A level sociology revision – education, families, research methods, crime and deviance and more!
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
most schools repackage British Values and teach them through what they are already teaching, very few use them to get students to think critically about what citizenship means!
Schools in England and Wales have been required by the to teach British Values since 2015.
Initially the introduction of these to the National Curriculum may seem to offer support for the Functionalist view of education, which holds that one of the functions of education is to promote Value Consensus.
HOWEVER, this may be a simplistic understanding according to some recent research outlined below. It is possible that schools and teachers present British Values as being very traditional (all about The Queen and Fish and Chips), which may alienate some pupils who have not been brought up with such traditions. In other words, the way British Values are taught in some schools may not be an appropriate way of realising value consensus in our complex, multi cultural society.
Recent research on how teachers teach British Values
Professor Carol Vincent – of the UCl Institute Of Education has carried out some recent research on how schools and teachers interpret ‘our’ so called ‘fundamental British values’. Her research is based on 56 interviews almost 49 observations and 9 case study schools, a mix of both primary and secondary.
Why do schools have to teach them?
The requirement to teach ‘Fundamental British Values’ seems to have come about because of concerns over social cohesion and ideas of ‘Britishness’ in general, and as a response to the Trojan Horse scandal of 2014 in particular, when there was an alleged co-ordinated attempt to impose a conservative islamist agenda onto several schools in Birmingham.
The requirement to teach British Values is closely related to the government’s counter terrorism strategy and broader Prevent agenda.
Despite it being a requirement, there is very little government guidance on how, exactly, teachers should go about teaching ‘British Values, so how do teachers understand this responsibility and how do they go about promoting British values in practice.
Where the teachers supportive?
Teachers were generally supportive of the values, but they didn’t like the word ‘tolerance’ as this suggested a begrudging way of putting up with each other, rather than a celebration of diversity and mutual respect. Some teachers were much more cynical about the requirement to promote them.
How did they fit it in?
The majority of schools embedded in what they were already teaching, but some schools (not the majority) used PSHE and Religious Education lessons and assemblies to address them more explicitly.
How did schools teach British Values?
Some schools used stereotypes to represent Britain using symbols and stereotypes , such as the Royal Family, one school re-enacted the marriage of Prince Harry, even though support for monarchy is not one of the Fundamental British Values.
Vincent cites the example of one commercial resource, a poster aimed at young children which has examples of British foods, music, and festivals, with the food being ‘traditional’ British food – Roast Dinner, Fish and chips, strawberries, Trooping of the colour.
Vincent found that in one school they used the Queens Birthday as an opportunity to promote the values – the organised a whole school lunch and got students to make mugs and sing different songs to celebrate the event.
Some teachers found teaching British Values problematic
Representing Britishness through symbols as those above can lead to a monocultural representations, a kind of ‘nation freezing’ – leading to the idea that Britishness is fixed.
It can also have an exclusionary effect – what if you’re from a family who doesn’t eat Cottage Pie
One teacher maybe hit the nail on the head and said that such an approach is ‘Reductionist and Crass’.
NB they way these values are taught is inspected by OFSTED. The Chief inspector has actually said ‘it’s not about The Queen’.
Repackaging Fundamental British Values
The majority approach to teaching was repackage the values into things the schools had already been doing – democracy = school council, rule of law because they have school rules etc.
However, this doesn’t open up discussion of British Values, so no deeper understanding of what these values mean.
A lot of teachers expressed anxiety about not knowing how to deal with controversial issues if they came up in discussion around the values
The top two areas of concern were migration and Brexit – teachers found having to deal with these issues demanding and anxiety inducing. They were also worried about their own impartiality, and what to do about xenophobia – so rather than discuss the issues , they tended to talk to the students about them, not giving them space to respond.
How to teach them more effectively?
Vincent suggests that we need to give Mmore status for citizenship education, more space and time to allow students to discuss the meaning of citizenship and British Values and more training for teachers on how to discuss difficult issues.
The evidence suggests that if you’re white and middle class you’ll do OK out of A-levels being cancelled, not so if you’re BAME or poor.
The Coronavirus may not discriminate, but the social response to it probably will, and this could well be the case with the recent decision by the DFE to cancel A-level exams.
Universities will now rely on a combination of GCSE results and predicted grades from schools and colleges in order to determine which students qualify for which degree courses, and this will benefit some more than others.
If you’ve been working hard all year and had a decent mock exam grade (which would have been sat very recently in most centers) then you’re predicted grade should at least match the grade you would have got.
