Evaluate the View that Crime and Deviance are Inevitable and Beneficial for Individuals and Society as a Whole

This question was the 30 mark essay question on the June 2022 Crime and Deviance A-Level Sociology exam paper.

I have to say TOP MARKS for a fantastic question, lots in here to unpack.

The question came with an item that candidates had to apply which explicitly referenced Functionalists thinking crime was inevitable because not everyone could fit into the norms and values of society, and also that crime was beneficial.

The item also referenced that Conflict Theorists were critical of this view because crime is ‘constructed’ in such as way that it benefits certain individuals.

Quick Question decode….

The question breaks down into two chunks of two…

  1. Evaluate the view that crime is inevitable (and evaluate the theory behind this)
  2. Evaluate the view that crime is beneficial – i. for society and ii. for individuals.

The easiest way to structure this is probably to start off discussing and evaluating the Functionalist view – on inevitability and then whether it’s beneficial and use mainly conflict (Marxist/ Feminist/ Interactionist) views to evaluate Functionalism.

This question also screams out ‘talk about different types of crime and contrast them’.

And I’d also spend some time talking about PostModernism/ Cultural Theories of Crime – but again using these to critique Functionalism and Conflict Theories too.

I’d recommend NOT just doing a paragraph list answer – DONT’ start with Functionalism then do Marxism then do Feminism – that will probably limit you to a mid mark band, C grade – for Bs and As I’m thinking the examiners are going to want an answer that really focuses on using material to critique Functionalism!

However, having said that – it’s kind of hard to avoid discussing Durkheim’s theory – all of it first – it’s how you critique the different aspects of it that will help you avoid a ‘listing the theories’ answer’.

Below is a rough guide to how I’d answer this question….

Evaluate the view that Crime is Inevitable and beneficial for Society and Individuals…

Here you can outline Durkheim’s theory of the ‘Society of Saints’ – in which he theorised that even in a near perfect society very small acts would become deviant and end up being criminalised because ‘society needs crime’, and in fact that crime is beneficial.

Durkheim in fact argued that crime performed three positive functions – social regulation (people are reminded of the boundaries when criminals are punished), social integration – people bond together more closely against criminals and then it also allows social change to take place (without deviance there can be no change!).

Durkheim’s idea that crime is ‘inevitable’ seems to make sense as it is difficult to conceive of a society in which there is no crime, let alone no deviance. It also allows for the fact that some individuals are always going to break the rules, and so are not entirely controlled by society.

However this is quite a week theory – it doesn’t say very much – Durkheim didn’t really talk about what kind of acts he was talking about – if bad manners are ‘always going to be inevitable’ then Functionalism as a theory kind of holds together, but if more serious crimes are inevitable in ALL societies – such as murders, treason, revolutions, that undermines the whole of Functionalist consensus theory because if all societies eventually end in conflict, then consensus is only ever a temporary state and societies don’t evolve in the way Durkheim thought.

It’s a very difficult theory to assess this – in terms of minor acts of deviance YES they are always going to be around it seems, but in a way who cares because these don’t harm people or upset the balance of society, but in terms of the more serious crimes – mass organised crimes, terrorism aimed at social change – mass shootings in America by lone individuals – are these the inevitable?

It is impossible to measure at a global and 100 year historical level with any degree of accuracy but as a general rule there do seem to be LESS violent, serious and destabilising crimes in wealthier European Countries, suggesting where we have wealth and inclusion and democracy and human rights, more serious crimes that are going to blow society apart are less likely, but in poorer countries, in Africa for example, which has the highest amount of civil wars for the last half a century, violent crime seems more likely.

But then the most violent States on Earth are the very richest – the USA, Russia, China, all commit human rights abuses but generally against people in remote territories and against people deemed to be ‘enemies of the state’ – so maybe crime is inevitable when we have huge power differentials in the world….?

