Sociological Perspectives on the 2020 Exam results fiasco

What a mess this years exam results were!

First of all students get awarded their results based primarily on an algorithm, which adjusted center predicted grades up or down depending on how their historical results records.

Then those results were scrapped in favour of the original teacher predicted grades, awarded several months ago, unless the algorithm grade was better!

And finally, amidst all that chaos, BTEC students just get forgotten about with the publication of their results being delayed.

Unfortunately there isn’t a ‘total balls up’ perspective in Sociology, as that would most definitely be the best fit to explain what occurred, and I’m not sure that any one perspective can really explain what’s going on, but there some concepts we can apply….

Marxism

A basic tenet of Marxism applied to education is that the education system tends to benefit the middle classes more than the working classes, and especially the 7% of privately schooled kids compared to other 93% who are educated in state school.s

The algorithm which was used to adjust teacher predicted grades benefitted those from higher class backgrounds more than from lower class backgrounds.

You’ll need to follow the Twitter threads below for the evidence…

The Power of Popular Protest

However, students protested…..

And as we all know, the algorithm was overturned, and we ended up with teacher predicted grades being the basis for results (unless the algorithm gave students a better result of course!).

So in this case the system did try to to screw the working classes, but popular protest managed a small victory.

NB – it’s worth pointing out that Independently schooled kids probably still have better results on average than working class kids, so while this may feel like a victory, it’s maybe no big deal really?

Labelling Theory

I think there’s an interesting application here in relation to teacher predicted grades – clearly teachers have exaggerated these as much as they can, because the results on average are nearly a grade up compared to last year – which is a great example of teachers positively labelling their students in terms of giving them the highest grades they might have achieved.

It kind of shows you that, at the end of the day, teachers are more positive about their students than negative.

For one year only, we’ve got results based on labels, the projections in teachers’ heads rather than being based on objectively measured performance. In some cases over the next year we are going to see the limitations of labelling theory – just because a teacher says someone is capable of getting 5 good GCSEs doesn’t mean they are going to be able to cope with A levels rather than BTECs at college.

Keep in mind that some of the teacher predicted rates are going to be utter fantasy, and not every case is going to end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy – there are going to be a lot of failures at A-level as thousands of over-predicted students can’t cope.

Probably less so at universities – they need the money from tuition fees, so they’ll probably just lower their standards for this cohort.

Functionalism

You may think that this has no relevance, HOWEVER, the system hasn’t collapsed, has it?

There was a bit of a blip, a few people got upset and protested, and now this year’s students have ended up with much better results than last year’s students based on teacher predicted grades which are clearly about as exaggerated as they can get away with.

And now we’re all heading back to college and university and things are going to go back to the ‘new normal’, without anything very much changing, despite the fact that so many flaws have been revealed in how the exam system works.

I’d say this whole fiasco has been a pretty good example of a system coping well with a crisis and coming out the other side relatively unscathed.

Postmodernism and Late Modernism

The extent to which these apply is a bit of a mixed bag….

The government certainly showed a high degree of uncertainty about how to award results, resulting in wide spread chaos, which certainly seems to fit in which the postmodern perspective.

However, that’s about as far as it goes I think…. students and parents alike showed an utter contempt for being ruled by an algorithim, which is one of the primary mechanisms of social control in post/ late modern societies (via actuaralism) – and yet when its workings are brought to light, people resisted – they wanted justice and meritocracy rather than this bizarre way of managing selves.

Also the fact that people actually seem to care about their results and want a sense of justice isn’t really postmodern – it’s a very modernist concern, to be interested in one’s education and future career, and I get the feeling that rather than kicking back and enjoying their postmodern leisure time, students have just been generally worried about their results and their future.

So there’s been a high level of uncertainty and fear/ worry, that’s quite postmodern, but the fact that people actually care about education, that’s more modernist….

Two-stage balloon rocket as an introduction to ‘experiments’ in sociology

The two-stage balloon rocket experiment is a useful ‘alternative’ starter to introduce the topic of experiments – a topic which can be both a little dry, and which some students will find challenging, what with all the heavy concepts!