If you suffer from exam stress, dyslexia or any other ‘condition’ that may mean you under perform in exams compared to your ability, then your predicted grade may even be higher than what you would have got.
If you’ve got an unconditional offer from a university for the course you want, and you’re happy enough with your predicted grades then you’ve just been gifted two free months of your life, although you may not be able to do what you want with those two months, like going outside for example!
You’ve been spared that, however….
This article in The Guardian suggests that predicted grades tend to be lower for black and minority ethnic students and for those from poorer backgrounds, compared to those students from white middle class backgrounds.
The argument is that teacher stereotypes, or labelling if you like, mean that BAME student’s grades are under-predicted, and so these students tend to do better than expected in exams, an opportunity now lost to them. (Yes they may get a chance to sit some kind of exam in the Autumn, but that might be too late).
The article further suggests that those who are privately educated are more likely to have an unconditional offer and that those with ‘pushy parents’ are more likely to negotiate their children higher predicted grades from the schools, drawing on cultural capital theory.
And I do feel for home educated or self-studying students, who probably have no record of past achievement and no mock exams to fall back on, especially if they messed up their GCSEs and are returning to A-levels maybe after taking a year or a few months out.
The DFE, exam boards and UCAS are all aware of how a university entrance system based on predicted grades discriminates against certain students, I just hope they put measures in place to combat this.
We won’t know how effective any anti-discriminatory measures have been until we can compare the ‘results’ and UCAS entrance stats for this year with last year, assuming that data will even be published?
How do schools try to control pupils? Some of the ways include academic surveillance, CCTV, teaching British Values. Prevent and the use of isolation units. It also explores how effective schools are as agents of social control.
One possible social function that schools perform is that of social control. This post explores some of the ways school might perform this function and asks how effectively schools control pupils and parents today?
Social control refers to the formal and informal techniques that
may be used to make the individual conform to social norms and values.
In sociology the focus is usually on how those with power
and authority use institutions to control ‘ordinary’ people in society.
There are many institutions which can be said to perform social
control, such as the law and the courts, the police, religion, the media and
The education system is of interest as an institution of
social control because it reaches more people than most other institutions. Nearly
all of us will attend school from a young age, and spend thousands of hours in
school as children, while most of us will have no direct contact with the
police, for example.
How might school act as an agent of social control?
Parents are legally required to either send
their children to a state or independently run school. Put another way, pupils
are expected to attend school, and truant officers are employed to catch those
who are not attending. Parents can be fined if their students have unauthorised
The > 90% of pupils who attend state schools
will spend at least six hours a day in formal education. Many will spend more time
in school because the school day has been getting longer in recent years, through
the addition of both morning classes or breakfast clubs and after school clubs.
Students who attend state schools will be taught
the National Curriculum, having limited choice over what they study until they
make their GCSE choices at 14.
From 2013 young people are required to remain in
some form of education or training until the age 18, raised from the previous ‘education
leaving age’ of 16.
Schools and colleges are required to teach pupils
about ‘British Values’. This might be regarded as indoctrination by the State.
Schools are responsible for Prevent – they have
to report to the police anyone they believe to be involved with terrorist activities,
and they have to work to prevent students being attracted to terrorist
Schools engage in physical surveillance of pupils,
most obviously through the increasing use of cameras, but also by using staff
at school gates, in playgrounds and walking the corridors during lessons.
Schools have clear codes of conduct and use isolation
units and detentions to regulate deviant behaviour.
Schools increasingly involve parents in
monitoring students and keeping them on track, using ‘parenting contracts’ with
Schools keep databases of student’s academic
progress and report back to parents regularly. This means students know they
are being watched, and most of them ‘self-regulate’ because of this.
Schools may require certain students to work
with learning support staff or attend further supported learning, which means
such students will be under higher levels of surveillance.
Schools may keep (confidential) records of
student discussions about mental health and well-being and work with medical
professionals to require students to attend further ‘support’ as necessary.
Schools constantly remind students of the
importance of qualifications for getting a good career, which may lead to some
Students are required to resit GCSE maths and
English when in 16-19 education if they achieve less than a C first time round,
meaning less choice in later life for those students.
Are schools effective agents of social control: exploring the evidence
It’s hard to argue against the view that schools use more control measures today than they did in the 1970s and 80s. However, just because schools try to control pupils more than they used to, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are effective in doing so.
