Are Tory funding cuts to blame for school closures?

Yes. The data clearly suggests a very strong correlation between Tory underfunding of schools closing because of unsafe crumbling concrete.

The Tories have had the money to spend on making school building safe. Instead they have chosen to spend the money of new free schools. This appears to have been a political decision to please mainly middle class parents.

Of course the Tories, and especially Rishi Sunak say they are not to blame. However in this case they appear to be just plain lying. The data suggest the opposite: that Tory education policy has failed leading to mass school closures. This was totally preventable.

Unsafe schools closing due to crumbling concrete

More than 100 schools are fully or partially closed this September 2023 due to crumbling concrete. The problem is that some of the buildings in these schools were built in the 1950s using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC). This concrete is now passed its use by date and is crumbling.

Back in 2018 a ceiling collapsed in a staffroom made from this concrete. Had people been in the room at the time it could have killed someone. This prompted a review of the safety of school buildings. In 2020 a senior education civil servant at the time advised improving 200 schools a year. However the now Prime Minister, then chancellor Rishi Sunak made the decision to only improve 50 schools a year.

The DFE’s own data shows the Torys have been chronically underfunding schools. It was estimated in 2021 that £5 billion would be needed for capital investment in schools. However only £3 billion was allocated.

Compared to the previous New Labour government the Tories have spent one third less on education investment during their time in power.

The data above is taken from this BBC News Article which is worth a watch to summarise this issue!

The Tories: putting the middle classes first?

Instead of choosing to make existing schools safe the Tories have instead chosen to spend almost £1 billion buying land for new Free Schools. Almost half of these have created spare capacity in already existing schools in local areas.

One interpretation of the above is as follows:

Tory education policy and funding has prioritised pleasing middle class parents. (These are typically the people who benefit from free schools). This has been at the expense of pupils attending schools with crumbling concrete.

So the Torys are prepared to put (probably poorer) pupils at risk of injury and death. All so middle class pupils can have a slightly better quality of education in free schools.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is relevant to the education topic within A-level sociology.

This seems to be another failure of Tory education policy in recent years.

It is also a failure of neoliberalism. Funding cuts are a big part of neoliberal policy. In this case they have resulted in school closures. This is backward social development.

Why is there an increase in non-UK university students?

mainly it is all about the money!

The number of university places taken up by non-UK students is increasing much faster than for UK students.

If we go back to the university year ending 2019 and compare this to 2022 we find the following:

  • The number of non-UK student enrolments increased by 37% between 2019 to 2022.
  • The number of UK student enrolments increased by only 11% over the same period.

Overall there were approximately 400 000 more enrolments in 2022 compared to 2019. Around 40% of these went to non-UK students.

Domicile20192022Raw increasePercent increase
Total UK1,960,3202,182,560222,24011.34
Total Non-UK496,110679,970183,86037.06
Non-UK enrolments increasing much faster than UK enrolments.

(Source: HESA stats)

If we put this in a graph we see the increase is faster for non-UK students:

graph showing increase in non UK HE students

If we do a dual axis scale (Non-UK on the right) the faster increase of non-UK students is clearer:

increase in non-UK students dual axis grapht

One quarter of Russel Group University places now go to foreign students. HALF of UCL and LSE places go to foreign students.

The top two countries where non-UK students come from are China, followed by India. Together these account for around 30% of non-UK student enrolments

Around 80% of non-UK students are now from outside the EU, with EU applications and enrolments having fallen since Brexit.

More pain for UK university applicants

If this trend towards universities taking proportionally more non-UK continues it means relatively fewer places for UK students.

It means even more competition in a year when A-level results have gone back down to 2019 levels.

Why are there more foreign students…?

Mainly it is all about the money. UK universities charge higher fees for foreign students. While UK students typically pay around £10 000 per year, the fees for foreign students can be four times that amount for some courses!

This is also a global success story. There is a growing middle class in China and India hence increasing demand for UK university places.

From a neoliberal perspective this is how a global market should work. British universities are some of the best in the world, and in a global free market they are free to sell those services to anyone.

There’s also the fact that universities need the extra income from foreign students to provide a better service. British students will also benefit from this.