Using the experiment outlined below can help by introducing students to the concepts of ‘dependent and independent variables’, ’cause and effect’, ‘controlled condition’s, ‘making predictions’ and a whole load of other concepts associated with the experimental method.

The experiment, including the materials you’ll need, and some discussion questions, is outlined here – you’ll need to sign up, but it’s easy enough to do, you can use your Google account.

Keep in mind that this link takes you to a full-on science lesson where it’s used to teach younger students about physics concepts – but modified and used as a starter it’s a useful intro a sociology lesson!

Also, students love to revert back to their childhood, and you can call this an activity which benefits the lads and the kin-aesthetic learners, Lord knows there’s precious little enough for them in the rest of the A-level specification, so you may as well get this in while you can!

The two-stage balloon rocket experiment

(Modified version for an intro to experiments in A-level sociology!)

  1. Set up the two-stage balloon rocket experiment in advance of the students coming into the classroom. Set it up with only a little amount of air, so it deliberately is a bit naff on its first run.
  2. Get students to discuss what they think is going to happen when you release the balloon along the wire.
  3. Release the balloon.
  4. Discuss why it didn’t work too well.
  5. Get students involved with redesigning the experiment
  6. Do round two.
  7. Use the examples of ‘balloon speed’ as ‘dependent’ and ‘amount of air/ fuel’ as independent variables’ when introducing these often difficult to understand concepts in the next stage (excuse the pun) of the lesson.

Questions you might get the students to consider:

  • What variables did we find had the biggest impact on how far the rocket traveled?
  • Did any variables have a very small impact or no impact at all?
  • If we had more time or other materials available, what changes would you make to make the rocket travel even farther?

Don’t forget to save the animal modelling balloons you would have bought for this and use them for the ‘Balloon Animals Starter’ in the next lesson on field experiments.

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The Deportation of Chevon Brown – A Breach of Human Rights?

It can be difficult to find easy to understand examples of the state breaching individual human rights, but the recent deportation of Chevon Brown might just be one such example.

This case study from February 2020 is relevant to the ‘state crime and human right’s topic within the A-level sociology Crime and Deviance module.

In February 2020 Chevon Brown was deported to Jamaica from the United Kingdom.

He had just been released from Prison having served 8 months of a 14 month sentence for danagerous driving and driving with no insurance.

He was 21 when he decided to take his car for a spin, despite being a learner driver with no insurance, and when he saw police, he says he panicked, and sped up, which led to a 5 minutes high speed chase, and he puts his actions down to stupidity, and he’s paid the ultimate price.

Britain has the right to deport foreign citizens who have been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison, under the UK Borders Act, which came into force in 2007, unless doing so would infringe their human rights, by sending them back to a country where their life would be at threat, for example.

Chevon was 14 when he moved to Britain with his father on a Jamaican Passport. Despite having ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK, he is still technically a Jamaican national, and so the UK had the right to deport him.
The problem is, he no longer has any friends or family in Jaimaica, and his father is remaining in the UK, with his other children.

Since returning to Jamaica, Chevon says he doesn’t feel safe. “I am nervous walking down the street,” he says. “Anything could happen – every day people die here.”

According to UN data, Jamaica had a murder rate of 47 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016. In the UK, the rate was 1 per 100,000.

Chevon was deported along with 40 other criminals, many of whom had committed more serious offenses, such as murder, and he says the Jamaican media as labelled them all with the same brush, so it is difficult for him to make friends or find a job.

Sources – The BBC News May 2020.

Sociological Questions to consider about this case study

  1. Is deportation for ‘dangerous driving’ an appropriate punishment?
  2. Given his lack of friends and family in Jamaica, the alleged discrimination he’s facing (due to negative media labeling) and his increased chance of being murdered, did the UK government breach his human rights by deporting him?
  3. Is this deportation an example of institutional racism?
  4. Do you think the original decision to imprison him for 14 months was fair, or just another example of institutional racism?

By contrast you might want to consider this in relation to the case of Anne Sacoolas, the American Diplomat’s Wife who actually killed a British Teenager by driving on the wrong side of the road, fled back to America and is now being protected by the US Government, rather than being deported back to the UK to stand trial.

