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Sociological perspectives on the role and functions of education in society; the significance of in-school processes such as teacher labelling and subcultures for pupil identities; explanations for differences in educational achievement by social class, gender and ethnicity; the impact of education policies of marketization, selection and privatisation, and the globalization of education
The technique to answering such a question is to think of it in terms of 3 lots of 1 + 1 – you need 3 identifiers and then three developments
Teacher’s sexist ideas channeling girls into ‘girls subjects’
Science taught in a male way using male examples (engines), put girls off
Biological differences. Girls better at communication, not much discussion in science subjects
Differential parental encouragement
Boys more likely to play with technical toys
Fewer girls in text books
Fewer female science teachers
Boys dominate classroom by dominating practical equipment
Three identifiers plus three explanations/ developments…
(ID) Teachers may have stereotypical ideas that girls would struggle in male dominated subjects such as physics, (EX) and they may try and put them off, steering them towards other, more traditionally feminine subjects such as English, meaning fewer girls end up doing science subjects.
(ID) Science subjects are often taught using masculine examples – for example, physics text books might use cars to illustrate the laws of motion. (EX) This might put girls off doing physics because they have no interest in the masculine examples used to teach these subjects.
(ID) Girls are more likely to be socialised into discussing their feelings, (EX) and thus they might be more likely to choose subjects such as history and English where you need to discuss things more, rather than sciences where there is less discussion and ‘one right answer’.
For more examples of exam practice questions, please see links on my ‘exams page‘!
Education funding per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2009-10, which is the biggest cuts to education in three decades.
You can clearly see from the chart below (produced by the IFS and annotated by me how a dramatic increase in funding followed New Labour coming to power in 1997, and then a corresponding decrease in funding followed The Tories coming to power in 2010.
According to a recent editorial in The Observer these cuts are doing real harm to children’s education, with some schools having resorted to the following to make up for the funding gap:
putting wish lists on Amazon to get parents to help buy stationary items.
some headmasters are doubling up as cleaners and/ or minibus drivers.
some schools are finishing early one day a week. In Birmingham primary schools now finish at lunch time, for example.
At the same time funding cuts have also reduced children’s services more generally, so schools and children themselves will find it harder to access the services they need.
But is this just a moral panic?
As you can see from the chart above, funding levels are still way above what they were when New Labour came to power, still a massive 30% higher than when I was at school, and most of my generation turned out OK, so are these cuts really going to have that much of a negative effect on children?
And let’s face it, who doesn’t like early doors Friday: it’s just what they need to prepare them for a job in the city!
Most of these schools are part of a ‘multi academy trust’, and once a school joins one of these trusts, then it no longer exists as a legal and financial entity in its own right – it is wholly ‘incorporated’ by the Trust.
In terms of standards and results, this is generally advantageous when a Trust is performing well, but when a chain performs badly, individual schools are now just stuck with that trust, with no way out, no means of lifting themselves out of the situation. There’s an interesting Observer article about this here.
There is some case study evidence that suggests some academy trusts are fraudulently claiming money from the government for school improvement works, and then spending considerably less. One example of this is the Bright Side Academy Trust which runs 10 schools in England: it claimed £556 000 to demolish and rebuild some unstable sports hall walls in one school, but then simply installed some steel supports to the existing walls at a cost of £60, 000.
And what can the individual school in these trusts do about their dire situation? Absolutely nothing. They are basically ‘stuck suffering in the chain’.
This is a feature of the new education landscape I hadn’t really considered before: the possibility of there being ‘batches’ of schools in one trust that end up sinking to the bottom together in certain areas of the country.
Was it ever realistic to expect the academy model to improve failing schools anyway?
The flagship early academies, most notably Mossbourne Academy, was a huge success, getting excellent results with some of the most disadvantaged children in London: but that was 2010, that was the flagship that had £23 million spent on it, and there have been additional motivation from it being a role-model.
Now that academies are generalised, now that they’ve become the norm – it appears that there are good academy chains, and there are bad academy chains, surprise surprise!
in fact this shouldn’t be any surprise. Given that most of the main barriers to educational achievement are all external to the school (such as material deprivation), it was always unlikely that simply changing the structure of how schools are organised )from an LEA to an academies model) was going to make a difference in the long run.
I mean, new academies don’t get any more money than LEA schools, and while they might gain from economies of scale, this can’t make that much difference. It’s not as if they can afford to pay a 50% premium to address the shortage in science teachers for example, and it’s not enough to combat the radical hardships that the bottom 10% or so face at home.
