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The University of Cambridge appoints first female black head of a college

Jesus College Cambridge recently appointed the first ever black female as its head. This is the first time in British history that either a female or a black person has been the Master of an Oxbridge College.

Sonita Alleyne is 51 years old studied Philosophy at Cambridge 30 years ago and went on to establish a successful career in journalism and has been awarded and OBE. She is a real champion for diversity and inclusion.

black woman cambridge.png

At first sight this seems like a very progressive move to promote equality and diversity, especially when Oxbridge universities have been under so much criticism recently over their disproportionately low numbers of black students and staff.

However, critics might suggest this is an ‘easy trophy appointment’ – what do Heads of Colleges do after all? They’re basically figure heads who liaise with other educational establishments, businesses and the wider communities.

Surely addressing the lack of black female staff (and especially professors) would have more of an impact in promoting equality and diversity?  I mean these are the people who students interact with on a day to day basis, so surely appointments to these positions would have more of a role-model effect, and surely make a difference to the lives of more people (i.e. the people appointed and the students they might inspire.

This appointment is progress, yes, but maybe not the most effective way of promoting equality and diversity

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education. You can use this as contemporary evidence against the view that elite universities are institutionally racist.

Sources/ find out more:

Guardian Article (2018) – Oxbridge faces criticisms over lack of black students.

Article (2017) – List of black female professors in the UK (54 at time of writing, 6 of them in Sociology!)

Vogue Article – we urgently need more black female professors in UK universities (it’s not just Oxford and Cambridge!)

Picture source – BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-48413098

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The consequences of cutting bursaries for student nurses…

Cutting free tuition and bursaries for student nurses seems to be a good candidate for the one of the worst social policy decisions of the decade…

The NHS is currently critically short of nurses, with 42 000 posts in England unfilled.

This seems to be due to a decision by the Tory party in 2015 to remove free tuition and bursaries for those undertaking nursing courses, requiring nursing students to take out loans to cover their fees and costs of living while studying.

It appears that the prospect of starting a nursing career up to £50K in debt has but people off applying for nursing in droves. Since 2016 nursing applications have dropped by one third, and they are down 40% among mature students.

There seems to be a direct correlation here between the removal of bursaries and people deciding to not do nursing courses, which makes sense given that nursing is a low paid, stressful and low status career: who would want to start out £50K in debt?

In 2015, it was projected that the policy would have saved £1 billion a year, but this is almost certainly not going to be the case as it is estimated that nearly 50% of loans to student nurses will be written off because they will never earn above the repayment threshold, and because of the requirement to hire nurses through more expensive agencies.

It is estimated that replacing agency nurses with regular full-time nurses would save the NHS £560 million a year.

Why did the Tories introduce this policy?

It could be due a total disconnect between elite Tories and the kinds of people doing nursing degrees. Most Tories will have no idea what it’s like living on marginal wages and  the difference bursaries can make down at the bottom of the pay scale.

Or it might be ideological – deliberately done to put the NHS in crisis and make it more expensive to run, justifying (in a downward spiral) the further outsourcing and selling off for profit later. Tories don’t need it after all, they have private health care.

It can’t be due to any rational decision making as this policy clearly makes no financial sense on any level.

Sources 

https://www.rcn.org.uk/news-and-events/news/removing-the-student-nurse-bursary-has-been-a-disaster

The Week

 

 

 

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The globalisation of education

Three examples of the ‘globalisation of education’

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective this encourages competition between countries – with each country trying harder to raise standards. The UK ranks in the mid 20s for most of the tests for example and so should be under pressure to do better!

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries

U.K. private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Related posts

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.

 

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Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using participant observation to investigate pupil exclusions

This 20 mark methods in context question came up in the 2018 A-level sociology 7192/1 paper, below is the full question and some thoughts about how you might go about answering it!