Sociological Experiments

This post aims to provide some examples to some of the more unusual and interesting experiments that students can explore and evaluate.

I’ve already done a post on ‘seven field experiments‘, that outline seven of the most interesting classic and contemporary experiments which are relevant to various topics within the A-level sociology syllabus, in this post I provide a much fuller list, and try to present some more unusual examples, focusing on contemporary examples with video examples where possible.

The Circle

Channel Four’s ‘The Circle’ is an experiment of sorts – contestants have to stay in one room and can only interact with each other by a bespoke, in-house social media application, competing for popularity. At the end of every day the two-three most popular people get to kick out someone from the least three popular people, then a newbie comes in to replace them.

The Twinstitute

This recent series which aired on BBC2 involves getting identical twins to do the same tasks under different circumstances – to see what the effect of ‘external stimuli’ (independent variables) are on factors such as ‘concentration’.

In one classic, and super easy to relate to example, sets of twins are asked to do a written IQ test – one half are allowed to keep their mobile phones on the table, another have to put them away – all other variables remain the same. The findings are predictable – the group with their phones out get worse scores.

Conclusion – mobile phones are distracting, quite a useful fact to remind students of!

Sleep deprivation makes people less likely to want to socialise with you!

A 2017 experiment measured how respondents perceived tired people. The findings were that respondents were less likely to want to socialise with sleep-deprived people.

  • 25 Participants (aged 18-47) were photographed after normal sleep and again after two days of sleep deprivation.
  • The two photographs were then rated by 122 raters (aged 18-65), according to how much they would like to socialise with the participants. The raters also rated the photos based on attractiveness, health, sleepiness and trustworthiness.
  • The raters were less likely to want to socialise with the participants in the ‘sleep-deprived’ photos  compared to the photos of them when they’d had normal sleep. They also perceived the ‘sleep-deprived’ versions as less attractive, less health and more sleepy.
  • There was no difference in the trustworthiness ratings.

You have to think about this to get to what the variables are:

  • The main dependent variable is the raters’ ‘desire to socialise’ with the people in the photos.
  • The independent variable is the ‘level of sleep-deprivation’ (measured by photos)  

What I like about this experiment is the clear ‘control measure’ – the researchers used photos of the same participants – after regular sleep and sleep-deprivation.

Without that control measure, the experiment would probably fall apart1

Science Professors think female applicants are less competent

In this 2012 experiment researchers sent 127 science professors around the country (both male and female) the exact same application materials from a made-up undergraduate student applying for a lab manager position.

63 of the fake applications were made by a male, named John; the other 64 were made by a female, named Jennifer.

Every other element of the applications were identical.

The researchers also matched the two groups of professors to whom the applications were sent, in terms of age distribution, scientific fields, and tenure status.

The 127 professors were each asked to evaluate the application based on

  • their overall competency and hireability,
  • the salary they would offer to the student
  • the degree of mentoring they felt the student deserved.

The faculty were not told the purpose of the experiment, just that their feedback would be shared with the student.

The results

Both male and female professors consistently regarded the female student applicant as less competent and less hireable than the otherwise identical male student:

  • The average competency rating for the male applicant was 4.05, compared to 3.33 for the female applicant.
  • The average salary offered to the female was $26,507.94, while the male was offered $30,238.10.
  • The professor’s age and sex had insignificant effects on discrimination —old and young, male, and female alike tended to view the female applicants more negatively.

Blind auditions improve the chances of female musicians being recruited to orchestras

A comparative study by Cecilia Rouse, an associate professor in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University, seems to confirm the existence of sex-biased hiring by major symphony orchestras.

Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in American and European orchestras. Renowned conductors have asserted that female musicians have “smaller techniques,” are more temperamental and are simply unsuitable for orchestras, and some European orchestras do not hire women at all.

To overcome bias, most major U.S. orchestras implemented blind auditions in the 1970s to 1980s, in which musicians audition behind a screen that conceals their identities but does not alter sound. However, some kept non-blind auditions.