This brings to mind Marxism – this essentially argues that ‘crime’ in the form of revolution is inevitable as oppression causes increasing exploitation which eventually leads to violent revolution (which by definition are criminal against the existing State) – however this doesn’t really seem to fit the historical record any better than Functionalism, real communist revolutions are far and few between, much more war is about desperation or colonial conquest.

Marxists also argue that things like low level street crime are the outcome of poverty and oppression caused by the inequalities and injustices of Capitalism – this seems to make more sense as a theory of the inevitability of crime than Durkheim’s as there is a correlation between these types of crime and poverty.

In contrast Durkhiems’ theory can’t be tested because he was never specific enough, thus it’s probably better to dismiss the idea as it can’t be proven.

There are also problems with Durkheim’s theory of crime being beneficial is that it comes from the logic ‘that if something in society exists then it must have a function’ – Durkheim was kind of tunnel visioned here and he couldn’t accept the view that some things were just plain dysfunctional and had no social benefit at all.

It is difficult to argue, for example, that domestic abuse has a useful social function – as it is hidden and never seen, and obviously one can’t argue it benefits the victims.

In order for a crime to be deemed beneficial – to perform one of Durkheim’s social functions it needs to be visible….. In this case one might be able to argue that domestic abuse does enhance social integration as people may come together to kick out local abusers from their neighbourhoods – HOWEVER – it’s not a very positive basis for ‘unity’ and not that healthy where people are just united against something else – also there’s no real need for this type of integration is there? I mean doesn’t sport and music and many other things do the same without the crime and harm?

Also with social regulation – maybe crimes being punished remind people of the boundaries – but Marxists have pointed out that some crimes are much more likely to get punished than others – such as working class drug dealers bet punished, not the middle class users who take them.

And thus the Marxist take on crime benefiting some individuals more than others maybe fits better with social reality – we have selective law enforcement and punishment – the working classes are kept in their place while elites are more likely to get away with doing corporate and white collar crime without being noticed.

And when we look at some white collar crimes it’s hard to argue they benefit society – such as the fraud that led to the collapse of Enron – which led to massive losses for ordinary investors and job losses for workers – very few people in fact benefitted from that other than a small amount of criminals who skimmed profit before the crash.

The item references crime being constructed in such a way that it benefits certain individuals more than others – this is an interactionist point of view – it means that what is criminal is determined by the law which in turn is determined by people.

We can see this most clearly in the way certain drugs are made criminal – for example with cannabis gradually being decriminalised in some states in America – when it used to be criminal law officers could prosecute people for growing and selling it, now in those states were it is decriminalised people can’t be prosecuted – this shows up the varying nature of how some States deem this act to be harmful, others beneficial.

But what’s maybe more important is how some kind of violent acts are not labelled as criminal – for example state violence in war, presumably because whichever territory is being ‘liberated’ is going to benefit from that particular wave of state violence, while ANY violence by ordinary people on the streets is deemed to be NOT beneficial in any way.

In Conclusion

Personally I’d dismiss the idea that crime is inevitable as it’s too broad a statement to be meaningful.

As to the Functionalist idea that crime is beneficial for society – this is too generalised to be true, but it certainly seems to be the case that crime does indeed benefit some people more than others – maybe for that reason it is inevitable, after all, but it’s impossible to say with any certainty WHAT types of criminal and deviant act are inevitable.

Good question, cheers!

Final Thoughts

This isn’t a definitive answer, I just thought I’d have some fun with it!

Sources

The Functionalist view of Crime

The Marxist View of crime

The Labelling Theory of Crime

2022’s A-level Grades aren’t real, but then again they never were….

Unsurprisingly this year’s 2022 A-Level results are considerably worse than the previous two years with only 82.1% of entries gaining a grade C or above compared to 88.2% in 2021.

This is because this year’s results are based on students having sat actual exams rather than the results from 2021 and 2020 when the results were simply taken from what is euphemistically referred to as ‘Teacher Predicted Grades’, although maybe ‘Teacher Fantasy Grades’ would be a more accurate term.

