How I would’ve answered the AQA A level sociology of education exam, June 2018

A few hints and tips on how I would have answered yesterday’s exam.


Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology education with theory and methods exam, June 2018… Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA).

Click here for a link to general advice for how to answer questions on paper 1: Education with theory and methods.

I won’t produce the exact questions below, just the gist…

Q01 – how marketization policies may affect social class differences in achievement (2 marks)

Difficulty – very easy

I would have gone with two aspects of marketization policy and then linked these to material and cultural factors which explain class differences

  • E.G. more parental choice – linked to skilled choosers
  • Formula funding – polarisation of schools – cream skimming/ selection by mortgage (bit of a mission but it would distinguish between the previous point!)

And then ideally explain how they differentially effect at least two ethnic groups. 

Q02 – Three reasons for gender differences in educational achievement(6 marks)

Same topic as last year’s 6 marker…difficulty level very easy.

I would have gone for something like….

  • Socialisation differences
  • subcultures
  • Teacher labelling

I would have discussed gender differences (between girls and boys) and then the different effects on educational achievements, clearly comparing males and females.

Then talk it through with ideally three example of different subjects, discussing both boys and girls.

Q03 – Analyse two ways in which education serves the needs of capitalism

Difficulty –  fairly easy

NB – there was a lot in the item you could have discussed. The ‘hooks’ were really as follows:

  • Capitalism being based on a wealthy minority owning the means of production
  • Capitalism requiring people working in low-paid menial jobs
  • Capitalism requiring workers to not rebel.

It follows that you want to develop using the following

Point one – Capitalism requiring people working in low-paid menial jobs – develop using correspondence principle, further develop with something about Private Schools and the elite class to contrast.

Point two – Capitalism requiring workers to not rebel – develop using ‘legitimation of class inequality, evaluate with Paul Willis.

Q04 Evaluate explanations of social class differences in educational achievement (30)

Difficulty – easy

Personally, I think you should have just ‘tweaked’ this essay plan accordingly, and made more of the links between out of school and in-school factors!

Q05 – the strengths and limitations of participant observation to investigate pupil exclusions

Difficulty – easy for a methods in context question!

As usual, get the method correct first – deal with the practical, ethical and theoretical problems of BOTH covert and overt. And as you go through, try to link to researching in school and the topic.

NB the item mentions poorer pupils and Gypsy Roma pupils, so plenty of specifics to pick up on with gaining access especially.

I will knock up a more thought out answer at some point soon, nice question this!

06 – Two problems with using Functionalism to understand society

Difficulty – easy

I actually covered this in this post – slightly different format, but enough material here for you to develop into a full mark answer to this question.

A-Level Sociology Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Sociological perspectives on the relationship between education and work


Main post on the functionalist perspective on education.

Education teaches us specialist skills for work – At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs. This allows for a complex division of labour to take place.

Role Allocation and meritocracy – Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy


Main post on the marxist perspective on education.

The reproduction of class inequality and the myth of meritocracy – In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

School teaches the skills future capitalist employers need through the ‘Hidden Curriculum (e.g. pupils Learn to accept authority; they learn to accept hierarchy, and motivation by external rewards)

Paul Willis

Willis described the friendship between the 12 boys (or the lads) he studied as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work. The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.


Stereotypical views of teachers and careers advisors as well as peer group pressure means that subject choices are still shaped by traditional gender norms – which limits the kind of jobs boys and girls go onto do in later life.

Even though girls do better at school, they still get paid less than men, so qualifications do not necessarily result in more pay!

 The New Right

Main post on the new right and education

The mid 1970s was a time of rising unemployment in Britain, particularly among the young.  It was argued that the education system was not producing a skilled enough workforce and that the needs of the economy were not being met. From the mid 1970s both the Conservative and Labour governments agreed that education should be more focussed on improving the state of the economy by providing training courses for young people in different areas of work.

This emphasis on meeting the needs of industry became known as ‘New Vocationalism’ which first took off in the 1980s.

Applying material from Item A, analyse two reasons why some pupils join pupil subcultures (10)

This is one of the 10 mark analyse questions appearing on one of the AQA’s specimin papers, below I’ve simply adapted the AQA’s model answer and added in my own commentary….

  • Hooks in the item
  • What to apply the hooks to = pupil subcultures!

