How to Answer Methods in Context Questions: A Model Answer from the AQA

‘Methods in Context’ questions appear on A Level Sociology Paper 1 (Education with Theory and Methods) and AS Sociology Paper 1 (Education with Methods in Context).

Methods in Context questions will ask students to evaluate the strengths and limitations of any of the six main research methods for researching a particular topic within the sociology of education, applying material from the item.

Students often struggle with these questions and so it is useful to have exemplars which demonstrate how to answer them. Thankfully the AQA has recently released some of these, with examiner commentary, and below I’ve reproduced a top band 18/20 answer to one particular methods in context question!

NB – I’ve take this directly from the AQA’s feedback to the 2017 AS sociology exam series (specific source below), but I’ve repositioned the comments on each paragraph to make them more accessible (at the end of each paragraph, rather than at the end of the whole essay.

The specific question below appeared on the June 2017 AS Sociology Paper 1 – the whole paper is now publically available from the AQA’s web site.

Methods in Context

The Question:

Investigating working-class educational underachievement

Read Item B below and answer the question that follows.

ITEM B

On average, working-class pupils underachieve in education compared with those from middle-class backgrounds. Some sociologists believe that material deprivation is one factor that causes working-class underachievement.

Other sociologists argue that values and attitudes in working-class homes may cause underachievement. School factors may also affect achievement. Sociologists may use written questionnaires to study working-class educational underachievement.

Using written questionnaires enables the researcher to reach a large number of pupils, parents and teachers. Also, those who complete the questionnaire can usually remain anonymous. However, not all those who receive a questionnaire will complete it.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using written questionnaires to investigate working-class educational underachievement.

The Mark Scheme (Top Band Only: 17-20)

Answers in this band will show accurate, conceptually detailed knowledge and good understanding of a range of relevant material on written questionnaires.

Appropriate material will be applied accurately to the investigation of the specific issue of working-class educational underachievement.

Students will apply knowledge of a range of relevant strengths and limitations of using written questionnaires to research issues and characteristics relating to working-class educational underachievement. These may include some of the following and/or other relevant concerns, though answers do not need to include all of these, even for full marks:

  • the research characteristics of potential research subjects, eg pupils, teachers, parents, (self-esteem; literacy skills; attitude to school)
  • the research contexts and settings (eg school; classroom; home environment).
  • the sensitivity of researching working-class underachievement (eg schools’ market position; negative publicity; vulnerability of participants; parental consent; teacher reluctance).

Evaluation of the usefulness of written questionnaires will be explicit and relevant. Analysis will show clear explanation and may draw appropriate conclusions

Student Answer – Awarded 18/20 (AS standard!)

Picture version:

Page 1

Page 2

Text Version:

Paragraphs as in actual student response, numbers added for clarity.

Examiner comments appear in red after each paragraph.

ONE – Written questionnaires are a type of survey where questions are standardised and distributed to large numbers of people. This is useful in an educational setting because it means they can be given to numerous students in numerous schools, something which is very important when investigating working class pupils as there are many regions which are predominantly working class.

First paragraph – general advantages of written questionnaires – standardised and large distribution. Attempt to link to topic

TWO – One major advantage of using questionnaires is that they pose relatively few practical issues. They are fairly cheap to create and distribute and they quick to fill out, especially if all questions are closed ended. This means that access is not usually an issue for the researcher as they will not disrupt lessons as much as other methods such as structured interviews, meaning that the researcher is more likely to received permission from the gatekeeper. Furhtermore, working class pupils are more likely to need to take on paid work and so the quick-nature of questinnaires which are not very time consuming means that they are useful for investigating working class underachievement.

Para 2 – advantage of Wc related to context of research in schools (gatekeepers).

THREE – However, when investigating working class pupils there may be the issue of cultural deprivation, particularly language issues. Berciler and Englemann argue that the language spoken by the working class is deficient, a particular issue when trying to interpret the questions on a written question questionnaire. When coupled with the fact that questionnaires are written in the elaborated code but working class pupils (and parents) tend to speak in the restricted code this can be a major problem in gaining accurate results; unlike with other methods, questions cannot be clarified

Para 3 – good link to topic and WQ re language and speech codes.

FOUR – As well as posing few practical issues, written questionnaires do not pose many ethical issues. This is because the respondent can remain anonymous if they so wish and they can also leave any intrusive or sensitive issues blank. When studying working class underachievement this is a particular advantage because some pupils may be embarrassed to discuss their home lives, particularly if they live in poverty.

Para 4 – ethical issues discussed – anonymity developed with reference to topic

FIVE – Even though there are relatively few ethical uses, the researcher must be aware of harm to respondents. For working class children there may be a stigma attached, and for sensitive issues such as home life, the use of questionnaires can still cause distress. Nevertheless, the fact that respondents are not obligated to respond means this ethical problem is easily overcome.