Furthermore, there are some possible counter trends, such as the growth of home education and the increase in post-16 educational choices, that suggest that ‘formal education’ might actually be less constraining and controlling than it once was for increasing numbers of pupils.
Below I explore some of the different types of evidence to examine whether schools are effective agents of social control
Fines for Parents taking their children out of school during term time
Local councils can impose fines on parents if their children have an unauthorised absence from school during term time, even if just for one day. The fines start at £60 and if not paid parents can be prosecuted and face up to three months in jail.
These fines were tested in 2015 when John Platt refused to pay a fine handed out by the Isle of Wight LEA after he took his daughter on holiday to Disney World, Florida during term time. He argued that his daughter’s attendance had otherwise been excellent, and took his case the Supreme Court.
Platt lost the case, with the court siding with the Local Education Authority, declaring that he was guilty of breaching school rules and failing to secure his child’s regular attendance at school.
Though not compulsory, there are some academies, such as the NET Academies Trust which run extended school days – starting school at 8.45 rather than at 9.00, running extra lessons after 15.00 for underachieving students, and offering a further enrichment programme later in the afternoon.
The rising of the ‘education’ leaving age in 2013
In 2013 the government raised the ‘formal education’ leaving age of pupils in England from 16 to 18 years.
Pupils can still leave school at 16, but only if they have a place at a further education college, or are going into work which has some kind of accredited training attached to it.
This means that rather than being able to transition to full adulthood and relative freedom at the age of 16, students are now subjected the control and surveillance associated with training for at least another two years.
If an individual is on a work-based training course, this regime of control may not be as severe as being in school, and in many ways this is probably going to be quite similar to just starting out on a new job anyway. But since 2013 this layer of ‘educational control’ has been formalised, and it means that MORE PEOPLE are now definitely going to be subjected to work based observations and assessments than ever before.
It’s interesting to note that if you do a google search for ‘schools’ and ‘cctv’ or ‘surveillance’ there isn’t much research being done, so the use of CCTV in schools seems to have become normalised as a form of social control.
The most recent evolution of physical surveillance is the use of body cams by teachers, which some schools are currently trialing. (Link from 2020).
The increasing use of isolation units
Isolation units are staffed rooms, often with partitioned booths, where disruptive students are sent to ‘cool off’, possibly for an hour or so, but sometimes for an entire day.
They are especially popular, according to at least one of the reports below, among multi-academy trusts.
According to a 2018 BBC report, at least 200 out of 1000 schools use isolation units, or booths. Some even have permanent units with their own toilet facilities so pupils can remain in them for an entire day if necessary.
According to this Guardian article (2020), schools are using isolation units to punish pupils for more and more trivial breaches of the rules. For example the article refers to one girl who was put in isolation for forgetting her planner, for the first time ever.
Some schools seem to be using isolation on a more regular basis to freeze some pupils out of the mainstream school environment. The article refers to one individual, Brendan, who spent much of his last term in isolation, and left schools with no GCSEs.
It’s likely that these units are growing in popularity since the government has cracked down on the use of exclusions, which means schools are more likely to try and deal with deviant students in-house, which explains the rise of isolation units.
Certain extracts from the guidance read like something out of the 1950s: schools are required to prepare pupils for modern life by ensuring their moral, spiritual and cultural development.
The primary aim of the British Values agenda seems to be about promoting democracy, and it is suggested that schools look for opportunities within the National Curriculum as well as extra-curricular activities to promote them.
This article in The Conversation presents one of the problems with teaching British Values is that the idea of what British Values should be taught in schools wasn’t discussed particularly widely by parliament, let alone the general public before schools were required to teach them to pupils.
The Prevent Duty
The Prevent Duty (in effect since 2015) requires that schools take due regard to ensure that pupils are not drawn into terrorism.
Specifically, the guidance recommends teaching British Values, as well as the possibility of monitoring students’ online activities, and it provides contacts if schools have a concern about particular students, among which it lists the local police force.
This seems to be some extremely strong evidence that schools are directly being used as agents of formal social control, working directly with the police to combat terrorism.
However, although the intention is to prevent extremism, the legislation may have had the opposite effect. This 2016 report by Rights Watch UK suggests that Prevent may have increased divisions in British society.
The report argues that divisions may have increased as a result of untrained teachers unnecessarily referring students on to anti-terrorism authorities because they have misinterpreted certain patterns of behaviour or actions as being suspicious, when in fact the students has no terrorist intentions at all.
The increasing use of technology to monitor students
In the United States some schools have moved to 24 hour monitoring of students’ online activities, at least those made within the school’s own system.