Item A

Schools give status to pupils on the basis of characteristics such as their perceived ability, behaviour and attitude, and this is often related to pupils’ class, gender and ethnicity.

Pupils with desirable characteristics are given higher status and treated differently. These pupils are likely to do well and to feel positive about school. Some other pupils may be more concerned about their friends’ opinions of them than with the school’s view of them.

The text below has been modified from the AQA’s student responses and examiner commentary. All I’ve done is split the paragraphs apart to show you clearly that there are 4-5 explanations/ development of each point. NB the response got 10/10.

Point 1

Hargreaves argued that schools streamed pupils on the basis of their behaviour (Item A line 2). Those students who were labelled as a trouble-maker were put in the lower stream.

They had two negative labels put on them. They were penalised by being put in a secondary school (modern) and by being put in the lower streams. The teachers called them worthless louts. The students were denied status and came together to create a sense of self-worth forming anti-school subcultures.

They did this by inverting the values of the school. In an anti-school sub-culture being bad became being good. Thus they didn’t hand in homework, cheated and broke school rules.

The more they did this the more their respect increased amongst their peers. Because these pupils were treated differently (Item A line 3) they developed a sub-culture.

Point 2:

The way teachers treat pupils causes pupils to form a subculture. This may be because they are labelled by teachers in the classroom. Labelling means attaching a definition such as bright or high achiever.

This labelling may be due to external factors such as possessing elaborated language code. Lacey found that teacher labelling can result in polarisation of pupils, where they become even further apart in achievement and behaviour.

Those who are positively labelled form pro-school subcultures, they tend to mix with other who are similarly labelled. The pupils in these subcultures work hard and have good behaviour.

These pupils gain more favour with the teachers and research by Ball showed how this meant the teacher spent more time with them. Linking to the first point, these pupils are also more likely to end up in higher streams, further improving their chances of educational success.

Examiner commentary

Good knowledge and understanding of two relevant reasons, streaming and labelling, for the reasons why pupils form subcultures. These include relevant sociological evidence and concepts. The points show developed application of the material from the item. The answer also draws links between the two reasons for the formation of subcultures. 10/10 marks awarded

Karl’s Commentary – How to answer 10 mark questions?

From this example, it seems obvious that the student has nit-picked the item to the extreme. What they’ve done in both responses is linked the first section of the item to the second section, so if you can do this, then that’s clearly best practice!

They’ve also done the following to ‘differentiate’: note – they talk about four different things!

  • Streaming – linked to anti-school subcultures
  • Labelling – linked to pro-school subcultures.

An alternative strategy may have been to pick up on the class, gender and ethnicity element and use this to differentiate even further in both points!

NB – There’s a colour coded version of the above in the revision bundle below, in which I show all the many links the candidate makes to the item! 

Essay Plans/ Revision Resources

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education


Sources used to write this post

AQA: Student Responses with Examiner Commentary Specimen Paper 2015

Essay Plans/ Revision Resources

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Is University overrated?

According to in the Economist, we are engaged in a pointless academic arms race, with more and more students going to university, while the benefits to them, and to wider society become harder to concern. Degrees are now so common place, that they don’t really mean very much, but employers still use them as a means of screening applicants, and many fields that didn’t used to require a degree, now do (take recruitment as an example).

There is also a problem that many students who start degree courses do not complete their studies… across the developed world, fully 30% of students who start a degree drop out without graduating, a problem which has a significant financial cost when each year of study costs £10K.

Maybe students would be better off spending their money to boost their ‘micro-credentials’ by doing short courses which mean more to employers… IT courses for example?

Playing the SENCO Game…

According to the latest Department for Education data, the number of pupils receiving extra time in exams in England and Wales has increased by 35.8% since 2013/14.

However, at the same time there has been a 20.4% decrease in pupils identified as having Special Education Needs.

This represents a real terms 4 year increase of 51.2% of pupils receiving extra time, relative to those pupils identified as SEN (which should give us an indication of the underlying ‘pool’ of pupils who are potentially eligible for extra time.

Here’s the statistics (full sources below)

SEN pupils

So what’s going on here? How do we explain this?

This Telegraph article points to the fact that a disproportionate amount of the increase in pupils receiving extra time is driven by kids (or rather parents) in Independent schools…they are twice as likely to receive extra time as kids in state funded schools.