And there is nothing stopping British students from applying to universities abroad, either. (Well, other than the fact that most of them can only speak English).

So maybe our default reaction shouldn’t be to whinge about this!?! It is just globalisation as usual, after all!

Having said that, one potential downside to this is that it’s poorer students who are going to lose out the most. As Britain’s best universities become increasingly dominated by a global middle class. It is likely that the poor working class British students are those who wil struggle to secure places!

Sources/ Find out more

The Daily Mail: Middle Class Students Face Losing Out on Places

This material is relevant to the education module within A-level sociology.

Persistent Absences in Schools have more than Doubled since pre-Covid

The overall absence rate for schools in the Autumn term of 2022-2023 was 7.5%. This was an increase from the previous term and from the pre-covid absence rate of just under 5%.

increasing absences in UK schools graph

In the Autumn term of 2022/2023, the persistence absence rate was 24.2%, compared to just 11.6% in 2016/17. This means 24.2% of pupils missed 10% or more of their lessons, with illness being the main reason.

increase in persistent absence UK schools

Why are school absence rates higher?

There are several possible reasons including:

  • higher rates of illness, including the persistence of covid
  • poor mental health
  • The cost of living crises
  • more parents working from home
  • A new norm of ‘hybrid schooling’…?

Higher rates of illness

Illness is the main reason for absence provided, and there have been relatively high numbers of flu cases and of course Covid is still around.

However, ‘illness’ is the standard excuse parents will use. There may be deeper reasons, which I think are the main cause.

Poor mental health

The Children Society’s Good Childhood Report of 2022 reported that children today are 50% more likely to have mental health problems compared to three years ago.

Unhappy and anxious children are more likely to want to avoid going to school!

This correlates perfectly with the increase in persistent absence, and is certainly something worth exploring further.

The Cost of Living Crisis

According to Joseph Rowntree, it is the poorest 20% of households that are suffering the most from increasing inflation, with many of them struggling to pay the bills and feed their children.

Poverty means poor diets and colder homes, which could feed into higher illness rates and higher absence rates, it could also mean inability to pay for the hidden costs of education such as school uniforms and stationary which could lead to absences due to a sense of shame.

More parents working from home

Hybrid working is increasingly common post-covid, and now that one parent is more likely to be home one or more days of the week, they are more able to look after children who are sick or ‘sick’.

A new norm of hybrid education?

Following covid and children having had time of school, some parents may simply not see the need for their children to be in school 5 days a week.

To my mind this makes sense. Many parents feel the benefits of being home 2-3 days a week and in the office for the rest of the week, they may feel their children could benefit from a similar pattern, especially because schools are now set-up to provide extra support for absent children following Covid.

This final point would be worth researching.


This material is mainly relevant to the education module within A-level sociology.

Pupil Absence in Schools.

Why are black students less likely to get first class degrees?

Differences in type of university, degree choice, prior attainment and institutional racism are all possible explanations.

In 2020/21 85.9% of white students were awarded a first or 2:1 degree compared to only 67.4% of black students.

This means there is an 18.5% attainment gap between black and white students at university level.

There is also a smaller attainment gap between all BAME students and white students, of 8.9%, but the most significant gap is between white and black students.

Why are black students less likely to get firsts?

Possible explanations include:

  1. They are less likely to attend Russel Group universities
  2. They are less likely to subjects with higher rates of first class degree awarded
  3. They have lower prior A-level attainment
  4. Institutional Racism.

Russel Group Universities and Ethnicity

It could be that black students are less likely to go to Russel Group universities which get better results, but this is not the case: equal numbers of black and white students attend Russel Group Universities.

Does subject choice make a difference?

There is a significant difference in class of degree awarded by subject and it might be the case that black students are less likely to study subjects which have a high rate of first class degrees awarded.

Below are the degree subjects which are most likely to be awarded a first: Almost 43% of medicine and dentistry degrees get a first compared to only 17% of law degrees, which is a huge difference (3).

If black students are more likely to do subjects like law and less likely to do subjects like medicine this could explain why they are also less likely to get first class degrees.