This article cites the example of one student talking about self-harm on a school messaging system, after school hours, this triggered an alert from the monitoring system, and a member of staff contacted the student’s parent immediately.
I know this is the United States, but the UK so often follows what the U.S. does, just a few years afterwards. This article from Wired Magazine highlights the fact that students are already under a historically unprecedented level of electronic surveillance here in the UK, and maybe this is just the start, with surveillance of personal communications set to get ever more intrusive.
Other forms of Surveillance in schools
I’ve only examined a limited range of some of the more obvious forms of evidence which suggests schools are increasingly acting as agents of social control for the British State.
In addition to all the above, schools have increased their level of ‘academic surveillance’ since the introduction of the 1988 Education Act, and students are now exposed to regular testings, reports, and reviews of their progress as just a normal part of school life.
This kind of academic-surveillance has just become normalised: most students expect it, and don’t even think about challenging it.
It is possibly this that is the most profound social control measure – millions of students knowing that their progress is going to be reviewed at least once every six weeks, probably more often, keeps them working, keeps them doing homework, keeps them chained to the system.
The same may be said of getting students to think about their future careers – where UCAS is concerned, students have to start thinking about what universities to go to and writing their personal statements a year in advance, taking up considerable time in their final year of formal education, AND (if they get a conditional offer) keeping them working.
So it is possibly the competitive nature of the system, the concern about failure and the constant surveillance of progress which are the main mechanisms whereby schools control pupils?
The system doesn’t control all students equally, and there are at least three recent counter-trends which suggest schools are NOT effective agents of social control: the increase in home education, the increase in exclusions and the increase in choice in 16-18 education.
The Number of Exclusions is Increasing
According to DFES data, both fixed term and permanent exclusions have been increasing since 2012/13
However, whether this counts as evidence against schools being effective agents of social control is debatable.
Personally I think it does suggest schools are not being effective, because exclusions suggest schools cannot control students within school boundaries, so students are offloaded, possibly to be under less surveillance once they have been excluded.
HOWEVER, you might interpret this increase as evidence of MORE control: it all depends what happens to the students afterwards!
The increase in Home Education
48,000 children were being home-educated in 2016-17, up from about 34,000 in 2014-15, according to this BBC article.
Students educated at home are more likely to get a choice in how they are educated, and are less likely to be subjected to many of the control measures suggested above.
However, we are talking about relatively small numbers of students here – 48, 000 children, compared to a few million in the education system as a whole!
Increasing post 16 education choices
Students may have to stay on in some form of education or training until they are 18, but it’s debatable whether many of those are really still under educational surveillance.
Once students hit 16 years of age, they can enter work based training, which can be just like an ordinary job, except with lower pay because they are ‘training’, so this may not be that much of a change from pre-2013 when they could have just left formal education altogether!
Conclusions: Are schools effective agents of social control?
Based on the evidence above, I’d say that they are certainly being used by the State to control certain pupils more, and that schools themselves are making increasing use of technology to control students through surveillance.
When it comes to the question of effectiveness – I’d say yes, they have become more effective – but this is primarily due to the more subtle forms of academic surveillance, which works day to day, and goes largely unquestioned.
However, there are a significant minority or students who are NOT controlled – both those who get excluded, and those who are home educated, and I’m sure if I dug further I’d find that we’re talking about the underclass being excluded and the educated middle classes who are being home educated.
Links to some contemporary sociology which students can use in their A-level sociology exams!
Links to some of the contemporary news items, documentaries and research studies which I’ve blogged about in 2019-2020, which are relevant to the sociology of education.
According to the AQA sociology specification, students are expected to be able to use contemporary examples to illustrate the points they make in their sociology exams.
Links to relevant blog posts….
gender ethnicity and your chances of getting into university – Free School
Meals students are still about twice less likely to make it university compared
to those not in receipt of free school meals. Meanwhile the gender gap
continues to increase, and white students lack behind nearly every other ethnic
group when it comes to university entrance.
to break into the elite – a documentary looking at numerous case studies of
how employers want cultural capital in their employees, and so how lack of
cultural capital prevents working class kids from getting the top jobs.
the school cuts crisis – a documentary looking at how funding cuts to
education are leading to schools cutting SEN provision, Useful to evaluate New
Right education policies.
How does your social class background, your gender and your ethnicity influence your chances of getting into university?