This alone has to push you towards a combination of cultural capital theory and labelling theory in explaining what’s going on here – it’s extremely unlikely that kids in Independent schools have objectively (i.e. really) suddenly become more in need of extra time, relative to kids in state schools – and as the article alludes to, it’s probably down to middle class parents getting their kids assessed for extra time (and maybe those kids gaming the system?)

NB – the number of kids in state schools receiving extra time in exams has also increased, but not as fast as those in independent schools. (Might be interesting to subject this to regional analysis to see if it’s linked to income?)

VERY INTERESTINGLY, if you dig into the Access Arrangements data below, this aspect of the data doesn’t exist from the DFES (I assume it did once, otherwise said article wouldn’t have been written)

As to the increasing number of kids receiving extra time AT THE SAME TIME AS A DECREASE IN KIDS WITH SEN – this might reflect a polarisation – i.e. objectively there are fewer kids with ‘more serious’ SEN that require such exam concessions, but overall there are fewer kids with any SEN…

HOWEVER, once you dig even deeper into the stats below, what do you find…

Statemented kids are on the increase within state funded schools (where you get Pupil Premium for taking on statemented kids), while non statemented SEN kids are on the decrease (which you don’t get funding for, but you have to spend school resources on to keep OFSTED happy)

Compared to Independent schools – Statemented kids are on the decrease, while non-statemented kids are on the increase – and how do we explain the difference – these schools don’t get extra money for taking on statemented SEN kids like state schools, while they can get their kids extra time by doing their own ‘in-house’ SEN assessment.

NB – this is only one possible interpretation, and I’m prepared to stand corrected if anyone wants to pull me up on my less than perfect understanding of SEN funding and access arrangement policy!

Sources of Data

SEN data

Access Arrangements

Telegraph Article

Problems with the fusion of  big data and education

The first problem is that it will be more difficult for us to forget and escape our past….

While we as individuals grow, evolve and change, comprehensive educational data collected through the years remains unchanged – there is a problem that as the amount of data collected on us through our formative years, we might be judged in the future by this historic data – creating a kind of ‘permanence of the past’.

Our historic data record might show a future employer that we were enrolled in a remedial math class in our first year of university, and this fact alone might put them off calling us for interview, even if our maths has evolved in the intervening years, which means we might get credit for how we have evolved in our later years.

The problem with data is that it is unlikely to tell anyone about the context in which it takes place – if test scores are low during particular years, for example, the data alone is unlikely to tell us what was going on more broadly in our lives at that time – unlike today, when we can effectively forget low-periods in our lives, in the forthcoming age of big data, they will always be on display for anyone to scrutinise, without access to the more in-depth context.

Employers already track Facebook posts, if there is more educational data, then they might well delve into that too.

A second problem is that our big data record might fix our future…

Today schools make predictions based on ‘small data’, yet students can argue against the paths suggested by such small data (GCSEs etc) because it is precisely that, small, collected at only a few points in time, clearly not telling the whole story.

In the Big data age, however, predictions based on more data may become so accurate that they lock students into educational tiers of particular programmes of study – some universities are already experimenting with ‘e-advisors’ – since the University of Arizona implemented such a system in 2007, the proportion of students moving on from one year to the next has increased from 77% to 84%…. In future these systems may evolve to advise, or prevent, students from undertaking particular courses of study deemed to be too difficult for them.

This may lock-in students to pre-determined study and career paths, which may have a detrimental effect on equality of opportunity.

A third problem, largely dismissed by Cukier, is that the fusion between big data and educational institutions will only work if students and parents consent to tech companies having access to their children’s private data. For some reason he cannot see the problems with this, which suggests more than anything else he’s an industry-insider.

School Types in England and Wales – Statistical Overview…

As of 2017, there were over 250 000 children in ‘Converter Academies’, 86, 000 students in sponsored academies, and 170 000 students in LEA maintained schools. This that in 2017 there were twice as many students in converter and sponsored academies combined as there are in LEA funded mainstream schools….

Number Pupils Schools Academies

Free Schools, meanwhile, cater to only just over 3000 students, with studio schools the least popular type of school, with only 1200 students.

Click on the link above, for the (slightly lame) interactive version… NB this is me still trying to get my head around Tableau!


Kahoot for teaching A-level sociology

Kahoot is an online quizzing platform which allows teachers to create multiple choice quizzes which can be played in-class by students, who access the quiz on a mobile device.