However, while it is true that black students are more likely to do Law than veterinary sciences, according to Universities UK (4) the differences in attainment by ethnicity within these subjects.

A level grades

It could be that black students go into university with lower A-level results which are correlated with lower level degree results.

However, black students underachieve compared to white students no matter what prior attainment they have as the chart (5) below shows.

Could it be institutional racism?

This is the explanation favoured by Universities UK (4) who use the term ‘ degree awarding gap’ rather than ‘degree attainment gap’ in their reports to reflect the fact that the gap is caused by institutional racism or inaction, rather than individual BAME students.

They conducted research in 2019, followed up in 2022 using a range of quantitative analysis and more qualitative interviews to research the experiences of BAME students.

The main piece of quantitative evidence to back up the theory that universities are institutionally racist is the underrepresentation of black staff members, with only 2.5% of university staff being black.

In a recent Guardian article (2) one graduate claims that black students are not listened to by universities, saying that she was warned that she would find it difficult if she did a PhD as a black female students because of racism, effectively being put off from pursing this career path.

More broadly the article suggests that black students do not feel at home in university and so are less likely to strive for higher level degrees.


This material is primarily relevant to the education module within A-level sociology.

To return to the homepage –


(1) UK Parliament, House of Commons Library (January 2023) Equality of Access and Outcomes in Higher Education in England

(2) The Guardian (May 2019) As a black student I know why our grades are worse.

(3) It’s Official: The Degree Subjects Most Likely to get you a First.

(4) Universities UK (2022) Closing the Gap: Three Years On.

(5) The original report (2019) from Universities UK on closing the gap.

U.K. Degrees and Grade-Inflation

Why are so many U.K. students being awarded first-class degrees?

Almost 38% of U.K. students were awarded first-class honours degrees in 2021, compared to only 15.7% in 2011.

Some of this increase is due to universities awarding more generous degrees during the Covid-19 Pandemic, which mirrors what happened with the over-grading at GCSE and A-level:

However, we can also see from the above chart that this grade inflation has been increasingly steadily nearly every year since 2010-11.

According to REFORM (2) there is also a longer term trend in degree level grade-inflation: In the mid 1990s only 7% of degrees were awarded a first-class honours.

Why are more students being awarded first-class degrees?

It is highly unlikely that the type of students who enter university today are twice as capable of achieving a first-class degree than those students who entered university a decade ago.

Or put another way there aren’t twice as many super-intelligent or super-degree-exam trained students today compared to back in 2013.

Some recent statistical analysis (1) by the Office for Students backs this up: they found that over half of the increase in degree-grades cannot be accounted for by factors such as changes in provider, geographical area, subject, entry qualifications, age, disability, ethnicity, or sex.

Why is there grade-inflation?

Three possible reasons include:

  1. Universities are grading more leniently.
  2. Universities are trying to close the achievement gap
  3. The pressures of marketisation?

Universities grade more leniently today

Analysis by REFORM (2) suggests that universities are getting more lenient in awarding grades. In other words, they are awarding higher grades for lower standards of work.

This is (according to REFORM) happening in two ways:

Universities have changed the algorithms they use to translate raw marks into degree grades, one specific change mentioned is that they are now more lenient towards borderline students: if you’ve got 68% overall you’re now more likely to be tipped over into a first-class honours degree than you would have been ten years ago.

University staff have also come under pressure to mark more leniently, with several staff publicly complaining over the years about the lowering of standards.

Closing the achievement gap

Maybe one upside of grade inflation is that we find that students with worse A-levels are gradually achieving BETTER grades of degrees over time. For example, in 2011 only 40% of students who achieved three Ds at A-level achieved a first or 2.1 degree, by 2021 this figure was 80%.

This is in part how universities justify grade inflation: that it helps them close their disadvantage gap, as it tends to be students from lower income backgrounds who enter with worse A-levels, and we can see from the above chart that the achievement gap has narrowed over time.

The pressures of marketisation?

Students now pay £9000 a year in tuition fees, they didn’t in the mid 1990s.

This may help explain why 38% of students now get firsts compared to only 7% in the mid 1990s.