1 in 3 sixth formers now receive at least one unconditional offer from a university. 117 000 students received a university offer with at least one unconditional element last year, compared to just 3000 five years earlier. (Guardian article, Jan 31st 2018).
And according to the latest UCAS figures, there are 20 universities which are fuelling the trend. Nottingham Trent is at the top of the list – 40% of its offers last year were unconditional.
Russel Group universities are much less likely to make unconditional offers, although of these Birmingham has an 11% unconditional rate.
Of particular concern to UCAS is the rise of so called ‘conditional unconditional offers’ which is where universities make an unconditional offer to a student so long as they make that university their first choice.
At root we have a competitive, free-market higher education system: universities have to compete for students and making unconditional offers is one way universities can make themselves more appealing (I mean, who wants to actually have pass exams to get in?!)
It could also be due to the increasing amount of apprenticeships looking more appealing than university. There are hundreds of thousands of these after all and surely a 1-2 year apprenticeship where you actually paid is going to be more appealing than a 3 year degree and £30K of debt at the end?
Finally, it’s worth noting that unconditional offers are more likely to be handed out by the lower end universities, most of the Russel Group universities make very few unconditional offers, and students generally have to pass their exams to get in.
Problems with unconditional offers…
As I see it, there are three main problems…
Firstly, these may not be in the students’ best interest. They may reduce stress for you in your exam year, but they may lead you into a three year degree that has little value at the end of it. Worse, an unconditional offer may attract you to doing the wrong degree and saddle you with £9K of debt after one year with nothing to show for it.
Secondly – it’s likely to have a detrimental affect on school and college results that the more unconditional offers their students get then the worse the A level results are going to be – why work when you’re going to get in anyway?
Thirdly, it doesn’t seem fair on those students who get standard offers….. at least not in the final exam year when they’re under stress. In the long run, these students may be better off with better A-levels and having got into better universities!
Could this be a topic for a ‘horrible’ methods in context question: look at the strengths and limitations of ‘A method’ for researching the increase in unconditional university offers’ – it’s horrible, but VERY relevant to the majority of sociology students.
I say either ban unconditional offers absolutely, or ration them to a handful per institution, which have to be ‘sponsored’ by the pastoral team, and backed up with hard evidence that there is a need for them (due to severe deprivation, abuse, emotional issues), in the name of equality of educational opportunity.
Also, it’s 2019 now, time for 18 year olds to apply to uni AFTER they get their A-levels results in mid-August?
The 2018 report shows that the overall rate of permanent exclusions was 0.1 per cent of pupil enrolments in 2016/17. The number of exclusions was 7,720.
The report also goes into more detail, for example….
The vast majority of exclusions were from secondary schools >85% of exclusions.
The three main reasons for permanent exclusions (not counting ‘other’) were
Persistent disruptive behaviour
Physical assault against a pupil
Physical assault against an adult.
Certain groups of students are far more likely to be permanently excluded:
Free School Meals (FSM) pupils had a permanent exclusion rate four times higher than non-FSM pupils
FSM pupils accounted for 40.0% of all permanent exclusions
The permanent exclusion rate for boys was over three times higher than that for girls
Over half of all permanent exclusions occur in national curriculum year 9 or above. A quarter of all permanent exclusions were for pupils aged 14
Black Caribbean pupils had a permanent exclusion rate nearly three times higher than the school population as a whole.
Pupils with identified special educational needs (SEN) accounted for around half of all permanent exclusions
The ‘reasons why’ and ‘types of pupil’ data probably hold no surprises, but NB there are quite a few limitations with the above data, and so these stats should be treated with caution!
Limitations of data on permanent exclusions
According to this Guardian article, the figures do not take into account ‘informal exclusions’ or ‘off-rolling’ – where schools convince parents to withdraw their children without making a formal exclusion order – technically it’s then down to the parents to enrol their child at another institution or home-educate them, but in many cases this doesn’t happen.
According to research conducted by FFT Education Datalab up to 7, 700 students go missing from the school role between year 7 and year 11 when they are supposed to sit their GCSEs…. Equivalent to a 1.4% drop out rate across from first enrolment at secondary school to GCSEs.
Datalabs took their figures from the annual school census and the DfE’s national pupil database. The cohort’s numbers were traced from year seven, the first year of secondary school, up until taking their GCSEs in 2017.