There are still huge variations in the types of student who make it to university, if we analyse the Department for Education’s Higher Education data by ‘Free School Meals’ (a proxy for social class), gender and ethnicity. This update should be of clear relevant to the education module within A-level sociology.
We can see from the table above that there are stark differences by pupil characteristics.
82% of non Free School Meal Chinese girls make it to university, compared to only 2% of girls of Free-School Meal Traveler of Irish Heritage background.
The above chart is very effective in showing the ethnic differences in university students, and with some interesting variations by FSM status – Black African FSM girls seem to do particular well, for example.
It’s also interesting to note that ‘White British’ students come very near the bottom of the table, with figures of around 40% HE participation for non FSM students, but only around 20 average for FSM White British pupils. The reason for singling out White students here is that the majority of pupils are white, so these figures are going to have most impact on the national average statistics.
The University FSM gap
There is still an 18.6% gap in Higher Education participation by Free School Meal status, this has decline by almost 1.5% points in the last decade, but this is slow progress!
The University Gender Gap
TBH I’m somewhat surprised to see the gender gap continuing apace, and it seems to be a steady increase year on year!
Other Higher Education inequalities
The latest report (see link below) also highlights inequalities by region (the biggest gap is in the South East, the smallest in London) and by Special Educational Need. See below for more details!
It also looks at the differences for ‘high tariff’ universities (the ones which ask for higher grades) which show starker differences.
Widening Participation Targets
The Office for Students has been campaigning to get universities to widen participation by reducing the above gaps. Most universities have in fact pledged to try and half some of these gaps by 2025 for example – if they succeed this would mean only a 10% gap between FSM and non FSM pupils.
However, this would mean fewer middle class students getting into university, assuming that more places are not created.
An exploration of the key facts on private or independent schools and some of the arguments and evidence for or against their existence.
Private, or Independent schools are a key feature of the British education system, attended by around 6% of children, the vast majority from the wealthiest families. In this post I explore some of the arguments and evidence for and against independent schools.
Private (aka independent) schools are privately funded through fees or donations from parents or other donors, rather than being funded by the state through taxation. Independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum like state schools.
Private schools are also known as Independent schools, and the two terms are usually used interchangeably, and I will use the two terms interchangeably in this post
Different types of Independent school
Independent schools exist for all ages of pupil – from prep-schools (infant schools) to secondary schools and 16-19 colleges. Some will specialize in one age group, others will have provision from 3 years to 19 years of age.
Somewhat confusingly ‘Public Schools’ such as Eton and Harrow are actually ‘private’ or ‘independent’ schools. Public schools are the ‘elite’ independent schools – they are the oldest and most well established independent schools and typically have annual fees of over £30 000 year per pupil.
The term ‘public’ school comes from 1868 when a group of seven elite boys boarding schools were granted independence from the state and the church and allowed to be run by groups of local governors, so they are really elite private schools.
Most independent schools are day schools, but some are boarding schools.
Independent Schools and State Schools: similarities and differences
Statistics on Private schools in the UK
The main source for the states below is the 2019 Independent Schools Council 2019 survey of independent schools.
1,364 schools are members of the Independent Schools Council.
In 2019 there were 536,109 pupils at ISC member schools, a record number of pupils.
6,169 pupils in ISC schools paid no fees at all, a figure which is increasing as a proportion of Independent school pupils but still only represents just over 1% of all pupils in independent schools.
33.8% are minority ethnic pupils, reflecting general population
84,293 pupils identified as having SEND, equating to 15.7% of all pupils, marginally higher than last year.
The most common SEND is Specific Learning Difficulty (SPLD), which includes conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia and represents 57.5% of all SEND pupils in ISC schools.
5.4% of all pupils are foreign students, whose parents reside permanently abroad, the highest number of students being from China.
There were 69,155 boarding pupils on Census day – 17th January 2019.
An increasing number of ISC schools operate campuses overseas, educating 39,616 pupils.
Arguments for private schools
One argument for independent schools is that they are like Beacon schools, showcasing the very best of education. Independent schools provide a very positive learning environment for their pupils, with some of the best teacher-pupil ratios in the country, excellent learner support facilities and other resources deployed in IT, sports and the arts, to give students a well-rounded, broad education. They also tend to instill good discipline in students, so truancy and exclusion rates should be lower than for state schools.
Then there’s the results, which are far better than for state schools. In 2018 48% of private-school students achieved A*s and As at A-level was 48%, nearly double the national average of 26%.
