The Sociology of Childhood – Topic Overview


5.1 – To what extent is ‘childhood socially constructed’

5.2 – The March of Progress view of childhood (and parenting) – The Child Centred Family and Society?

5.3 – Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting – Criticisms of ‘The March of Progress View’

5.4 – Is Childhood Disappearing?

5.5 – Reasons for changes to childhood and parenting practices

Key Concepts

The social construction of childhood

The golden age of childhood

Child centred society

The cult of childhood

The March of progress view

Conflict perspective

Child liberationism

Age patriarchy

Acting up

Acting down

The disappearance of childhood

Toxic childhood

Selected Short answer questions

Suggest three ways in which children are viewed in modern western societies

Identify two ways in which children’s live are marked out as being separate from adults

Suggest two ways in which notions of childhood are different in different cultures

Explain two ways in which childhood differed in the middle ages compared with today

Suggest three reasons why the position of children has changed over time

Explain one way in which industrialisation lead to the position of children in society changing

Suggest two ways in which children’s positions have improved in recent years

Briefly outline two ways in which gender inequalities exist between different types of children

Suggest two examples of ethnic inequalities between children

Suggest two examples.. nationality/ class/ ethnicity/ gender

Suggest three ways in which adults control children in modern society

Suggest two ways in which children resist the status of ‘child’

Suggest two pieces of evidence that childhood is disappearing

Suggest two reasons why childhood may me disappearing

Suggest two pieces of evidence that suggest the boundaries between adults and children are stronger than ever

Possible Essays

Assess the view that childhood is disappearing (24)

Examine Sociological Perspectives on changes to childbearing and parenting (24)


Gender Roles, Domestic Labour and Power Relationships – Topic Overview

Families and Households Topic 4 – Changes within the family

Gender Roles, Domestic Labour and Power Relationships

Overview of the topic and sub-topics

In this topic we look at the extent to which relationships between men and women have become more equal, focussing on the following three areas:

4.1. To what extent are gender roles characterised by equality?

4.2. To what extent is the Domestic Division of Labour characterised by equality?

4.3. Issues of Power and Control in Relationships

4.4. To what extent has women going into paid work resulted in greater equality within relationships?

Key Concepts

  • Conjugal roles

  • Segregated conjugal roles

  • Joint conjugal roles

  • Instrumental roles

  • Expressive roles

  • The symmetrical family

  • The ‘march of progress view’

  • The Domestic Division of Labour

  • The ‘New Man’

  • Dual burden

  • Domestic Violence

  • Intenstive Mothering

  • Superdads

  • Gender norms

  • Liberal Feminism

  • The commercialization of housework

  • Emotion work

  • Gender scripts

  • Triple shift

Selected Short Answer Questions

  • Suggest three ways in which families are becoming more ‘symmetrical’

  • Suggest three reasons why families may be becoming ‘more symmetrical’

  • Outline three pieces of evidence that criticize the view that the family is becoming more symmetrical

  • Suggest two reasons why a gendered division of labour still exists between some couples

  • Suggest three ways in women going into paid work has influenced domestic relationships

  • Suggest three ways in which men may still have more power than women in domestic relationships

  • Suggest three reasons why official statistics on domestic violence may be inaccurate

  • Suggest three reasons why domestic violence occurs

Possible Essay Questions

  • Examine the factors affecting power relations between couples (24)

  • Assess the view that modern relationships are becoming more symmetrical (24)

The Privatisation of Education

Covers exogenous and endogenous privatisation as well as arguments for and against the privatisation of education.

Introduction: What is Privatisation?

Privatisation is where services which were once owned and provided by the state are transferred to private companies, such as the transfer of educational assets and management to private companies, charities or religious institutions.

The UK government spends approximately £90 billion on education, which includes to costs of teacher’s salaries, support workers, educational resources, building and maintaining school buildings, and the cost of writing curriculums, examinations and inspections (OFSTED), which means there is plenty of stuff which could potentially be privatised.

Most aspects of education in the UK have traditionally been run by the state, and funded directly by the government with taxpayer’s money, managed by Local Education Authorities (local councils). However, with the increasing influence of New Right ideas on education, there has been a trend towards the privatisation of important aspects of education, both in the UK and globally. In other words, increasing amounts of taxpayer’s money goes straight to private companies who provided educational services, rather than to Local Education Authorities.

The Increasing Privatisation of Education

The privatisation of education started under the New Right Government (1979-1997), and continued under New Labour (1997-2010) and under the Coalition/ Conservative Government (2010 – Present Day).