The entire cohort enrolled in year 7 in state schools in England in 2013 was 550,000 children
However, by time of sitting GCSEs:
8,700 pupils were in alternative provision or pupil referral units,
nearly 2,500 had moved to special schools
22,000 had left the state sector (an increase from 20,000 in 2014) Of the 22,000,
3,000 had moved to mainstream private schools
Just under 4,000 were enrolled or sat their GCSEs at a variety of other education institutions.
60% of the remaining 15,000 children were likely to have moved away from England, in some case to other parts of the UK such as Wales (used emigration data by age and internal migration data to estimate that around)
Leaves between 6,000 to 7,700 former pupils unaccounted for, who appear not to have sat any GCSE or equivalent qualifications or been counted in school data.
Working out the percentages this means that by GCSEs, the following percentages of the original year 7 cohort had been ‘moved on’ to other schools.
6% or 32, 000 students in all, 10, 00 of which were moved to ‘state funded alternative provision, e.g. Pupil Referral Units.
4%, or 22K left the mainstream state sector altogether (presumably due to exclusion or ‘coerced withdrawal’ (i.e. off rolling), of which
4%, or 7, 700 cannot be found in any educational records!
There is very little detail on why pupils were excluded, other than the ‘main reason’ formally recorded by the head teacher in all school. There is no information at all about the specific act or the broader context. Labelling theorists might have something to say about this!
There is a significant time gap between recording and publication of the data. This data was published in summer 2018 and covers exclusions in the academic year 2016-2017. Given that you might be looking at this in 2019 (data is published annually) and that there is probably a ‘long history’ behind many exclusions (i.e. pupils probably get more than one second chance), this data refers to events that happened 2 or more years ago.
Relevance of this to A-level sociology
This is of obvious relevance to the education module… it might be something of a wake up call that 4% of students leave mainstream secondary education before making it to GCSEs, and than 1.4% seem to end up out of education and not sitting GCSEs!
A recent paper by the Higher Eduction Policy Institute found that 45% of pupils at selective schools come from households with below median income, which suggests a very ‘fair intake’ across the social class spectrum.
45% of pupils selected to grammar schools come from the poorest 50% of households, which suggests that children from the poorest 50% of households have a near equal chance of being selected to a grammar school compared to the wealthiest 50%.
The chances of being selected aren’t quite equal, but once you factor in all of the ‘objective’ material deprivation related barriers to education which children from low income households face, then this seems to suggest that grammar schools are doing a pretty good job of providing equality of educational opportunity where household income is concerned.
It’s more common to look at selection in relation to Free School Meal (FSM) households, which represent the bottom 15% of households by income. By this measure, only 3% of pupils on Free School Meals get into grammar schools.
Grammar schools are also good for social mobility
The report also looked at the chances of grammar school educated children getting into highly selective universities (defined as the top 1/3rd by academic performance, not the ‘Russel Group’) compared to children in non-selective (or just regular comprehensive) schools.
It found that:
39% of pupils in selective school areas progress to highly-selective universities, compared to only 23% in comprehensive areas (so nearly twice as likely)
3% of selectively educated pupils get into Oxford or Cambridge compared to only 1% from regular state schools.
a state school pupil with a BME background is more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area.
The report also looked at other things and made some policy recommendations. Check it out at the link above!
limitations of the study
NB – the stats immediately above are NOT looking at how well the bottom 50% of students by household income do, they are looking at all students from state and grammar schools. The study makes something of a leap of faith and assumes that ‘because 45% of students at grammar schools are from the poorest 50% of households then these have exactly the same chance of getting into a good university as students from the top 50% of households’.
This may not be the case if we isolate out the bottom two quintiles. Interestingly the report says the DFE were not prepared to release this data!
Also, if it is only grammar schools (rather than comprehensive schools) that are doing this, then it is a good argument for expanding selective education as the Tories want to do.
It’s also an important illustration of how measuring a concept differently gives you different results – if looked at by Free School Meals, it looks like grammar schools are not providing equality of educational opportunity, but if you use wider income categories and compare the bottom 50% with the top 50% then they appear to be doing so. And if you look at how well the poorest 40% do (rather than the poorest 15% on FSM), they also allow for social mobility. NB – this would be a great analysis point in any sociology essay on this topic.
Unfairly benefitted middle class parents through selection by mortgage and the school-parent alliance.
Other criticising concepts and evidence
Banding and streaming, myth of meritocracy, hidden curriculum, ethnocentric curriculum.