This could be because of either or both students working harder because they are paying or universities gradually shifting to give students what they are paying for, which is a decent degree at the end of the day!

The problems with grade inflation

While individual students who get a first class degree may feel best-chuffed, when 38% of them are getting the same, the degree is worth less: so many students now get them it is almost like just a standard degree and there is more competition going into the labour market.

And there are question marks over the validity of today’s degrees. If I was en employer and had two candidates for a job: a 2022 graduate with a first-class degree and a 2012 graduate with a 2.1, I would be thinking those degrees are really the same class, just graded at different standards.

In global terms grade inflation reduces the credibility of UK Higher Education market.

Signposting and related posts

This material is relevant to the education module, although not necessarily of direct relevance to A-level sociology this should be of interest to recent graduates: if you have a first-class degree then your prospective employers may well be suspicious of its validity, so don’t rest on your laurels!

To return to the homepage –


(1) Office for Students (2022) Analysis of Degree Classifications Over Time: Changes in Graduate Attainment from 2010-11 to 2020-21.

(2) Reform (2018) A degree of Uncertainty: An Investigation into Grade Inflation in Universities.

Gender inequality at work

A lot of research evidence suggests tech companies and academia are biased against women.

There are number of quantitative and qualitative research studies which show that recruitment and employment practices are biased against women, despite the fact that employers claim to be meritocratic.

In this post I focus on gender bias in tech companies and academia.

Sexism in tech companies

The tech industry is the peak of gender bias in employment, with only 25% of tech company founders saying they weren’t interested in diversity or work-life balance at all, which severely disadvantages women because they are more likely to be have higher loads of domestic responsibilities.

An analysis of 248 performance reviews from a variety of tech companies found that women are a lot more likely to receive negative personality criticism than men.

Women were called bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional and irrational, and usually told to watch their tone and step back. For the most part men’s personality traits didn’t come up in these reviews, and on the rare occasions they did, they were criticised for not being aggressive enough.

Women make up only 25% of employees in the tech sector and 11% of its executives, and more than 40% of women leave tech companies after 10 years compared to only 17% of men, with women leaving mainly because of ‘workplace conditions’, ‘undermining behaviour from managers’ and ‘a sense of feeling stalled in one’s career’.

One of the possible reasons for gender bias in tech is that the historic recruitment practices are based on male gender stereotypes: the ‘ideal type’ of person who would be good at coding as overwhelmingly male characteristics, so the recruiters think.

For example, any recruitment program involving multiple choice maths tests are male biased, and there is a historic network-bias towards men that helps them get tech jobs.

Historically antisocial people have been stereotypically seen as good coders, which automatically disadvantages women who historically tend to do more social and emotional labour.

Some tech firms also use social data to trace the interests of prospective applicants. In one example, a ‘preference for Manga’ was seen as solid predictor of someone having good coding skills, and it is mainly boys and men who look at Manga sites.

Research has also found that the stronger you believe in meritocracy, the more likely you are to act in a sexist way, which is a particular problem in the tech sector, because tech founders tend to have a very strong belief that they are super meritocratic. In reality, according to the research, they are not meritocratic.

Sexism in Academia

Female students and academics are significantly likely to receive funding or get jobs than men, and where mothers are seen as less competent, being a father can work in a man’s favour.

Studies have shown that double-blind peer-reviewing results in a higher proportion of female articles being accepted for publication, but most journals and conferences do not adopt this practice.

Men self-cite 70% more than women, and citations are a key metric in determining career progression, so this can perpetuate gender inequality in academia.

When it comes to teaching women are asked more often to do undervalued admin work and are more likely to be loaded with extra teaching hours which impacts their ability to do research and get published.

Teaching evaluation forms are biased against females to the extent that it is statistically significant. An analysis of 14 million reviews on ‘’ found that female professors are more likely to be dubbed as ‘mean’ ‘unfair’ or ‘annoying’ and they more likely to get glib and offensive comments about their appearance.

Female academics also have to do more emotion work than males, as students with emotional problems usually go to female staff not male for help.