Students need to go to and need a pin (unique to each quiz, and only available once the teacher makes the quiz live) to enter…

There are a few different ‘game’ options (there’s a matching/ ordering version) for example, but here I’m focusing just on the ‘classic’ Kahoot….

How Kahoot works…

NB – I recommend you go check it out for yourself, nothing like practice to get your head around it! (If, of course, you think it’s worth the time investment…)

Questions are projected up like this

Before the screen below just the question appears, for a set amount of time (I like to set this at 10 seconds) – this is thinking time!

And students see the coloured options on their phones like this..

They simply tap the option they think is correct.

Students get points for correct answers and for how quickly they answered, and their ranked at the end of each question in a leader board, and yes of course, there’s an overall winner after all the questions have been answered…

I like to set up a Kahoot with 15-20 questions, which is ENOUGH! Although I’ve seen some with dozens of questions.

You might also like to read the following two posts to see how Kahoot compares to…

What I like about Kahoot

  • Christmas in coming, and I don’t know about you, but if it’s a toss up between starting ‘experiments in research methods’ or playing Kahoot on that slack last day of term… well let’s just say Milgram can wait until January!
  • It’s possibly the most fun you’ll have in class in all year…
  • The background  ‘data entry’ side of Kahoot is very easy to use – it’s basically the same as for Quizlet, and, as with Quizlet, you can duplicate, modify and repurpose other people’s work.

What I don’t like about Kahoot…

  • Oh how the children lold all term, yet oh how they wailed when they came to their exams and realised they had no clue WTF analysis was.
  • Unlike Quizlet, you don’t end up with nice Flashcards which the students can use to review knowledge, and the quizzes aren’t available offline afterwards. IMO Quizlet is far better a time investment for A level sociology teachers.
  • It actually has quite a discouraging effect on those in the bottom half of the leader board!

Assess the view that western models of education are not appropriate to developing countries (20)

Overview plan

  1. What are Western Models of Education?
  2. What are the arguments and evidence for western models being appropriate to developing countries?
  3. What are the arguments and evidence against/ what other models might be appropriate?
  4. Conclusion – when might Western models be appropriate/ when not?

This is a possible 20 mark essay which might come up on the AQA’s A-level sociology (7192/2) topics in sociology paper. Below is my extend plan. You might like to read this post on education and international development first, most of the material below is based on this.

Extended plan

1. What are Western Models of Education?

  • Free state education for all, funded by tax payer
  • Functions – apply Functionalism – crucial link to work and economy
  • Expensive, requires tax base, trained professionals
  • Industrial model/ factory model
  • National curriculums, standardised testing (downsides)

2. What are the arguments and evidence for western models being appropriate to developing countries?

  • Mainly modernisation theory – link to breaking traditional values
  • There is a correlation between education and economic growth.
  • Would anyone disagree with the idea that teaching kids to read/ keeping them out of work is a good idea? Near universal agreement.
  • Western companies are involved in running education systems in developing countries (linked to neoliberalism)

3. What are the arguments and evidence against western education being appropriate/ what other models might more appropriate?

  • Dependency theory argues western education is simply part of the colonial project – a ‘reward’ for the natives who obey the colonisers.
  • Western education focuses too much on Western history, it’s ethnocentric, and erases diverse voices (Galeano)
  • Bare Foot Education (people centred development) might be more appropriate – local education systems run by local people to meet local needs (focussing on agricultural technology, women’s empowerment for example).
  • Most obvious reasons ‘Western education’ might not work are due to numerous barriers to education – e.g. poorer countries cannot afford the teachers, rural populations are too dispersed.
  • Building on point d above, two of the biggest barriers are groups such as Boko Haram who prevent girls from getting an education.
  • Neoliberals and others suggest we can educate effectively in poor countries without the need for massive state sectors like in the west (through online learning, e.g. the hole in the wall experiment).

4. Conclusion – when might Western models be appropriate/ when not?

  • In principle the western idea of funding education for children for 11 years is hard to argue against
  • However, there are problems with many aspects of the western education system – top-down national curriculums for example, and the focus on too much testing, and the sheer expense.
  • Also, there are massive barriers to rolling out western style education systems in developing countries which would make massive state education difficult to maintain.
  • So in conclusion I’d say the most effective way to implement and improve education in poorer countries is to adopt some but not all aspects of western models – maybe having the state and aid money guarantee teacher training and reading programmes, combined with a more ground-up people centred development approach to make sure local people are included in shaping specific aspects of education to meet their local needs.