This provided the context for a nice ‘natural experiment’…

Using data from the audition records, the researchers found that:

  • – for both blind and non-blind auditions, about 28.6 percent of female musicians and 20.2 percent of male musicians advanced from the preliminary to the final round.
  • – When preliminary auditions were not blind, only 19.3 percent of the women advanced, along with 22.5 percent of the men.

The researchers calculated that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent.

As a result, blind auditions have had a significant impact on the face of symphony orchestras. About 10 percent of orchestra members were female around 1970, compared to about 35 percent in the mid-1990s.

Rouse and Goldin attribute about 30 percent of this gain to the advent of blind auditions.

Their report was published in the September-November issue of the American Economic Review.

The Marshmallow Test

This classic 1971 experiment was designed to measure a child’s level of self-control, or will-power. In sociological terms, this is measuring a child’s ability to ‘defer gratification’.

Researchers put a child in a room with one Marshmallow. The child was informed that they could eat it whenever they wanted, but if they could wait until the researcher returned, they could have two Marshmallows.

The researcher then left and the child was left alone to deal with their temptation for approximately 15 minutes. In the end 2/3rds of children gave into temptation and ate the Marshmallow, the other third resisted.

The researchers then tracked the children through later life and found that those who had more will power/ self control (those who hadn’t eaten the treat) were more likely to do well at school, avoid obesity and generally had a better quality of life.

NB – it’s down to you to do your research on how replicable and valid this experiment is.

Here’s one of the original researchers in 2015 saying how they’ve evolved and replicated the experiment and he’s written a book on the importance of teaching self-control to enhance people’s quality of life:

On the other hand, this is a video which is critical, saying that future studies found that social economic background accounted for around half of life-success, with individual will-power only accounting for half.

(However, this second video appears to be one young guy with no academic credentials, other than the lame bookshelf he’s put in the background, hardly semiotics genius.)

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Starters for A-level Sociology

A few of my favourite starters for A-level Sociology Lessons:

Draw Society

While the drawing task may seem a little juvenile, it is typically quite revealing – you usually get a mixture of pictures which show harmony and conflict/ division and some which are ‘whole society’, while others more individualised, but most of them tend to illustrate on the various different perspectives.

This is my very first task in the introduction to sociology unit.

After basic housekeeping, handing out the introductory hand-outs, and a quick discussion about ‘what does the word sociology mean to you?’ I then ask students to ‘draw society’.

I issue students with mini Whiteboards (but paper and pens would work) and simply give them the following instruction (which is on a PPT, and written in the main hand-out)

It takes 5-10 minutes, no more than 10. I then invite students to show and explain their pictures – and then do a quick PPT on perspectives in sociology, using the pictures to illustrate the Perspectives.

NB the reason for quickly introducing the perspectives in Lesson one is to remind students this is a difficult subject, not just about discussing social issues, which is an all too common misconception.

Find someone who Bingo

This icebreaker works a treat: it consists of 20 ‘activities’, 5 of which hardly anyone is going to admit to because they are ‘too deviant’ and people have been socialised into NOT doing them.

The instruction box below is embedded into my main intro hand-out, and on the PPT I use for the lesson:

Intro task – Find someone who bingo   Using the sheets provided, stand up, circulate, and try to match at least one name to each of the actions on your bingo sheet. First one to complete three lines of completely different names (no repeats) and shout bingo wins a chocolate bar, if they can identify the people whose names they’ve put down.   NB – Yes, it’s an icebreaker, but also relevant to the content of today’s lesson!

This activity is also handy to get students talking to one another for the first time – I let it run until the point where you get a large group of students giggling which each other while at the same time a couple of them are starting to look a bit lost, then it’s time to bring it back together – lasts about 5-10 minutes!

Follow up

Ask students if they’ve got any gaps, and if so why…. This introduces the concept of deviance.

When do you want to get married? Marriage and Divorce starter

Students answer the questions below on Socrative. Link to the quiz here.

Intro task – answer the following questions

•           Do you want to get married?

•           If you want to get married, then why, if not, then why not?