There is also a catch 22 situation where women are penalised if they aren’t deemed sufficiently warm and accessible, but if they go too far this way they are criticised for not being authoritative and professional.

Two simple solutions

Firstly, companies need to sex-disaggregate available data to analyse the relative performance of men and women in companies, and then they’d probably find that men and women have equal performance.

Secondly, they need to have gender-blind recruitment practices as these have persistently shown that more women get hired when they are adopted.

The biggest barrier to more gender equality in the workplace is algorithmic recruitment programs which claim to be neutral but actually have a gender bias hard wired into them, as with combing social data.

Signposting and sources

This material is supporting evidence for the view that there is still gender inequality in society, and shows us that Feminism is still relevant today.

The material above was summarised from Perez (2019) Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.

Teaching and learning in schools and the educational experiences of minority ethnic groups

An answer for a 10 mark ‘analyse’ question in A-level sociology (AQA)

This question cam up in the recent 2021 AQA Education and Theory and Methods Exam, as a 10 mark, with item question.

In the 10 mark education question, you get an item which directs you to two specific issues you need to analyse, and it’s good practice to give equal weighting to both issues.

NB there are no marks for evaluating in these questions, it’s all analysis (in-depth logical explanation).

It’s crucial to draw the links between the ’cause’ and the ‘effect’ explicitly!

The question

Read Item A below and answer the question that follows.

Item A
Some sociologists claim that the curriculum taught in schools today prioritises some cultures over others. Research also suggests that teacher expectations can be based on stereotypes.

Teaching and learning in schools may affect the educational experiences of minority ethnic groups

Applying material from Item A, analyse two ways in which teaching and learning in schools may affect the educational experiences of minority ethnic groups. (10 marks)

Possible Answer

The two focuses from the item are:

  • the curriculum prioritising some cultures over others.
  • teacher expectations based on stereotypes

Because this is a question on ethnic minority groups, it makes sense to discuss both of these as they relate to a range of different minority groups, and treat both focuses separately.

The curriculum prioritizing some cultures over others

The school curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric, which means it focuses on the experiences the main ethnic group, which in British schools means white British and White Europeans. Examples of this include the school year and holidays being based around a Christian timetable, European languages being the main ones offered, and history having a white-European focus, looking at things from the perspective of the colonising powers rather than the colonised, for exampled.

This can have negative effects on minority ethnic groups: school calendars are not necessarily in sync with Hindu or Muslim festivals for example, so students may take time off to celebrate these, and notoriously Ramadan frequently coincides with the A-level exam period, meaning fasting Muslim students may underperform because of this ‘ethnocentric timetabling’.

Many schools have a huge proportion of ‘minority’ students who speak African, Asian or Middle Eastern languages and yet there is rarely an option to study these as part of language options, these students may not see the point in studying another European language when they are already bilingual and might even feel offended that their own languages are not taught more widely to the majority white students.

The Prevent Agenda, which is part of the formal curriculum has also been criticized for being biased against Muslim students, with Muslim children feeling as if they are being singled out and being watched as potential terrorist threats more so than white children, which can be alienating.

Teacher expectations based on stereotypes

David Gilborn (1990) famously claimed that teachers expect black boys to be more aggressive and so they are more likely to punish them for being disruptive in class compared to white children doing the same. This may explain the higher expulsion rates for black boys compared to white boys. For those who aren’t expelled it might create the experience of the feeling of injustice about why they are being treated unfairly which could lead to less trust in teachers and less willingness to try hard in school.

Gilborn also found that black children are less likely to be put into the top sets by teachers because teachers expect them to be less able to cope due to their having higher poverty and lone parent rates, this means there will more able black students in lower sets getting frustrated because they are not being pushed, and blocked from sitting higher tier exams.

Wright found that teachers expect Asian girls to be passive and so didn’t include them in class room discussions as much, with can lead to them feeling excluded.

Similarly, teachers tend to assume Chinese students will always do well, something which less keen Chinese students don’t enjoy very much!

Relevant posts

There is lots of good material relevant to this question in this post: ethnicity and differential achievement: in school factors.

The above question was taken from the AQA’s November 2021 A-Level Sociology Education with Theory and Methods Paper.