Will E-learning Platforms change Education?

Big data enthusiasts argue that the greater data collection and analysis potential provided by e-learning platforms such as Khan Academy and Udacity provide much more immediate feedback to students about how they learn, and they thus predict a future in which schools and private data companies will work together in a new educational ecosystem…

This is a continuation of my summary of  Meyer-Schonberger and Cukier’s in their (2017) ‘Big Data: The Essential Guide to Work, Life and Learning in the Age of Insight.

You might like to read this previous post first – How will Big Data Change Education? (according to the above authors).

The advantages of e-learning platforms over traditional education

Khan Academy is well-known for its online videos, but just as important to its success is the software which collects data about how students learn, as well as what they are learning.

To date, Khan Academy has data on over a billion completed exercises, which includes information on not only what videos students watch and what tests scores they achieve, but also on the length and number of times they engage with each aspect of the course, and the time of day they did their work. This enables data analysts to deduce (probabilistically) how students learn most effectively, and to provide feedback as to how they might improve their learning.

The Kahn Academy is just one online learning platform, along with a whole range of MOOCs offered through Udacity, Coursera and edX, as well as SPOOCs (small, private online courses) which are collecting huge volumes of data on student learning. The volume of data is unprecedented in human history, and Cukier suggests that this could change the whole ecosystem of learning, incorporating third parties who do the data analysis and with the role of instructors (‘teachers’) changing providing advice on which learning pathways students should adopt.

At least some of the Khan Academy Data on learning is available to third parties to analyse for free, and information personal to students is presented to them in the form a dashboard, which allows for real-time feedback to take place.

Cukier contrasts the above, emerging ecosystem of online learning, to the present ‘backward’ way in which data is collected and managed in the current education system as backward (he actually uses the term ‘agrarian’ to describe the process) – in which students are subjected to a few SATs tests at predetermined stages, and this score is ‘born by them’ until the next test, which makes labelling by teachers more likely.

In addition to this, the school day and year are run in a 19th century style, pigeon holed into year groups, pre-determined classes, students exposed to the same material, and with digital devices often banned from classes. All of this means data cannot be harnessed and analysed.

Where does this leave existing institutions of learning?

Schools and universities are well poised to harvest huge amounts of data on students, simply because they have 1000s, or 10s of 1000s of students enrolled.

To date, however, these traditional education institutions have shown a very limited ability to collect, let alone analyse and use big data to better inform how students learn.

The coming change will affect universities first – these have mature students, and this audience is more than capable of digesting insights about how to learn more effectively… the big universities where fees are expensive and students don’t get much back in return are poised for disruption by innovators…

Some of the very top universities seem to have got the importance of BIg Data – MIT identified EdX as a crucial part of its forward strategy in 2013 for example, but some of the universities lower down the pecking order may find it difficult to compete.

The response of some forward looking schools is to embrace elearning – recognising the importance of getting and utilising more data on how students learn – Khan Academy is partnered with a number of schools, for example Peninsula Bridge, a summer school for middle schoolers from poor communities in the Bay area. – Cukier cites an example of one girl who managed to improve her maths due to this (again, evidence cited is almost non existent here!)

The chapter concludes with imaging a future in which schools are just part of a broader ecosystem of learning – which includes a much more prominent role for private companies and where data plays a more central role in learning.


There are number of factors which may contribute to schools’ inability to harness big data:

  1. Time limitations – as Frank Furedi argues in ‘Wasted’, the function of schools have expanded so that they are now expected to do more than just educate kids – thus an ever larger proportion of schools’ budgets are taken up with other aspects of child development; combined with meddling by successive governments introducing new policies every few years, schools are caught in the trap of having to devote their resources to adapting to external stimuli rather than being able to innovate.
  2. Financial limitations/ equality issues – correct me if I’m wrong, but any online course tailored to GCSEs or A-levels is going to cost money, and this might be prohibitively expensive!
  3. The negative teacher experience of governance by ‘small data’ – there is a staggering amount of small data already collected and teachers are governed by this – it might actually be this experience of being governed by data that makes teachers reluctant to collect even more data – no one wants to be disempowered!
  4. Child privacy rights – there is the not insignificant issue of letting big ICT education companies have access to our children’s learning data!