The overall results haven’t slumped all the way back down to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, the last time students sat actual exams under normal conditions, but they are around half way back to where they were…

I want to say this ‘feels’ about right – it feels right that we are now back to half way between 2019 and the ‘fantasy grades’ of 2020-2021 which were gifted by teachers – and it feels right because students had ‘advanced information’ this year so that they knew some of the specific topics they would be tested on in their exams.

So it makes sense that the grades are better than the previous norm.

But one of the most interesting quotes surrounding this year’s results is from Dr Jo Saxton, the chief regulator of Ofqual….

To my mind this implies that Ofqual has simply set the grade boundaries for this year so that they fall midway between last year’s fantasy results and the last set of pre-pandemic results.

NB – this setting of grade boundaries is done AFTER all the papers have been marked in terms of number grades and the A* to E boundaries are stretched to broadly fit last year’s percentages, so in normal years we’re unlikely to see a radical spike or fall in the amount of any students getting certain grades.

And what they’ve done here seems to be pretty much the only thing they could have done to stop the whole exam system losing credibility – bring them crashing back down to 2019 levels and it makes the Teacher Predicted Grades into literal Teacher Fantasy Grades (which they are but us humans are quite good at kidding ourselves), keep them the same as last year and it makes a total mockery out of the pre-pandemic standards.

So they are left with a ‘staging year’ – bring the results 50% back down and then next year we’ll be back probably to within 1% of 2019 levels with ‘credibility restored’.

Do A-level Results lack validity..?

Well clearly YES, SOME of the teacher-given results from 2020 and 2022 are just false – they are NOT what some students would have achieved under regular exam conditions and the teachers and students probably knew this.

This year’s results have more validity than the previous two years because at least students sat some kind of test – in fact I’m inclined to say that maybe the 2022 results have MORE validity because students had an idea what was coming up – meaning they could be better prepared for the exams, rather than having to take a broad-based approach and revise EVERYTHING less thoroughly.

If we look at the last FOUR years of results taken together what they really lack is RELIABILITY – students not being assessed in the same way across any of the four years 2019-2022 means we can’t compare results fairly from across these four years.

But is this a problem….?

It most certainly is for universities who will currently have students on their courses who shouldn’t be because of TFGs – and I think this years’ cohort who just got their 2022 results will be negatively affected too as they are having to compete probably harder with a higher proportion of students with TFGs who would have deferred from last year.

And employers are going to have a mess with figuring out who the best candidates actually are because they can’t make accurate comparisons between 2019-2022 A-level graduates based on their grades which are measuring different things.

However let’s not forget that education has a value in itself, an intrinsic value and exam results are only a small factor, and in the grand scheme of things the important thing is that all of these students over the last four years would have learnt hopefully some useful knowledge, it’s only their paper results that are messed up, and that’s not the end of the world!

The relationship of the family to the social structure and social change

The pre-release information for the 2022 A-level sociology exam from the AQA selected the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change as the topic area that WILL come up for the 20 mark essay.

NB we are talking here about the Paper 2 exam: topics in sociology the families and households option, and this post is just a reminder of the core content that comes within this sub-topic!

What is the social structure?

The idea of a social structure is most commonly associated with the two classic sociological perspectives Funtionalism and Marxism:

  • Functionalists argue that society is structured through institutions which all perform specific functions, all working together to maintain the whole system of society – like organs in a body (the ‘organic analogy’) – the family is seen as playing a crucial role in (obviously?) the reproduction of the next generation.
  • Marxists see the social structure as being organised along social class lines – with the bourgeoisie exercising control over the major institutions of society
  • Feminism has a more complex view of the social structure whether you’re talking about Liberal, Marxist or Radical.
  • Postmodernists and Late Modernists suggest the social structure which Marxists and Functionalists refer too is much more fluid than it used to be and that it constrains the individual much less today than in the late 19th and mid 20th centuries when Marxists and Functionalists did most of their writing.