Setting and Streaming

teachers tend to place students into sets based on social class and ethnic stereotypes

Setting and streaming in education is where students are put into groups based on ability. The most academic students are placed in the top sets or streams and the least academic being placed in the bottom.

Grouping and teaching by ability allows for the more academic students to be taught faster and pushed harder, and for the less able students to be taught at a pace suitable for them and given the extra support they need.

However, this methods of organising teaching and learning has attracted criticism from interactionist researchers who have found that students tend to be put into sets and streams based on teacher stereotypes rather than their actual ability, so for example we tend to find more middle class children in the higher sets!

This topic is very closely related to the labelling theory of education. It is teachers labels that determine which ability group a students is put into.

Setting and Streaming: Definitions

  • Streaming is where students are grouped by ability for all or most of their subjects. So a student will be in the top set for ALL subjects, with the top set being the most academic and the bottom being the least.
  • Setting is where students are grouped by ability for particular subjects, so a student may in the top set for maths and the second set for English and so on.

Two related concepts are banding, which is effectively the same as streaming, and the phrase ‘tier teaching‘ is sometimes used which could refer to either setting or streaming.

The opposite of setting and streaming is mixed-ability teaching where students of different abilities are all taught together in the same class.

The consequences of setting and streaming

Setting and streaming has a long history in the British education system. Especially since Comprehensive education was introduced it has been extremely popular, and continues to this day.

Those in favour of teaching by differential ability groups claim that it allows for students to be taught at a level and pace appropriate to their abilities, so teachers can focus more on pushing the more academic students all in the top sets, while given appropriate support to those in the lower sets.

However, there is also research evidence that shows streaming

  • It denies equality of opportunity to those in the lower sets. They may not be entered for higher level exams as a result.
  • Placement into sets is often based on teacher stereotypes rather than ability. It tends to be the working classes, boys and ethnic minorities (especially Black boys) who get put into lower sets.
  • Being placed in the lower sets can produced anti-school attitudes in those students placed in them.
  • Streaming and setting thus reproduce social class, gender and ethnic inequalities in educatinal achievement.
  • It reduces school cohesion and togetherness.

Two pieces of research highlight the problems above:

Social class and streaming

Stephen Ball (1981) conducted a classic study of banding in Beachside Comprehensive school. Banding is essentially the same as streaming.

Students at the school were placed into one of three ability bands when they first came to the school based on information provided by their primary schools.

While the bands were supposedly based on ability, Ball found that other criteria such as social class background determined what bands pupils were placed in. Pupils of similar abilities were more likely to be placed in the top band if they were from non-manual, middle class backgrounds.

When pupils first entered the school they were all eager to learn and co-operative with teachers, but over time differences in attitudes to learning and behaviour emerged dependent on which bands the students had been put into by teachers.

Teachers expected those in band one, the most academic group, to do well in school, and these maintained their enthusiastic pro-school attitude.

Those in band three were viewed by teachers as the last able and expected to have learning disabilities and not progress much, most of these were not a problem either.

Band two was viewed as the band where pupils might display behavioural problems, and this was indeed the case. Pupils in this band were the most likely to develop anti-school attitudes which manifested as putting less effort into homework, messing around in class, and higher rates of absenteeism.

Teachers also had different approaches to teaching the different bands

  • Pupils in band one were ‘warmed up’: they were pushed harder, and directed towards doing the more academic subjects and more difficult O-level exams.
  • Pupils in band two were ‘cooled down’: they were directed to doing the easier CSE exams and more practical subjects such as woodwork.

The conclusion of this study is that teachers label students based on their class background, and lower class students are more likely to placed in lower sets and achieve lower grades in school, and vice-versa for middle class students. Hence teacher labelling helps to reproduce social class inequalities in educational achievement.

Setting and streaming in primary schools

Hallam et al (2004) explored pupil perceptions of ability grouping in primary schools.

They conducted interviews with six pupils of high, moderate or low ability in every key stage two class in six primary schools some of which taught in mixed ability groups and some organised teaching through streaming and setting.