There is also an economic arguemnt for independent schools, in the context of an increasingly global education market – increasing numbers of parents from abroad (especially China) pay fees to have their students attend British independent schools – meaning these schools are an econmic asset, they bring money into the country.
Finally, from a Liberal (or broadly postmodern) perspective, surely parents have the right to send their children to private schools rather than state schools?
Arguments against private schools
I’ve taken many (but not all) of the arguments below from Engines of Privilege: Britain’s Private School Problem by Francis Green and David Kynaston.
Green and Kynaston argue that the existence of private schools limits the life chances of those who attend state schools and damages wider society.
One in every 16 pupils attends an independent school, and yet one in every seven teachers works at an independent school, meaning that as a nation we spend twice as much on the 6-7% of privately educated pupils as we do on pupils attending state schools. Green and Kynasaton argues that the primary effect of this intense focus of resources on the top 6-7% is to give them an increased chance (read unfair advantage) of getting into a top university and then into one of the elite professions.
Between 2010 and 2015 an average of 40% from Oxford and Cambridge were made to the 6-7% of students who had been privately educated, which effectively blocks offers going to those who attended state schools. 54% of ISC pupils continue to a Russell Group university.
The private school advantage carries on throughout the life cycle – Politics, the media, and public service all show high proportions of privately educated in their number, including 65% of senior judges, 59% of civil service permanent secretaries and 57% of the House of Lords.
Essentially what Private schools do is reproduce class inequality!
But there’s also a deeper problem, one of resource inefficiency – extra resources given to students who are doing well or OK produce diminishing returns compared to extra resources being spent on those students who are less able. For example in a classroom where there is already one teaching assistant, adding another won’t do as much good as adding one classroom assistant to a classroom where there are no teaching assistants.
The whole of the indepdent school system does just that for the children of the wealthy…. we spend twice as much to give them a little boost so they can get into the best jobs, meaning fewer resources being spent on average or the worse off students, where these resources would probably do much more social good.
Finally, James Blunt attended a private school. Maybe if he’d have gone to a regular secondary modern he would have produced some better music?
Conclusion: are private schools good or bad for Britain?
On balance it would seem that Independent schools give a significant advantages to the children of the parents of those who can afford to pay their tuition fees. As a result of attending an independent school students benefit from smaller class sizes and more support, which translates into a much improved chance of getting into a Russel Group University and then into an elite job.
For those who attend one of the elite public schools these advantages are especially significant, multiplied it seems by cultural and social capital which provide advantage through the life course.
However, whether having a concentration of the upper middle classes going into the best jobs and effectively running the country benefits Britain as a whole is much more open to debate.
If you believe that having diversity in the elite professions and government is of benefit to society, then private schools prevent this by effectively keeping out people from poorer backgrounds.
It is also possible that the huge resource expenditure on each privately educated child would be more effectively spent educating the more disadvantaged kids rather than the most disadvantaged.
Personally, I’d rather see less spending on private education and the rich kids fending for themselves, competing on a level playing field with the other 90% of kids, and more money spent on compensatory education for those at the very bottom!
If you relate this to some of the evidence from Left Realism (especially the Perry School Project) – a few thousand pounds extra spent on disadvantaged kids at a young age pays back several times over as those children are kept in school educated effectively and prevented from pursuing a life of crime.
However, abolishing private schools is unlikely to happen given that so many people in government attended a private school.
In 1950 there were 19700 young people graduated with a degree, in 2019 that figure will be around 1.4 million.
However, is this increasing number of graduates actually a good thing?
There have certainly been a lot of winners with the expansion of Higher Education, which is now big business in the UK.
More graduates has meant more money flowing into Universities (albeit from private rather than public sources, more of that later), and many of these have expanded, which has resulted in an increase in teaching jobs and various support jobs in the HE sector.
And there is a whole industry surrounding meeting students’ needs – most obviously the need for student accommodation, but also a whole host of local businesses in university towns will be partially or wholly dependent on student expenditure. The student subsistence economy is estimated to be worth £95 billion annually.
However, in 2018 only 57% of young graduates went onto ‘higher skilled employment’, while 43% ended up unemployed or in jobs which previously would not have required a degree, such as nursing.
This means that almost half of today’s graduates could be victims of what we might call ‘qualification inflation’, and rather than going straight into work at 18 and training/ qualifying on the job while earning, they are now effectively forced into having three years of no or low earnings while they study for unnecessary qualifications while being saddled with student loan debts of tens of thousands of pounds.