•           At what age do you expect to get married?

•           Note down 3-5 words you associated with marriage.

Follow Up

Use Socrative to show the class trends, you can compare these to some of the historical trends as they come up in the lesson.

You can ask students how common they think the answers to the qualitative questions are or ask for volunteers to explain their answers. If no one volunteers, ask ‘why might someone has said this’, just be careful to remind students to be sensitive!

Match the crime to the trend

Hand out the ‘intro to crime trends’ supplementary sheet, this only shows the trends, project up the PPT slide which shows the trends and the ‘crime’s they need to match.

  • Students then match the crime to the trend
  • Show students the answers – on the PPT, see bundle below.
  • Get students to rank the crimes in order of how valid they think the statistics are.

Follow Up

You might want to point out that more serious crime is very low, but some of the ‘softer’ crimes have much higher rates.

You should point out that ‘crime stats are socially constructed’ and that there are several reasons why some of these crimes might go unreported.

20 Starters for A-level Sociology

All of the above resources are available in my latest teaching bundle which contains 20 starter activities for A-level sociology lessons. There are five starter activities for ‘introducing sociology’, three for education, two for methods, five for families and five for crime and deviance.

The activities are quite varied, and include a mixture of the following:

  • Drawing concepts
  • A Walk-about and finding out from other students’ activity
  • Brainstorming reasons why/ differences between.
  • A Making the links dice game
  • ‘What do you think’ personal Socrative intro questions.
  • One musical intro
  • Key terms recaps
  • Applying perspectives starters.
  • Classic data response
  • Classic ‘quick recap tests’

I’ve used all of these activities in my own teaching, they are tried and tested and work well with classes of 10-20 or more students.

Over page is an index of all the activities and (in brackets) when in the specification you can employ them.

Most of these activities are paper based, and where this is the case, I’ve included a copy of the ‘worksheet’ here, as well as individual files in a separate folder, clearly labelled.

Some of the activities require a PPT so I’ve included the relevant slides on a separate PPT.

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.

Voices of Guinness: Oral Histories of Work in Modernity

Voices of Guinness: An Oral History of the Royal Park Brewery (202) is a recent academic work by Tim Strangleman which explores the experience of work in one Guinness Factory from the 1940s to the early 2000s.

The research took place over several years and consists of oral histories (presumably based on in-depth structured, or even unstructured interviews) with people who used to work in the factory and the use of a range of secondary documents such as photos, pictures and the Guinness factory magazine.

Strangleman puts together a kind of collage of life histories to present various stories about how workers made sense of going to work: what work meant to them and how they coped with its challenges.

This is a useful example of ‘work in modernity’ – Strangleman describes how the Guinness company established a kind of ‘industrial citizenship’ – their aim was to build workers who were fully rounded humans who had a sense of ownership over their work, a concept which many seem very alien now with ‘zero hours contracts’.

The workers for the most part in the 1940s – 1970s at least bought into this – they felt at home in the workplace and because of this, they felt able to criticize the management, a situation which may have been uncomfortable for them, but helped them to keep the workers happy enough.

In the 40s-60s – leisure was broadly focused around the factory and with work colleagues – there were several social clubs such as sports clubs, even theatre clubs, but this started to change in the 1960s when rising incomes led to more privatised forms of leisure.

The workers in late modernity also expected to be employed for life, which is one of the most notable changes to date – most students today don’t want a job for life, and you see the idea of ‘temporary employment’ built into the modern day site of the factory – NB the Guinness Factory is now closed, it has been replaced with ‘Logistics’ wharehouses, the kind of temporary structures which stand in contrast with the more permanent nature of work in modernity.

For details of the book please click here.

You can find out more about this study through two useful podcasts:

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is an excellent study to show what work used to be like in Modernity, and as Strangleman says, it reminds us what we have lost in Postmodernity.

It’s also interesting to contrast how the solidness of the factory then ties in with the stable idea of ‘jobs for life’ whereas now people no longer expect or even want jobs for life, we see more temporary buildings forming the basis for working class jobs, most obviously the prefab Amazon warehouses.