Exogenous and Endogenous Privatisation

Ball and Youdell (2007) distinguish between exogenous privatisation (privatisation from outside) and endogenous privatisation (privatisation within the education system)

Exogenous Privatisation is all of the material on the previous page, but another important aspect of privatisation is endogenous Privatisation, which is basically marketisation

Both British and international companies taking over different aspects of the UK education system, some examples of this are:

Exogenous Privatisation

  • The setting up of Academies. Since New Labour, the establishment of Academies has meant greater involvement of the private sector in running schools. Academies are allowed to seek 10% of their funding from businesses or charities, which increases the influence of private interests over the running of the school, and some recent academy chains such as the Academies Enterprise Trust are run by private companies, and managed by people with a background in business, rather than people with a background in teaching.
  • The Building and maintaining school buildings – Under New Labour A programme of new buildings for schools was financed through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Private companies did the building, but in return were given contracts to repay the investment and provided maintenance for 25-35 years. The colleges, schools or local education authorities had to pay the ongoing costs.
  • Running examination systems – The UK’s largest examinations body Edexcel is run by the Global Corporation Pearsons. Pearsons runs the exam boards in over 70 countries, meaning it sets the exams, it pays the examiners, it runs the training courses which teachers need to attend to understand the assessment criteria, and increasingly it writes the text books.
  • The Expansion of the Education Services Industry more generally. This is related to the above point – There are more International Corporations involved in education than ever before – two obvious examples include Google and Apple, both of which are well poised to play an increasing role in providing educational services for a profit.

Privatisation within Education (Endogenous Privatisation)

Privatisation within education refers to the introduction of free-market principles into the day to day running of schools. This is basically marketization and includes the following:

  • Making schools compete for pupils so they become like businesses
  • Giving parents choice so they become consumers (open enrolment)
  • Linking school funding to success rates (formula funding)
  • Introducing performance related pay for teachers
  • Allowing successful schools to take over and managefailing schools.

Refer to the post on the 1988 Education act for the strengths and limitations of this type of privatisation!

Arguments for Privatisation

The main perspectives which argue for privatising education are Neoliberalism and The New Right.

The Neoliberal/ New Right argument is that state-run education is inefficient. They argue that the state’s involvement leads to ‘bureaucratic self-interest’, the stifling of initiative and low-standards. To overcome these problems the education system must be privatised, and New Right Policies have led to greater internal and external privatisation.

  • The basic argument for internal privatisation is that the introduction of Marketisation within education has increased competition between schools and driven up standards.
  • The basic argument for external privatisation is that private companies are used to keeping costs down and will run certain aspects of the education system more efficiently than Local Education Authorities, even if they make a profit. Thus it’s a win-win situation for the public and the companies.

Arguments against the Privatisation of Education

The main perspective which criticises Privatisation is Marxism.

  • See the hand-out on Marketisation for criticisms of internal privatisation.
  • If private companies have an increasing role in running the education system this may change the type of knowledge which pupils are taught – with more of an emphasis on maths and less of an emphasis on critical humanities subjects which aren’t as profitable. Thus a narrowing of the curriculum might be the result
  • Stephan Ball has also referred to what he sees as the cola-isation of schools – The private sector also increasingly penetrates schools through vending machines and the development of brand loyalty through logos and sponsorships.
  • There might be an increasing inequality of educational provision as private companies cherry pick the best schools to take over and leave the worst schools under Local Education Authority Control.

Find out more

For more links to my posts on the sociology of education please see this page, which follows the AQA A-level specification.

Selection Policies in Education

Selection Policies in Education

This brief hand-out addresses looks at recent waves of education policy and asks two questions:

1. How do schools select pupils? (ability, aptitude, faith, catchment area, covert selection and social class)

2. What are the effects of selection on equality of educational opportunity? (basically selection seems to benefit the middle classes)

The 1944 Education Act

The 1944 Education act is a good example of a policy which selected students for different types of school by ability

The 1944 Education Act established three types of secondary school – Grammar, Technical and Secondary Modern. The three schools provided different types of education –

Grammar schools provided an academic education – all students would be entered for the new ‘O’ levels at age 15. 15 -20% of pupils attended grammar schools.

Technical schools provided a more vocational education – only about 5% of schools were technicals and they eventually faded out.

Secondary Moderns provided a more basic education, and pupils were not expected to sit exams. 80% of pupils attended these schools.