A final little known fact is that around 1/2 of student loans are never repaid, which means that the taxpayer is effectively subsidising these unnecessary degrees, and there does seem to be a disturbing correlation between the half of students doing unnecessary degrees and the half of loans not repaid.
This means that the taxpayer is subsidising around half a million students a year to do degrees that are in no way related to their jobs, while a good chunk of this money gets sucked upwards, to universities and landlords.
Seems like a hidden case of the state subbing the elite by stealth, while conning almost half of university students?!?
There are several useful documentaries available for teaching and learning the education module as part of A-level sociology and this post simply provides a few links to some of them. The easiest way to access the links to them is to go via my Google Spread Sheet – which contains a lot more than just video resources btw…
Education Documentaries 2010- 2019
Where possible the links take you through to the actual videos, but in some cases they aren’t available anymore, mainly thanks to the BBC being an anachronism which can’t seem to store documentaries even though we have no real choice but to pay our licence fee, in which case the link goes to the programme homepage, or Wiki in the case of the ‘Educating series.
How useful are education documentaries for teaching A-level sociology?
Well, it depends on the documentary! Personally I’ve used most of the above docs in my teaching over the last few years – I tend to find ‘single issue’ docs more useful, such as ‘How to Break into the Elite’, whereas the ‘fly on the wall documentaries’ are maybe less useful as valid texts but more useful for getting students to think about research methods.
A timeline of education documentaries
NB I know it probably looks hideous if you’re viewing this on a tablet or a phone, but if you actually click through to the Tableau site, it looks a lot better. Just an experiment, not sure it worked TBH!
Why don’t working class graduates with good degrees get the best jobs?
This documentary focuses on social mobility, and the myth of meritocracy, focusing on why working class graduates with good degrees struggle to get into the top jobs.
Statistics mentioned in the documentary
About 1/3rd of the population come from working class backgrounds, but only 10% make it into Britain’s top professions, and they earn 15% less than their colleagues from more privileged backgrounds.
Put another way you are 6 times more likely to land an elite job if you’re upper middle class.
Russel Group University students with 2nd class degrees are more likely to go into a top profession than those from working class backgrounds and got a first.
Oxbridge candidates from privileged backgrounds end up earning more than those from less privileged backgrounds.
Banking and finance – 34% educated privately
Private equity – nearer 70%
Top employers want cultural capital as well as qualifications
The stats suggest that top employers are not rewarding what the universities are rewarding, and this is preventing working class kids from getting the top jobs.
City recruiters are looking for ‘polish’ in the way they present – if we break this down this means accent, mannerism, behavior, dress.
One of the areas most affected by this is sales in finance: it is felt that if employees don’t look and feel ‘reassuringly expensive’, this will undermine the firm/ sector.
To illustrate this we have an interview with one independent recruitment agent who has a woman with an Essex accent on her books who she ‘can’t get a job for love for money’
This also applies to the The Media Sector – 60K of last years grads aspired to a career in media, but working class students are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the cultural capital to ‘fit in’. With the media, there’s a kind of ‘studied informality’ and way of being ‘knowingly hip, and those from WC backgrounds are just confused by it… lack of being at ease.
It seems that having cultural capital is crucial to breaking into a job in Media: If you have a parent who works in film and television you’re 12 times more likely to work in the Media, and 60-70% of those who work in The Media come from professional and managerial backgrounds. Tacit knowledge, no explicit rules about how you get in.
The problem with all of this is that this set of rules are ‘tacit’ – they unwritten, a set of social codes which are quite ‘knowing’ (to with dress/ speak) and without being brought up with them, working class people struggle to make the leap of selfhood required to get into the top jobs.
Why the working classes lack confidence….
People from disadvantaged backgrounds have more unstable lives, those from more advantaged have more stable lives and are more likely to have been brought up being listened to and having their opinions valued as a peer, that breeds familiarity and confidence – knowing that everything’s going to ‘be OK’ tomorrow.
Three contrasting case studies
The documentary uses case of students who have just graduated, some working class and struggling to get good jobs despite their top degrees from good universities, and one middle class student:
Amaan – has a degree in Economics from Nottingham and has wanted a i equity sales in an investment bank (since he was 13), also world kickboxing champion at 17, but he struggles with a lack of confidence in interviews.
Elvis from East London – has a degree in political economy at Birmingham, wants a city job in finance, he ends up getting onto a graduate training programme with bank (if I remember correctly).