In terms of methods this a useful example of a study that uses secondary qualitative data and interviews for oral histories.

Theoretically, there are definite links here to what Bauman would have called more solid forms of Modernity!

The Incredible Sexism of James Bond

I’ve been watching a few of the old James Bond movies since they’ve been on ITV recently. A few weeks ago I watched ‘Live and Let Die’ which was the first outing for Roger Moore, and originally aired in 1973, my birth year!

Besides being surprised that I didn’t remember most of it (I thought I’d seen enough Bond in my childhood to have these committed to memory!) I was pretty shocked at the incredible sexism of the movie.

This movie is a further example of just how sexist representations of women in the media were 50 years ago, there are other examples outline here.

I know that ‘classic Bond’ is well known for its dismal portrayal of women as nothing more than one dimensional sex-objects, but Live and Let Die must be a low-point for female representation.

Besides Miss Money-Penny there are only two other ‘significant’ female characters in the movie – both of whom James has sex with, and both of whom are rescued by James, although one of them dies.

Rosie Carver – a hapless double agent who Bond beds just before she dies

We’re introduced to Rosie Carver when Bond arrives in The Caribbean. She’s been assigned to help him, but she’s useless, being scared of snakes and not really having a clue what’s going on.

She resists his advances on their first night, but later on, when they’re approaching Tenanga’s Caribbean island hideaway, they pause for lunch and have sex (I know, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.)

Afterwards, Bond reveals that he knows she’s working for Tenanga and has been tasked with drawing him into a trap – she looks shocked and says ‘why tell me now after what we’ve just done’ – to which James replies something like ‘well I certainly wouldn’t have told you before’, or something like that.

She runs away and dies shortly afterwards – I guess now James has ‘had a go’ she’s not much use anymore anyway.

Solitaire – a virgin victim of slavery who Bond rapes

Solitaire (Jane Seymour) is a psychic medium being held captive by the main villain of the film – Tenaka, an opium dealer. Tenaka uses here psychic powers to help him make decisions about how to run his criminal empire – she’s a virgin, crucial to her having her psychic powers.

The first contact James has with her, when he falls into Tenaka’s Lair in the basement of a restaurant in New Orleans, he gets her to to do him a Tarot card reading, and the ‘lovers card’ is revealed, ‘that’s us’ he quips.

Fast Forward to later in the movie, when Solitaire is back on the isolated Caribbean Island which is Tenaka’s main base, James hanglides onto the island and sneaks into her chambers to enact a rescue, but not before manipulating her into having sex with him.

He gets her to choose a Tarot card, she picks ‘the lovers’ (note the paper-thin sub-plot) and they go and have sex – but a ‘cheeky’ camera shot reveals that James had stacked the entire Tarot deck with nothing but that one card.

So what we have here is James manipulating a virgin victim of modern slavery into having sex with him, I think that’s technically rape of a vulnerable adult, given that Bond deliberately used her beliefs against her to manipulate her into having sex with him, I don’t think we can call this informed consent.

Of course she wakes up wanting more, now sexually addicted to James. And of course all the while they’re in bed, they could have been escaping!

NB – Jane Seymour was 21-22 when the film was shot, Roger Moore was in his late 30s.

Relevance to A-level sociology

I know this example is almost 50 years old now, but it’s a particularly pertinent one to show just how bad sexual-stereotyping was in the early 1970s – Live or Let Die actually made a joke out Bond raping a vulnerable teenager held in slavery, as well as turning into part of his ‘masculine identity’.

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Why some women choose not to have children

Birth rates have been falling for decades, in practically every country on earth. But not only are women having fewer children, more women are remaining childless for their entire lives.

15% of women in the United States now remain childless into their late 40s.

However, this choice to remain child-free isn’t one that comes easy.

The Guardian newspaper recently released some videos of interviews with women of various different ages who have chosen to remain childless reveal the fact that they often have to battle against the social norm that they should become mothers.

All of the women in this video explain that they were brought up with the norm that ‘normal’ women wanted children and would at some point have children.

They say that most of the subtle pressure to have children comes from their families, their own mothers and female relatives, but also their female friends and work colleagues.