It was thought at the time that pupils had a certain level of ability which was fixed at age 11, and so a special Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) test was designed to select which type of school different abilities of student would go into. Those who passed the 11+ went to grammar schools, those who failed went to secondary moderns.

Criticisms of the 1944 Education Act

– Pupil’s ‘intelligence level’ was not fixed at 11, ‘late developers’ missed out on the opportunity to get into a grammar school and sit exams.

– Those who attended secondary moderns were effectively labelled as failures.

– The system led to the reproduction of class inequality – typically middle class students passed the 11+ and went to grammar schools, got qualifications and higher paid jobs, and vice-versa for the working classes.

Comprehensive Schools

Introduced in 1965 Comprehensive Schools meant the he abolition of the 11+, and the end of grammar schools and secondary Moderns.

In 1965 the 11+ and the three types of school above were abolished, and so selection by ability at the age of 11 was effectively abolished too – grammar schools and secondary moderns were replaced by ‘comprehensive schools” – which means there is ‘one of type’ of school for all pupils, and these schools are not allowed to select by ability – they are forbidden from doing so by ‘The Schools Admissions Code’

Today, although many schools are called ‘Academies’ or ‘Free Schools’ or ‘Faith Schools’, they are all effectively comprehensives, and so do not select on the basis of ability.

Selection Policies since the 1988 Education Act

The 1988 Education Act introduced open enrolment – in which parents are allowed to apply for a place in any school in any area. A a result the best schools become over-subscribed, which means popular schools have to have policies in place to select students. The Schools Admissions Code states that schools cannot select on the basis of social class, but covert selection means that they often do just this!

Selection policies in oversubscribed schools

If a school is oversubscribed then pupils are selected on the basis of certain criteria, whicih much comply with the School Admission Code. The following are the most commonly used criteria for selecting students:

1. Selection by Catchment Area – the closer a student lives to the school, the more likely they are to get into the school.

2. Sibling Policies – those with brother’s and sisters who already attend the school are more likely to get a place

3. Selection by Faith – this only applies to faith schools – faith schools may select a proportion (but not all) of their pupils on the basis of religious belief and the commitment of their parents (how often they attend church for example).

4. Selection By Aptitude – where pupils are selected on the basis of their ‘aptitude’ in certain subjects. Most schools today are ‘Specialist schools’ – which means they ‘specialise’ in a certain subject and are allowed to select up to 10% of their pupils on the basis of their aptitude in a certain subject.

Criticisms of Admissions and Selection Policies since 1988

One major criticism of selection by catchment area is that this results in selection by mortgage – the house prices near to the best schools increase, and so over the years, only wealthier parents can afford to move into the catchment areas of the best schools.

Tough and Brooks (2007) use the term ‘covert selection’ to describe the process whereby schools try to discourage parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds from applying by doing such things as making school literature difficult to understand, having lengthy application forms, not publicising the school in poorer neighbourhoods, and requiring parents to buy expensive school uniforms. The end result of this is that middle class parents are more likely to apply for the best schools (because they have sufficient cultural capital to be able to complete the application process) and lower class parents are pushed out of the best (oversubscribed) schools.

Selection since 2010 – The Pupil Premium

One recent policy change which encourages schools to select disadvantaged pulses on the basis of low household income is the Pupil Premium – schools selecting these pupils get an extra £600 per year per student. NB This represents a recent modification to the school’s selection code, and is one of the few elements of selection policy which may do something to reduce inequality in education, rather than increase it!

Finally – Don’t forget Independent Schools

It’s worth mentioning that 7% of children attend independent, or fee paying schools – many of these schools will have admissions tests (like to old grammar schools) but of course selection is initially based on the ability of parents to pay – and the most expensive schools in the country cost in excess of £30K a year in fees.

Education and Ethnicity – Knowledge Check List

Knowledge checklist

Key concepts – You need to be able to define the following key concepts, explain how they are related to class and educational achievement, and asses their relative importance in explaining ethnic differences in educational achievement

  • Social class

  • Cultural deprivation

  • Material deprivation

  • Linguistic deprivation

  • The ethnocentric curriculum

  • Institutional racism

  • The A-C economy

  • Pupil subcultures

  • Labeling

  • The self fulfilling prophecy

Key research studies

  • Steve Strand – the Longitudinal study

  • Crozier – some Asian parents keep their distance

  • David Gilborn – teacher labelling

  • Cecile Wright – teacher labelling

  • Mac An Ghail – pupil subcultures

  • Tony Sewell – pupil subcultures

  • Gilborn and Youdell – the A-C economy

Sample short answer questions

  • Suggest three home based cultural factors which may account for why Chinese and Indian children outperform other ethnic groups (6)

  • Suggest three ways in which the school curriculum may be said to be ethnocentric (6)

  • Suggest two criticisms of labeling theory (4)

Sample essay questions

  • Briefly examine the relationship between cultural factors and ethnic differences in educational achievement (12)

  • Using material from item A and elsewhere, assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of in-school factors’ (20)

Gender and Education – Knowledge Check List

Main Sub Topics
·         Gender and Differential Educational Achievement.