Recent social changes you might consider….

The social changes associated with the shift from modernity to postmodernity are what you could address, such as:

  • Globalisation
  • The breakdown/ increasing fluidity of social structure
  • More individual freedom and choice

The relationship of the family to the social structure

The ‘classic’ approach to this topic is to address it through the main sociological perspectives, and if you know what the different perspectives think about the family and social structure, you SHOULD automatically be addressing social change at the same time, as the two are fundamentally related.

The rest of this post offers a brief summary of what the main sociological perspectives have to say on this topic.

for further details and especially evaluations be sure to check out the linked posts below!

The Functionalist view on the family and social structure

Talcot Parsons developed the Functional Fit Theory to explain how the main type of family changed from the extended family to the nuclear family with the shift from pre-industrial to industrial society.

He argued that the nuclear family better fitted the needs of an industrial society because it was smaller and more mobile, and the changes with industrialisation meant that families needed to be able to move around more easily.

He also argued that the family in industrial society had to perform fewer functions than in industrial society because other institutions developed to perform functions more efficiently than the old extended family could – schools for education, for example.

The family in industrial society performs only two functions – the stabilisation of adult personalties (emotional security) and reproduction.

Find out more here: The Functionalist view of the family.

The Marxist view of the family and social structure

This stands in direct contrast to the Functionalist view – the nuclear family emerges with industrialisation, according to Engles, but only to legitimise the passing on of property down to the next generation – with Capitalism, there are now wealthy people and the family unit makes sure their new wealth stays in the family.

Before Capitalism Engles argued that families were a kind of ‘promiscuous hoard’ – when there was no property people cared for children collectively – it’s only when SOME families have property under capitalism that the nuclear family emerges.

Later Marxists suggest the nuclear family continues to perform functions for Capitalism by becoming a unit of consumption, for example.

Find out more: The Marxist Perspective on the Family.

The Radical Feminist view on the Nuclear Family

Radical Feminists see the nuclear family as the main institution which keeps Patriarchy going.

The traditional nuclear family and the ideology of the housewife role for women keeps women in the domestic sphere and out of the work place, preventing them from developing financial independence and limiting them to a caring role and a life of dull-drudgery.

Moreover, women are effectively exploited with the nuclear family, and far from the family being a safe haven, domestic abuse within family life is a common, yet hidden feature of many relationships.

A core belief of radical feminism is that the nuclear family needs to be broken down and women are better off seeking alternative relationships.

Find out more: The Radical Feminist View of the Family.

Post and Late Modernism

Writing since the 1980s, Postmodernists argue that there is no such thing as a normal family anymore – rather, family diversity is now the norm – with there being more variety of families than ever before – as shown by the increase in single person households and single parent households for example.

For postmodernists, every aspect of family life is a choice – and hence we see people getting married and starting families later and divorce rates persistently high.

Late Modernists suggest it is not as simple as family life being all about choice – rather social life today makes holding down a relationship and having a stable family life more difficult – people still want these things, but busy working lives and constant distractions make family life much more difficult.

Find out More

This has been just a quick reminder post, be sure to check out the linked blog posts for further details.

Be sure to check out the New Right and Personal Life Perspective too!

Also, remember that the specific question you get asked could be either broad or very narrow, AND the 10 mark questions will probably be from other areas of the module!

Why has the Achievement Gap Between Private and State Schools Increased?

Possible explanations include less disruption to schooling, more parental pressure and higher prior attainment

Teachers in private schools awarded 70% of A-level entries A or A* grades in 2021, compared to just 45% for all exam entries across both state and private schools.

And the proportion of top grades awarded to candidates from private schools increased at a faster rate than for state schools – the A/ A* rate rose by 9% in 2021 compared to 2020 in private schools, but only by 6% elsewhere.

Why have private school candidates improved at a faster rate than state school candidates?