If they tell a work colleague that they don’t want kids, the typical response back is that ‘you’ll want them one day’, as if the already-mothers or ‘pro-mums to be’ brush off their ‘not wanting kids’ attitude as temporary insanity, and thus to be disregarded.

One of the interviewees talks about how not having kids was never presented as a choice to her during early socialisation – it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she came across the idea that remaining childless was a legitimate choice for women.

An argument for not having children

In a recent piece written for the Guardian entitled ‘Why I don’t have a child: I cherish my freedom‘ Ann Neumann argues for the benefits of not having children.

She starts off pointing out the obvious freedoms that come with being childless – such as being able to pick up and move and switch jobs/ set up businesses/ go travelling whenever she likes, but she also says she has found freedom in a more profound sense – the freedom to be creative and to pursue and to develop her own career as she sees fit.

Finally, Neumann says that having remained child-free until her menopause has given her a fresh perspective on the whole status of childless women, and she presents a broadly radical-feminist that sees becoming a mother as the main event that locks women into traditionally gendered carer-roles , chained because they are mothers.

She also reminds us that all other things being equal it is much easier to free yourself form an abusive relationship if you have your own income, which is much more likely if you are not a mother!

There is a cost to remaining childless:

Women who remain childless have to pay for it:

  • Quite literally pay for contraception, and possibly abortions (she’s had two)
  • You have to be mentally disciplined enough to stick to a contraceptive routine.
  • You have to put up with the ‘too-personal inquiries’ in to why you’ve never had children (our female bodies are never our own),
  • And you have to suffer the loss of social status that comes with being motherless, as ‘mothers are the moral future of the nation’.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This would fit right in with the ‘Feminist theory‘ of the family, and is also of relevance to changing family patterns (declining birth rates) in the sociology of the family.

‘Results’ Day

Students like to think that their exam results are primarily down their own individual effort and ability (their ‘merit’ if you like), and these are two of the factors which influence their exam results.

However, the results statistics clearly show us that social factors such as parental income, wider social class background, gender and ethnicity clearly impact the results.

To put it in stark terms: being born to middle class Indian parents gives you a much better chance of getting 3 A grades at A-level compared to being born to white working-class parents.

Granted, that within your ‘cultural’ grouping, individual factors such as raw intelligence and ability are going to effect results, in some cases that ability and effort will be so outstanding that some white working class kids will do better than some middle class Indian kids, but on average, social factors effect the results too.

Thus, you could say that we end up skewed, unfair results every year, because the exam results are at least partially measuring class, gender and ethnic background.

The school that pupils attend also has an ‘effect’, on average, with some schools getting persistently good results, mainly the independent schools, a few schools seemingly doomed to failure, and most schools chugging along somewhere in the middle.

However, that said, at least when individual students sit exams, they are assessed by the same standards, and ranked against each other according to those same standards, and they can move up and down from their ‘class/ gender/ ethnicity’ base-average  depending on their individual effort and ability, or lack of either, so in that sense, exams are fair.

What usually happens once all the exams have been marked, according to the same standards, is that the chief examiners look at the spread of results, and then decide what raw mark translates to a pass grade (an E grade), and what amount of raw marks counts for an A* grade.

Generally speaking, the 2 boundaries – U/E and upper A* yield similar percentages each year – in Sociology it’s around a 98% pass rate and a 5% A* rate (NB that is from memory so excuse any inaccuracy), and then within that students receive A-E grades relative to other people, with everyone having sat the same exam.

The 2020 Results Fiasco

This ‘standardisation’ of students sitting the same exam and then those exams being marked according to the same standards didn’t happen this year because students have not sat exams.

Instead, exam results were based on teacher predicted grades , and then modified according to a black-box algorithm, which, as I understand it, took account of factors such as the track-record of the school.

The problem with results being based on teacher predictions

On the face of it, teachers are the ones best place to decide what grades their students would have got, had they sat the exams: they know their students, they have evidence from at least a year’s worth of work.