·         Why are girls outperforming boys?

·         Why are boys ‘underachieving’ compared to girls?

·         Gender and Subject Choice

·         Why do girls and boys choose different subjects?

·         The extent to which processes within school reinforce traditional masculine and feminine ‘gender identities’

Selected Concepts you Need to Know  

  • Feminism
  • The gender gap
  • Service sector
  • Primary socialisation
  • Crisis of masculinity
  • Feminisation of education
  • Gendered subject domains
  • Male gaze
  • Gender stereotyping
  • Ladette culture
  • Anti-school subculture
  • Pro school subculture
  • Verbal abuse
  • Gender identity

Selected Short Answer Questions

  • Define the term ‘crisis of masculinity’ (2)
  • Using one example explain how traditional gender-identities might be reinforced within education (2)
  • Outline three in-school factors which might influence the subjects which girls and boys choose (6)
  • Outline and briefly explain how two external factors have resulted in girls outperforming boys’ in education (10)
Possible (QUITE NASTY) Essay Questions
Assess the argument that the feminisation of education is main reason for male underachievement in education (20)

Assess the view that the gender gap in education has been over exaggerated (20)


Social Class and Educational Achievement – Knowledge Check List

Main Sub-Topics

  • Intro – How achievement varies by social class background
  • Material deprivation and educational achievement.
  • Cultural deprivation theory and educational achievement
  • Cultural capital theory and educational achievement
  • In school processes and how these effect achievement
  • How education policies affect educational achievement by social class

Selected Key Concepts

  • Social Class
  • Educational Attainment
  • Cultural Deprivation
  • Immediate Gratification
  • Deferred Gratification
  • Elaborated Speech Code
  • Restricted Speech Code
  • Fatalistic
  • NEETs
  • Material Deprivation
  • Social Capital
  • Material Capital
  • The Ideal Pupil
  • Counter School Culture
  • Streaming
  • Compensatory Education

Selected Short Answer Questions

  • Define what is meant by the term ‘material deprivation’ (2)
  • Using one example explain how cultural deprivation effects educational achievement (2)
  • Outline three ways in which material deprivation can affect educational achievement (6)
  • Outline and briefly explain two ways in which cultural capital can give an advantage to some pupils in education (10)

Selected Essay Questions

  • Assess the argument that cultural factors are more important that material factors when explaining social class and achievement. (20)
  • Assess the view that home factors are more important than in-school factors when explaining differential achievement by social class (20)

Education Policies – Knowledge Check-List

The Main ‘Waves’ of Education Policies

  • 1944 – The Tripartite System
  • 1965 – Comprehensivisation
  • 1988 – The 1988 Education Reform Act
  • 1997 – New Labour’s Education Policies
  • 2010 – The Coalition and the New New Right’s Education Policies

Possible Issues Questions Might Focus On 

  • To what extent have policies raised standards in education?
  • To what extent have policies improved equality of opportunity?
  • Perspectives on selection as an educational policy
  • Perspectives on the increased privatisation of education
  • How is globalisation affecting educational and educational policy?
Some Concepts and specific policies you need know about
In the context of education, briefly explain what is meant by….

·         The Tripartite system

·         Comprehensivisation

·         Marketisation

·         Parentocracy

·         The New Right

·         League Tables

·         The National Curriculum

·         Selection by mortgage

·         Teaching to the test

·         Polarisation

·         Sink schools

·         The school-parent alliance

·         Disconnected choosers and skilled choosers

·         Cultural and social capital

·         Academies

·         Free Schools

·         Sure Start

·         Education Maintenance Allowance

·         Vocationalism

·         Modern Apprenticeships

·         Compensatory education

·         Faith schools

·         Free schools

Possible Outline and Essay Questions

  • Outline two ways in which educational policies since 1988 have aimed to create a market in education (10)
  • Outline two consequences of the increased privatisation of education (10)
  • Assess the view that educational policies since 1988 have failed to improve equality of