  • Social-adjustment, social attitudes and attitudes towards peers of different ability were ‘healthier’ among children in non-streamed schools.
  • The more streams there were, the more negative the attitudes of those in the lower streams were.
  • Pupils of below average ability who were taught by teachers who believed in streaming could become friendless or neglected by others.
  • In reading most students wanted to be in the top set because it gave them a sense of superiority. Most pupils, except those in the top groups, preferred either whole class activities or individual work because they didn’t want to feel left out.

The authors concluded that streaming can play a major role in polarising anti-school attitudes among students placed in the lower streams, and mixed ability teaching overall was the preferred choice among students, except for those in the top sets or streams!

Setting and GCSEs

Some schools organise the teaching of GCSEs in different tiers. Students in the top tiers will be entered for regular GCSE exams and so they have a chance of getting the top grades, but students in the bottom, or foundation tiers will be entered for a lower level of GCSE where the maximum grade they can achieve is a C grade.

Gilborn and Youdell (2001) conducted research in two secondary schools in London and found that teachers were less likely to place working class and Black students into the top GCSE tiers even when they had been achieving similar grades in previous years to middle class and non Black students.

Thus teachers were stereotyping these students and denying them the opportunity to achieve the highest GCSE grades.

Advantages of mixed-ability teaching

Given all of the above you might want to consider whether mixed-ability teaching is best, it does seem to have several advantages over teaching based on ability groups…..

  • There will probably be a broader socio-cultural mix of students (especially if teachers label based on racist and class stereotypes) which may help foster consensus in society.
  • It gives lower ability students more exposure to higher ability students which could help them progress faster.
  • It recognises that ability isn’t fixed and students can ‘spurt’ at any time in the year, rather than them being stuck in the wrong set for their ability for a year or more.
  • Teachers can still differentiate by ability within a mixed-ability class by setting ‘stretch and challenge’ activities.

This material is mainly relevant to the education topic, a compulsory aspect of the AQA’s first year A-level sociology.

To return to the homepage –


Gilborn and Youdell (2000) Rationing Education: Policy, Practice, Reform and Equity

Ball, S. (1981) Beachside Comprehensive: A Study of Secondary Schooling. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Why do Males and Females Choose Different Subjects?

parental and teacher stereotypes combine to reinforce gendered subject images!

Despite gender becoming more fluid in recent decades, students continue to choose subjects aligned to stereotypical, traditional male and female gender identities.

While it is true that subject choice is becoming gradually less gendered, gender stereotypical subject choices are still apparent when we look at the statistics in the 2020s.

For example, 95% of candidates studying Health and Social Care BTEC are female while Computer Science and Engineering are dominated by males.

For a more in-depth dive into gendered subject choices at different levels of education in 2022 please see my post on gender and subject choice.

Explaining gendered differences in subject choice

There are three broad explanations for why boys and girls continue to choose gender stereotypical subjects:

  • factors external to the school such as socialisation in the family home and peer group pressure.
  • In school factors such as the gender of the teachers teaching certain subjects and gender stereotypes held by teachers.
  • Ingrained gendered subject images which is a result of home and school factors.

Socialisation and gendered subject choice

Some research suggests that the gender stereotypes of parents still influence what toys boys and girls and play with, with some parents believing that certain types of toys are only really suitable for boys and girls.

Girls being steered into playing with dolls from an early age may influence their choice to study health and social care later on as teenagers, with its focus on child care.

Similarly, boys being steered towards toy tools and trucks may result in a higher proportion of them choosing to study engineering at university.

More generally, socialisation differences may result in different levels of self-confidence for boys and girls.

The results of laboratory experiments also suggest that men are more likely to enter competitive arenas than women because of higher levels of confidence (Gneezy et al., 2003; Niederle and Vesterlund, 2007).

Colley (1998) found that peer groups often subscribe to gender stereotypes and may encourage girls to choose more traditionally feminine subjects at GCSE and vice-versa for boys.

Teacher Labelling and gendered subject choice

Traditional beliefs about masculinity and femininity may still be held by teachers, lecturers and careers advisors, especially in mixed schools.