This article from The Guardian suggests that there are three possible reasons for the rapid improvement of private school pupils.

  • Private school students’ learning may have been less disrupted by school closures and forced isolation for individual students than was the case with state schools – private schools generally have smaller class sizes than state schools and so it would be easier for teachers to manage online learning and classroom learning at the same time.
  • Middle class parents may have been better able to home-school their children during school closures due to their higher levels of cultural capital.
  • Teachers in private schools may have been under more pressure from paying parents to inflate their children’s grades – this may not even be conscious, but parents are paying for a service, and if the teachers don’t deliver when they have the opportunity to do so (when THEY determine the grades, not the examiners), this could make the parents question what they are spending their money on?!?
  • The difference might also be due to the higher prior levels of learning among privately schooled students – state school students simply may have got further behind because of year 1 of disruption the year before, and this is an accumulative affect.

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This update has clear links to the sociology of education, especially the topic on social class and educational achievement, fitting in quite nicely as supporting evidence for how material and cultural capital advantages students from wealthier backgrounds.

It should also be of interest to any state school student who generally likes to feel enraged by social injustice.

The 2021 A-Level ‘Teacher Awarded Grades’ – Incomparable with 2019’s but more Valid?

Nearly double the amount of students received top grades in 2021 compared to 2019:

While a politician might try to convince you these two sets of results are measuring the same thing, it’s obvious to anyone that they are not.

The 2021 results are ‘Teacher Awarded Grades’, they are not the same thing as the 2019 exam results (NB this doesn’t necessarily mean the 2021 results are ‘worse’ or ‘less valid’ than 2019s, it might be the the former and all previous years’ results which lacked validity).

The 2019 results measured the actual performance of students under exam conditions, we can call those ‘exam results’.

The 2021 results were ‘teacher awarded grades’ based on some kind of in-house assessment, and marked in-house.

And this difference in assessment and marking procedures seems to be the most likely candidate which can explain the huge increase in top grades.

NB – this means there is no reliability between the results in 2020 and 2021 and all previous results, there is a ‘reliability break’ if you like, no comparison can be made because of this.

This is quite a nice example of that key research methods concept of (lack of) reliability.

The 2019 exam procedure

The 2019 results measured what students actually achieved in standardised A-level examinations –

  1. ALL students sat the same set of exams prepared by an exam-board at the same time and under broadly similar conditions.
  2. It is guaranteed that students would have sat these exams blind.
  3. All exam work was assessed independently by professional examiners
  4. The work was moderated by ‘team leaders’.

What this means is that you’ve got students all over England and Wales being subjected to standardised procedures, everyone assessed in the same way.

The 2021 Teacher Awarded Grade procedure

  1. Schools and teachers set their own series of in-house assessments, no standardisation across centres.
  2. There is no guarantee about how blind these assessments were or any knowledge about the conditions, no standardisation across centres.
  3. Teachers marked their own in-house assessments themselves – in small centres (private schools) this may well have been literally by the same teacher as taught the students, in larger centres more likely the marking was shared across several teachers in the same department, but not necessarily, we don’t know.
  4. There was no external moderation of teacher assessed work, at least not in the case of regular exam based A-levels.

You have to be a politician to be able claim the above two procedures are in the remotest bit compatible!

They are clearly so different that you can’t compare 2019’s results with 2021s, there’s been a radical shift in the means of the assessment, this is a socially constructed process of grade-inflation.

So which is the more valid set of results – 2019s or 2021s?

IF the purpose of grades is to give an indication of student’s ability in a subject then maybe this years results are more valid than 2019s?

I’m no fan of formal examinations, and the one big advantage of 2021 is that there were none, allowing more time for teaching and learning, and less time worrying about exam technique, and probably a lot less stress all round. (the later not the case in 2020).

This year’s assessment procedures would probably have been more natural (had more ecological validity) than a formal examination – it’s hard to get more artificial than an exam after all.

