from teachers as a researcher.

On the other hand, there are also ‘jaded’ teachers that are fed up with their jobs, and are just time-serving their way to retirement – if you got a group of these together in a group interview, you might just get unrepresentative biased moaning about how bad life is as a teacher.

Line managers

If you want to gain access to teachers in a school you will have to approach the senior management team, and these may limit your access to the teachers you can research, possibly directing you towards the better and more compliant teachers to pain their school and the management in a positive light.

Even if you had unlimited access to teachers, they may not wish to be critical of the school for fear of this getting back to their superiors. In some schools there may well be very few critical teachers, and if research findings showed negative views of the school, in such cases it would probably be obvious which teachers were responsible for such negative comments, even if data was anonymous.

Home may be the best place to research teachers?

You don’t have to research teachers in their school setting don’t forget, you may get more valid information if you interview them in their homes, away from the school setting, away from the ‘front stage’ where they are performing their teacher role.

Starters for An A-level Sociology Non-Participant Observation Lesson

Non-Participant Observation involves the researcher observing respondents, but keeping their distance, and not engaging with those respondents.

As with many of the ‘minor’ research methods in A-level sociology, this one can be a bit of a struggle to make interesting, but here are three starter activities to get your students in the mood for making observations…

Starter 1: How many passes does the team in white make?

I won’t give too much away, but it does show one of the limitations of doing narrowly focused structured observations where you are only looking for one thing!

Starter 2: Whodunnit?

Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but this demonstrates how difficult observation can be, in terms of the amount of things you might miss if you’re not paying close attention!

Starter 3: Street Life:

This is a bit of an old video, but it introduces students to some of the strengths and limitations problems of qualitative, unstructured observations.

You might like to think about showing this in contrast to a video of street life in a very underdeveloped country, and comparing the differences.

How to use these starters

I use these three starters one after the other before I get students to go out and perform their own structured and unstructured observations of street-life in the local high street.

The first two are really just a bit of fun, but they do drive home the fact that you might miss a lot if you are just focusing on a few factors when doing structured observations.

If you like this sort of thing and want to see how these starters blend into the rest of my A-level sociology lesson on non-participant observation you might like to subscribe to my A-level sociology teacher resources.

Non Participant Observation material is scheduled for release in October 2020.

A-Level Sociology Teaching Resources

NB – you get All of these starters and more as part of my A-level sociology teaching resources, available as a monthly subscription, for only £9.99 a month! The subscription includes lesson plans and modifiable student hand-outs and PPTs. Activities such as these starters are embedded into the student learning materials.

I hope you find these resources useful, and happy teaching,

Karl, September 2020.

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