Some contemporary sociological research suggests that teachers’ gender stereotypes result in girls being less likely to choose STEM-related choices within high school and beyond ((Lavy and Sand, 2018; Lavy and Meglokonomou, 2019; Terrier, 2020).

There is a gender divide based on the subjects taught by men. Male teachers are more likely to specialise in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and PE, whereas women are more likely to teach humanities and languages. A lack of educational role models in STEM and PE can put some girls off taking these subjects. The effect is particularly visible among teenage girls who feel that male PE teachers cannot understand their needs properly (Gender Trust).

The fact that subjects in secondary schools such as English are more likely to be taught by women, and girls may feel more drawn to such subjects because they prefer the discursive style of female teachers. Similarly, subjects which boys are more likely to choose at GCSE and A-level, such as computing and physics, are more likely to be taught my males lower down in secondary schools, and boys might be more drawn to these subjects because of the more matter of fact way they are taught by male teachers.

Colley (1998) notes that girls in single-sex schools are twice as likely to study maths at university. This could be because the cultural pressures to not study maths are less likely to exist in single sex schools

Gendered Subject Images

The combination of external and internal factors above results in subjects becoming gendered: they develop an identity as essentially male or female.

This makes it harder for boys to choose ‘female’ subjects and girls to choose ‘male’ subjects.

Colley believes that the gender-identity of subjects may well shift with curriculum changes. For example the introduction of more technology into music is correlated with more boys choosing to study it.

Conclusions: Why do gendered differences in subject choice persist…?

Boys are more likely to choose traditionally male subjects and vice versa for girls as a combination of home and school factors such as gender stereotyping held by parents and teachers, which affects boys and girls self-concepts which are in turn reinforced by peers.

In a review of the literature Skelton et al (2007) noted that ‘gender stereotyping’ and ‘differential constructions of gender among pupils and teachers’ are probably the most significant factors in explaining gendered differences in subject choice.

It is very difficult to pinpoint one main causal variable for gendered differences in subject choice, the reasons are due to a multitude of factors.


This material has been written primarily for students studying the education option as part of their A-level in sociology.

Free School Meals for All London Pupils

All primary pupils in London schools are going to get Free School Meals from September 2023 according to an announcement from the Mayor of London on Monday.

This new policy will cost £130 million, save the average family £440 a year and benefit around 270 000 children.

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme (20/02/2023) Henry Dimbleby, former head of the government’s national food strategy, explained the benefits of universal free school meals and the ideological barriers which have prevented this policy being enacted at a national level.

Trials had been done under the Labour government way back in 2013 in some local authorities including Newham, Durham and Islington which revealed that providing universal free school meals to all pupils significantly improved the academic performance of children who had previously been on free school meals, but the the performance of ALL children improved.

Those who had previously been on free school meals saw the most academic improvement, one theory for this change being that when ALL pupils can access free school meals it changes the culture of the school, removing the stigma of poverty at mealtimes and thus makes poorer students feel more included.

What about the rich kids who don’t need free school meals?

All children already benefit from free education which includes access a whole range of other material resources such as text books, so adding on free school meals isn’t that big a deal!

There is also evidence that all children benefit from this policy and it closes the inequality gap: A more recent study from Sweden showed that the introduction of universal free school meals improved the lifetime income of poorer students by 6% and the richest people’s only rose by 2%

The biggest drag on our economy is long term sickness, and the biggest cause of this is poor diet.

Why don’t we have free school meals in England?

According to Henry Dimbleby the current Tory government are ideologically opposed to universal benefits and this is the main reason we do not have free school meals for every child in England and Wales.

Both Nick Clegg and Michael Gove were in favour of universal free school meals when we had a coalition government, but since then neoliberal ideology means the government isn’t prepared to find the money to care for the poorest children in society.


This material is relevant to the compulsory education aspect of the AQA’s first year of A-level sociology.

It is especially relevant to the topic of social class differences and education, as universal free school meals seem to be one of the most effective policies which can reducing the effects of material deprivation on educational achievement.

It is also a reminder of the continued harms of neoliberal education policy.

Sources/ Find out More

The Guardian (20/02/2023) London to offer free school meals to all primary pupils for a year.

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