Sociology Teaching Resources for Sale
If you’re a sociology teacher and you like this sort of thing, and you want to support my resource development work, then you might like these teaching resources for the sociology of education. They are specifically designed for A-level sociology students and consist of three documents:
Compensatory Education is additional educational provision for the culturally deprived to give them a helping hand to compete on equal terms. It began in the 1960’s with extra resources allocated to low income areas and supplements to the salaries of teachers working in these deprived areas. Below are examples of compensatory education
Compensatory education to improve lower class education
Education action Zones set up in These have since been steadily replaced by Excellence in Cities (EiC). These programmes directed resources to low-income, inner city areas in an attempt to raise educational attainment.
Sure Start – Free nursery places for 12 hours a week targeted mainly at lower income areas
Educational Maintenance Allowance –
Compensatory education and gender
Boys into reading scheme – involved famous people such as Garry Linekar telling boys how cool reading was
Girls into Science (GIST) – For example – employing more female science teachers to encourage girls to take up science subjects
More active learning through play – helps boys who have shorter attention spans than girls
Compensatory education and ethnicity
Aiming High – in 2003 the government provided more resources to 30 schools in which African Caribbean pupils were achieving below average
Multi-cultural education – involves having assemblies and lessons focussing on educating the whole school about different cultures in the United Kingdom
Employing more black teachers – some schools employ more black teachers to provide positive role models for young black boys.
Criticisms of Compensatory education
Critics have argued that by placing the blame on the child and his/her background, it diverts attention from the deficiencies of the educational system.
Likely to only have limited success in raising achievement because they involve quite a modest redistribution of resources to poor areas. They are unlikely to do much for the inequalities in the wider society which lead to poor achievement
Eight leading private schools send more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than three-quarters of all state secondary schools.
These eight schools include some of the most expensive fee-paying independent schools in the country, including Westminster and Eton.
The eight schools sent 1, 310 pupils to Oxbridge fro 2015 to 2017,
Compared to 2,894 state schools which sent just 1, 220 pupils.
Now you might think this is simply due to the better standard of candidates in private schools leading to more applications to Oxford and Cambridge, however the statics below suggest Oxford and Cambridge and Russel Group universities bias their acceptances in favour of Independent schools and selective (grammar) schools and against comprehensives and the post-compulsory sector…..
The statistics above show that…
Only 34% of applications to Oxbridge are made from private schools, but 42% of offers are made to privately schooled pupils
32% of applications to Oxbridge are made from comprehensive schools, but only 25% of offers are made to comprehensively schooled children.
This means you are significantly more likely to get an offer if you apply from a private school compared to a comprehensive school. A similar ‘offer bias’ is found for Russel Group universities.
Why might this be the case?
It could be that the standards of applications are better from Independent Schools (and selective schools), in fact this is quite likely given that such institutions are university factories, unlike comprehensive.
However, it might also just be pure class-bias, especially with the case of Oxbridge, where interviews and old-school tie connections might be significant enough to make the difference, given the relatively small numbers of applicants.
Possibly the best overall theory which explains this is ‘cultural capital‘ theory?
The table below compares earnings at age 29 of female graduates compared to non graduates for different subject areas.
As you can see, female economics graduates earn 150% more than non graduates, with medicine not far behind and most of the rest of the STEM subject graduates earning 100% more.
Meanwhile at the other end of the scale social care and create arts degree graduates only earn about 20-25% more than non-graduates, making these degrees a lot less valuable in terms of purely financial returns.
The significance of these statistics
Fair enough I guess that medicine yields a decent return, I don’t think there’s much scope to criticise that, and given the innovation within science and engineering, the fact that these degrees result in 100% higher earnings at age 29 isn’t surprising either.
HOWEVER, I have a problem with economics graduates earning so much more. It’s very unlikely that these people are earning so much money because of the social good they are doing. It’s probably more likely that they’re sucking money upwards to the already rich working for corporations and hedge funds, or doing crude econometric (read ‘guess work’) analysis for large institutions like the World Bank. They’re reward is probably making the rich richer, or at least keeping them rich.
Meanwhile down at the bottom, I’m not so sure whether the low return on the caring degrees shows how little we value this qualitative side of life, rather than the fact that degrees in such subjects maybe can’t teach you that much?!? I mean with caring, how much is there that you can’t learn on the job, honestly, or just learn at level 3.
Don’t get me wrong though, I think caring professions are very much underpaid.
As to creative arts… I’m not sure whether these are undervalued, difficult for me to say with any level of objectivity, although if these stats are anything to go by, it shows us that ‘society’ doesn’t value art very highly!
NB – The figures for men are a little different, check out the above study if yer interested!