 

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using participant observation to investigate pupil exclusions

Hints for answering

The item mentions many different types of exclusion, you should address them all and contrast the usefulness of participant observation for researching different types. E.G….

  1. Permanent (although you are really directed away from this
  2. Fixed (1/20 pupils)
  3. Pupils excluded from lessons (‘no reliable data’)
  4. Self-exclusion for truanting
  5. Self-exclusion by ‘switching off’.

You’re also directed to discuss particular types of students – those with special educational needs and those from traveller backgrounds for example.

The paragraph on the method directs you to discuss the role you would take amongst other things. NB the method is participant observation in general, so you could contrast overt and covert.

Here are some of the points you could develop:

  • Overt participant observation as a learning support assistant is probably the only way you could do this – useful for gaining insight into pupils being excluded from lessons and those self-excluding by switching off, but not for truancy.
  • If you took that role you could get close to SEN students – some of the students more likely to be excluded, but less so for traveller children.
  • An SEN learning support assistant could view more than one teacher/ classroom over the course of a few weeks, so reasonable representativeness.
  • You could check for teacher bias agains certain students in terms of why they get excluded – but this might be difficult IF you are actively trying to support learners in your role.
  • Also, your presence might improve behaviour and lesson the likelihood of exclusion.
  • Practically you’re limited to one school.
  • To be ethical you would have to tell management your true purpose for wanting to join in as an assistant, maybe investigating teachers with the highest exclusion rate, but you would have to not tell them for validity purposes, which would be unethical.
  • Practically you would still have to be trained as an LA.
  • Exclusions are rare, so you might be hanging around a long time waiting for one to happen.
  • You could embed yourself within a group of traveller or SEN children to get their take on school, which might give you insight, but this is not practical for adults.
  • Ultimately you’d have to combine it with Unstructured Interviews to really find out why exclusions take place, which is possible if you’re overt, not covert.

Not an exhaustive list, just a few ideas…. NB you would have to use more methods concepts.

Sources 

https://filestore.aqa.org.uk/sample-papers-and-mark-schemes/2018/june/AQA-71921-QP-JUN18.PDF

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Using contemporary examples to evaluate within the sociology of education

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of education, you’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

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Outline three reasons why girls are less likely to choose science subjects than boys (6 marks) 

This is a possible 6 mark question for the AQA’s 7192/1 Education and Theory with Methods Paper

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

Possible identifiers

  • 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‘!

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Education funding is down 8% since its peak in 2010, but does it really matter?

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.

This is according to some recent analysis done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in their annual review of education spending.

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!

 

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The academy trusts failing their schools

The schools census information for October 2018 showed that more pupils now study in academies than in maintained LEA schools (50.1% to 49.9%). Academies were first introduced under New Labour and are something the Conservatives expanded massively in the last decade.

how many pupils academies.png 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.

NB – The Bright Tribe Trust also has the dubious honour of being the worst performing academy chain in England at key stage 4.

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.

 

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Why do universities make unconditional offers?

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.

unconditional offers.png

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.

This actually continues a trend I blogged about last year. It seems the trend is intensifying!

Why the increase in unconditional offers?

There are lots of possible reasons:

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!

links to A-level sociology 

This material should be useful in criticising New Right views of education.

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.

Final thoughts 

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?

Sources 

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The limitations of School Exclusion Statistics

The Department for Education publishes an annual report on exclusions, the latest edition published in August 2018 being ‘Permanent and fixed-period exclusions in England: 2016 to 2017.

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.

exlusion statistics.png

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

Validity problems…

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!

This Guardian article provides a decent summary of the research.

Further limitations of data on school exclusions

  • 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!

It’s also a good example of why independent longitudinal studies provide a more valid figure of exclusions (and ‘informal’ exclusions) than the official government statistics on this.

 

I’ll be producing more posts on why students get excluded, and on what happens to them when they do and the consequences for society in coming weeks.

 

This is a topic that interests me, shame it’s not a direct part of the A level sociology education spec!