The problem is that teachers don’t use the same standards to mark work – some are harsh, some are soft, having different theories about the best way to motivate students, so if mark-book grades are to be used as evidence, students are not being assessed in the same way.

A second problem is that teachers will inflate the predicted grades, at least most of them will – it’s a competitive system, so of course you’re going to game the results up as far as you can without the grades looking like a complete fantasy.

Different teachers and schools will have different comfort levels about how far to push these grades. Some would have actually been professional and given accurate grades, so that’s another reason why teacher and institution grades aren’t a great way of awarding results.

However, the strength of this system is that even if teachers have exaggerated results, they should have exaggerated them in line with their perceived effort and ability of their pupils, so at least it takes into account these individual level factors.

Enter the algorithm

Hence why the exams authority moderated the results – they know there is bias between institutions. And at the end of the day, we’ve ended up with overall results which are slightly better than previous years, which seams, on average, a fair way to do it.

By the logic of an algorithm which works on averages, that is fair – for this year’s students, on average, to come out with slightly better results.

Assuming the algorithm has tweaked all the students results in one institution across all subjects to the same degree, we should have fair individual level results too.

The problem

In a nutshell, it’s cases like these….

As I understand it the problem is that some schools especially have been penalised more than others, especially rapidly improving schools, and any school where the teachers have been stupid enough to be honest about predicted grades, their pupils would have lost out massively too.

I’m not sure how representative these case studies are, TBH I think they’re in a minority, but honestly, it’s not great for those students involved!

Is it this year’s Scottish Exam Results that Have No Validity, or just the System Itself?

Now that the Scottish exam results have reverted back to those based on teacher predictions, students have done MUCH better than previous years, around 10-12% improvement, or over a grade compared to previous years.

To put this in a chart – here’s what it looks like: The middle column is what the results were last year, the last column is what they now are, with the government’s U turn.

2016-19 Ave2020 SQA moderated2020 teacher predictions
national 578.681.188.6
higher76.578.988.8
advanced higer80.484.992.8

To display this graphically – we’ve leapt from blue to yellow, while even with moderation (red) that kind of increase is just about feasible, even if unlikely.

It is highly unlikely that this year’s students on average would have achieved 10-12 % points higher than the previous year’s students, had they sat their exams, had there been no disruption.

Had they sat the exams, they would have been moderated by the exam boards so that the pass rate and A* rate was broadly in line with previous years, and then the spread of results would have probably also been broadly similar.

What’s happened instead this year is that we now have results based on teacher predictions, rather than ‘pure moderation’ by the exam boards, which broadly keeps things in line year on year.

In case you don’t know, what the exam moderating authorities do with actual exam results, is they look at the raw marks, and then tweak the fail/ pass and A* raw mark boundaries so that there’s a similar percentage passing and achieving high grades every year, but now they’ve had that power stripped from them.

Now the grades are based purely on teacher predictions and teachers always over-predict, it doesn’t take much explaining to figure out why – because of the competitive education system, and it’s one of the few rules you can bend as a teacher, so nearly every teacher does it, because they know every other teacher does it!

TBH I don’t think either system is that valid. You’ve seen the results year on year, it’s highly unlikely that there’s going to be a gradual trend upwards, without there ever being a single ‘spike year’ – but that’s what you get when exam moderating authorities ‘control’ the grades every year – a gradual increase gives the impression of credibility.

Teacher predictions might well have more credibility, because they actually know the students, but there is a problem of reliability when, for just one year, this year, 2020, you allow exam results to be determined by teachers, and then you get a massive spike compared to previous years.

Students who sat exams in 2017 to 2019 should be complaining

Students from the last three years are the one’s who are being harmed by this unjust political interference – not only do they now have a worse track record of exam results compared to this year’s students, these are the students who are now graduating into a world of contracted employment, so they’re going to have ‘worse’ results, and a longer period of unemployment on their CVs.

This year’s students by contrast, if they’re going on to 2-5 years of FE/ HE, the chances are the economy will be recovering by the time they graduate, so they’ll have a better education record and less of a track history of unemployment.

Glasgow Live: Exam Results Glasgow 2020

The Guardian

The BBC