Education Topic 1 – Perspectives on the Role of Education – Knowledge Check- List

This is normally the first topic taught as part of the sociology of education module within A-level sociology,

Main Sub Topics

  • The Functionalist Perspective
  • The Marxist Perspective
  • The Neoliberal and New Right Perspective
  • The Post-Modernist Perspective
  • The Impact of Globalisation on Education
  • The relationship between education, the economy and work

Key concepts – You need to be able to define the following key concepts, explain how they are related to class and educational achievement, and asses their relative importance in explaining ethnic differences in educational achievement

  • Organic analogy
  • Value consensus
  • Role allocation
  • Particularistic
  • Universalistic
  • Specialist skills
  • Social solidarity
  • Meritocracy
  • National identity


  • Ideological state apparatus
  • Repressive state apparatus
  • Ideological tool
  • Dominant ideology
  • Correspondence theory
  • The hidden/informal curriculum
  • Marketisation
  • Parentocracy
  • Voucher System


 Selected Short Answer Questions

  • Outline the role of education according to Marxists.
  • Identify and briefly explain how education transmits the dominant ideology according to Marxists.
  • Outline how education benefits males according to feminists.
  • Outline the main functions of education according to functionalists.
  • Identify and briefly explain two ways in which the New Right are similar to functionalists
  • Outline two ways in which the education system has changed in response to globalisation


Possible Essay Questions
·         Assess the Marxist Perspective on the Role of Education in Society (20)

·         Assess the point of view that education creates inequality in society. (20)





Methods in Context Mark Scheme

My pared down mark scheme for the methods in context question in the previous post, which is adapted from the AQA’s own mark scheme, just put into easier language:

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties (20)

Marks Level Descriptors


If work your guts off you could get here!


Knowledge of the strengths and limitations of covert participant observation will be accurate and conceptually detailed.

Application will be very focussed on the specific topic. Students will consider at least two of the following in relation to the specific issue (pupils with behavioural difficulties)

1.    Who you might be researching (e.g. pupils, peer groups, parents, teachers, support staff).

2.    Where you might be doing the research (e.g. classrooms, staffrooms, pupils’ homes).

3.    The sensitivity of researching pupils with behavioural difficulties (e.g. vulnerability, stigmatisation, parental consent, school reputation).

Evaluation of the usefulness of covert participant observation will be explicit and relevant. Analysis will show clear explanation and may draw appropriate conclusions.

Students will typically apply 4/5 of the following strengths and limitations of covert Participant Observation to the above issue:

1.    Practical issues in the research process: Access (getting in, staying in, getting out), data recording, time/ cost

2.    Ethical issues – e.g. sensitivity, informed consent

3.    Issues of validity: qualitative data/ verstehen/insight, flexibility

4.    Interpretation and analysis problems

5.    Small sample size/ unrepresentativeness


Marks Level Descriptors

You should aim to be here!


1.    Knowledge of the strengths and limitations of covert participant observation will be accurate, broad and deep, but incomplete.

2.    Application of knowledge to the topic (students with behavioural difficulties) will be more generalised or more restricted way, for example:


•      applying the method to the study of education in general, not to the specifics of studying pupils with behavioural difficulties, or


•      specific but undeveloped application to pupils with behavioural difficulties, or


•      a focus on the research characteristics of pupils with behavioural difficulties, or groups/contexts etc. involved in it.


3.    Evaluation and analysis are likely to be explicit but limited



It’s reasonable but not desirable to be here

1.    Knowledge of the strengths and/or limitations of covert participant observation will be accurate but with limited breadth and depth


2.    Application of the method will be limited to education in general, rather than the specific topic


3.    Evaluation and Analysis will be limited, with answers tending towards the descriptive.



No one should be here!

1.    Knowledge of covert participant observation will be limited and undeveloped – e.g. two to three insubstantial points about some features of covert participant observation.


2.    Application to the topic will be very limited and at a tangent to the demands of the question, e.g. perhaps drifting into an unfocused comparison of different methods.


3.    Minimal/no evaluation.



You defo shouldn’t be here!

Answers in this band will show very limited knowledge, eg one to two very insubstantial points about methods in general. Very little/no understanding of the question and of the presented material.

Significant errors, omissions, and/or incoherence in application of material.

Some material ineffectually recycled from the Item, or some knowledge applied solely to the substantive issue of pupils with behavioural difficulties, with very little or no reference to covert participant observation.