And of course the students are the big winners, more of them have higher grades, and no doubt those that have them are chuffed – and Ive nothing against more young people having something good happen to them, lord knows they have enough problems in their lives now and going forwards as it is!

The problem with the 2021 model is the lack of objectivity and standardisation – we simply don’t know which of those students would have actually got an A or A* under standardised conditions – certainly not all of them, so possibly we don’t know who is the best at exams.

But does the later matter? Do we really need to know who is marginally better at performing under the artificiality of exams anyway?

When it comes the job market further down the line, it’s unlikely that A-level exam performance will have that much baring on someone’s ability to do a job, so maybe it’s better that more students won’t have a string of Cs held against them as would have been the case for the 2019 and previous cohorts.

And someone’s ability to do a job can be determined with a rigorous interview procedure, after all.

The difficult decision is going to be what we do with next year’s results, assuming that exams are re-instated – IF the class of 2022 come out with a spread of results similar to 2019 rather than 2021, that doesn’t seem like a fair outcome to me.

Find out More

The Education Policy Institute has an objective analysis of the 2021 A-level results.

A-level Sociology Students -same study patterns during lockdown?

Here’s some interesting insight into the study patterns of students and how Lockdown doesn’t seem to be having any affect at all so far this year……

Here’s my blog hits since August 2020….

NB – despite an increase in traffic this year (which is nice) the pattern you see below has been exactly the same for the last few years….

There is a dip in August, over the summer holiday, but a slow build up in early September – I guess as schools but not colleges start earlier, and then we have a stable weekly trend from September through to mid December, except for a dip when half term week comes – NB there is always a slow down on that last week before half term too.

There’s a significant dip during the XMAS holidays, but that’s to be expected, and then straight back up into January, and not how the half term dip repeats itself.

The final pink line is this week’s already only up to Tuesday, so looks like a bumper week – probably teachers threatening tests on the return in a couple of weeks.

Here’s the daily trend for the last month – you can see the weekend tail off too, every week, and then the half term dip at the end, and finally Monday – first day back after half term.

There will be some differences later this year I think….

There’s no formal exams, probably to be replaced by in house tests which will be earlier than the usual exams I imagine, so I’m not anticipating the usual May-June insane peak in views, I imagine it will be less intense and more spread out as the dates of tests will vary slightly from institution to instiution.

Still, up until now, students are very much creatures of habit. Perhaps Positivists had a point? People really are predictable!

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‘GCSEs and A-Levels scrapped’ – but I wouldn’t relax just yet!

So on Wednesday the government announced that exams in England and Wales are to be scrapped in favour of ‘assessed grades’.

But does this may not necessarily mean you’ll be able to chillax for the next 6 months!

Given that this government has a track record of being reactive rather than pro-active in responding to Covid-19 – lurching from one inadequate response to another and U-turning dramatically where education is concerned, I wouldn’t bet on GCSE and A-level grades just being put entirely in the hands of teachers just yet.

Sure, that’s the message, but I’d be amazed if this scenario doesn’t develop further over the next few weeks with the education department putting in place some kind of centralised dictate that all schools and colleges must subject their students to some kind of controlled assessment which are basically just like the regular GCSEs and A-levels.

And the nature of the assessment will be set centrally, by the exam boards, who otherwise will just be laying around idle for another year (no exams means nothing to do) – I mean presumably if the government are paying these boards’ wages surely they’re going to get them to bodge something together in the next few weeks.

There will probably be some degree of flexibility over when students can sit said assessments, and probably some kind of sampling and standardisation procedure put in place, but I can’t imagine that the department for education is just going to ‘let schools get on with it’.

I mean, they haven’t done that with lockdown in general, why on earth are they going to give schools an easier-ride now and ‘trust teachers’, they only did that last year under an extreme public backlash, so it’s highly unlikely they’re just going to allow teachers the freedom to just ‘carry on and teach and assess’ as they see fit all the way through to June!

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….

‘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!

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