Finally, Ben from Dulwich, screamingly middle class who charmed his way into London Live and the local press – he was just pushy, winged it, and looks set to get a career in the media despite his degree in Classics.
Ian Wright and the Internal Class Ceiling
Unexpectedly the documentary has a section featuring Ian Write, from a working class background who talks about the prejudice he has faced in his media career.
He even says we should abolish private schools and ‘give the working class guns’ to get over the middle class advantage, and that interview training and soft skills are bullshit – you shouldn’t have to be someone you’re not.
In this post I offer four pieces of evidence students can use to evaluate the New Right’s perspective on education, particularly their claim that Marketisation policies since 1988 have raised standards for all pupils.
Item A: GCSE Pass Rates
Probably the strongest piece of supporting evidence for the New Right’s policies on education is that they have worked to improve GCSE results nearly every year for the last 30 years:
The latest reports focusing on the long term trend are a bit dated, such as this one from The Guardian, but it clearly shows a long term improvement in grades at GCSE:
Despite recent dips in top grades, this 2013 report from Full Fact, which also focuses on the long term trend in results since 1988 points out that:
The pass rate for grades A*-C has increased by almost two-thirds from 42.5% in 1988 to 68.1% in 2013.
A*/A grades have almost trebled from 8.6% in 1988 to 21.3% in 2013.
However, the report also recognizes that some of this is due to grade inflation as this increase in performance is not mirrored by English and Welsh students in international tests, such as PISA BELOW.
The PISA league tables demonstrate how the neoliberal/ New Right idea of ranking educational achievement has gone global – Since the year 2000 we now have International Education League Tables.
Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment. In 2012, some economies also participated in the optional assessments of Problem Solving and Financial Literacy.
Students take a test that lasts 2 hours. The tests are a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that are organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. A total of about 390 minutes of test items are covered. Students take different combinations of different tests.
PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.
The students and their school principals also answer questionnaires to provide information about the students’ backgrounds, schools and learning experiences and about the broader school system and learning environment.
The UK currently ranks 23rd for English and Maths.
Item C: Stephen Ball (2003)
argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. They have the knowledge and skills to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Compared to the working class they have more material capital, more social capital – access to social networks and contacts which can provide information and support.
Ball refers Middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. For example, they use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer. They collect and analyse information about GCSE results, and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.
Ball also talked of the school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general, the schools with more middle class students have better results. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market.
Item D: Sue Palmer – The Problems of Tests, Targets And Education
Sue Palmer Is usually introduced in Families and Households module. She argues that technological and social changes have made modern childhood ‘toxic’, and testing in education (because of league tables and The New Right) is part of this problem. Sue Palmer writes…..
‘As long as league tables exist, in a risk averse society most people daren’t ignore them. Primary schools at the top of the league (which, by a strange coincidence, tend to be in the wealthiest areas) have a reputation to maintain; those at the bottom have to try to claw a little higher. The status of all interested adults (teachers, governors, parents) depends on how their Year Sixes perform in national tests.
So from four years of age, our children now live in the shadow of SATs. ‘No time for play in the reception class now,’ one teacher told me ruefully. ‘As soon as they arrive, it’s fast forward to the Key Stage One test.’ The curriculum is dominated by the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, broken down into a series of discrete‘learning objectives’ – closely matched to ‘assessment criteria’ – to be ticked off as children progress through the school.
There are ‘voluntary’ SATs for each year group, so children’s progress (and teachers’ competence in coaching their pupils) can be checked every summer. Then, in Year Six, come several months of concentrated exam practice, ‘booster classes’ during the Easter holidays for those who might not scrape the required mark, and sleepless nights for 11-year-olds terrified of ‘letting themselves down’ on the day.
Not surprisingly, this regime leaves far less time for creative but unquantifiable experiences, like art, drama and music, which through the millennia have nurtured children’s imaginations and contributed incalculably to their emotional and social development. Less time also for the active, hands-on learning children need if they’re genuinely to understand the concepts underpinning the tests.
Last year researchers found that the conceptual understanding of today’s 11-year-olds lags two to three years behind their counterparts in 1990. While performance on pencil-and-paper tests of has soared over this period, children are apparently less likely to understand the principles they’ve been trained to tick boxes about.
Research published recently by the independent Alexander Review of primary education shows that – on tests other than those for which children are coached – there have been only modest improvements in mathematics, and little change in literacy standards. And in last month’s PIRLS survey of international achievement in literacy, England had actually gone backwards, slumping from 3rd to 19th place.
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