Para 5 – further developed with reference to topic

SIX – From the perspective of a positivist, written questionnaires are a useful way to investigate working class underachievement because the data produced when using standardised questions is quantitative and high in reliability. This makes questionnaires useful for investigating working class underachievement because it allows cause and effect relationships to be established, for example whether or the not the structure of the education system reproduces working class underachievement, or whether there is a correlation between family background and achievement. However, the nature of written questionnaires can be an issue if the researcher’s meaning is imposed onto the questionnaire so it is another  fact that must be taken into account

Para 6 – various positivist concepts – good on usefulness of WC – but not unique to topic

SEVEN – From the point of view of an interpretivist, written questionnaires are not useful when investigating working class underachievement because the data lacks validity. While questionnaires may be able to identify that factors such as material deprivation may influence the achievement of working class pupils, it does not get to the heart of the matter. Written questionnaires do not investigate the meanings that pupils may attach to the reasons they may underachieve, and do not let the respondent communicate their ideas freely. Because of this lack of validity interpretivists do not favour the use of written questionnaires to investigate working class underachievement.

Para 7 – interpretivism and validity – not related to topic specifically (generic)

EIGHT – Ultimately, written questionnaires can be useful to investigate working class underachievement because the data is easy to analyse and compare, which may be useful as the data could be used over time to look at whether government policies put in place to reduce working class underachievement really work. Not only that but they are representative, so generalisations about the wider population can be made in a way that methods favoured by interpretivists cannot.

Para 8 – attempt to relate strengths of WQs to topic

Overall COMMENT – very strong on method with some (2/3) clear links to topic

MARK: 18/20

For more examples of model answers to exam questions, please see the links on my main page on exam advice

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

Signposting

Methods in Context Questions (possibly better know as ‘applied methods questions’ will appear on the Education with Theory and Methods Paper in the A-level sociology exams.

For more examples of how to answer exam questions please see my page on exams, essays, and short answer questions.

Sources:


AS SOCIOLOGY Paper 1 Education with Methods in Context, Tuesday 16 May 2017

AS Sociology 7191/1 Education with Methods in Context Final Mark scheme 7191, June 2017

AS SOCIOLOGY: Feedback on the exam(s) Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 Education with Methods in Context Published: Autumn 2017

Examples of possible 10 mark questions for AQA A-Level sociology: families and households topic

Advice on examples of possible 10 mark (outline and explain or analyse applying the item) questions for the AQA’s A-level sociology.

There are two types of 10 mark question within the families and households section of the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 2: An outline and explain (no item) question and an ‘applying material from an item, analyse  question. Both questions will ask students to Outline or explain/ analyse using the item TWO ways/ reasons, consequences/ criticisms (the action words may vary)

In its ‘guidance on 10 mark questions’ (see link above), the AQA intimates that there is a strong possibility that both of these types of 10 mark question will ask students to link two areas from within the broader topic area.

For families and households, there are 5 main topic areas, as outlined below, and it is likely that any 10 mark question will ask to you show how one of these areas is related to another.

AQA Sociology specification Families Households.png

So typical example questions might ask you link perspectives on the family to birth rates, or social policies to childhood.

HOWEVER, according to the notes and guidance on 10 mark questions provided by the AQA does not say that a 10 mark question will necessarily ask students to link two topic areas: the guidance on  ’10 mark ‘outline and explain’ questions says linking two areas is one way students may be asked to show analyse, but it isn’t the only way; and for the 10 mark analyse from the item type questions, the guidance explicitly says you may be asked to link two elements from the same or different areas within the topic.

So, for these reasons I’ve also included the ‘core themes’ in the diagram above, because to my mind, linking any of the above topic areas to any of the core themes might be another way the AQA might get you to analyse in an outline and explain type question.

Finally, you also need to be prepared for a more in depth question, where the 10 mark applying from the item questions are concerned, one which only asks you to discuss material from within one bullet point above.

The guidance above should apply equally as well to 10 mark questions on paper 1 (Education with Theory and Methods) and paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods), as well as, of course, section B, the other option on the topics paper 2.

A Level Sociology: 10 mark questions

There are two types of 10 mark question across the 3 A-level sociology exam papers: ‘outline and explain questions’ (no item) and ‘applying material from the item’ questions.

Below is a nice wall-chart explaining the difference between them, adapted from the AQA’s ‘notes and guidance document. (source)

Sociology A-level 10 mark questions.png

*the action word here might be different. Instead of ‘reasons’ it may be ‘criticisms’, ‘consequences’, ‘ways’ or something else!

**Obviously there will be an item! Not included here because it wouldn’t fit. YOU MUST REFER TO THE ITEM!

For specific examples of the two different types of 10 mark question, please click here: A-level sociology: exams and revision advice. For even more practice questions, see below!

Revision Resources for Sale…. 

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A-level sociology revision bundles  – each of which contains the following:

  1. Revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. model essay questions.

NB – it’s only the bundles which contain all four of the above resources, some of the resources available are sold separately.

I’ve taught sociology for nearly 20 years, and been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about. If you purchase, you’d also be helping me escape the man and regain my humanity.

 

 

Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years.

A 10 mark ‘analyse with item’ practice question and answer for the AQA’s A-level paper 2: families

Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years (10)

  • Hooks

Item A

Parents today spend a great deal of time and money trying to make sure that their children enjoy a comfortable upbringing. They want their children to have opportunities that they themselves never had. ‘March of progress’ sociologists argue that these changes in family life have led to an improvement in the position of children in society.

How to answer this question?

It’s pretty obscure (IMO) but the item gives you TWO obvious ‘hooks’:

  1. Time/ money/ comfortable upbringing which is pointing to ‘improving living standards’
  2. Improved opportunities – education being the most obvious!

The above two should be your two points, analysed in both cases from the March of progress view (how have these improved the position of children), and to my mind this question is also screaming for you to evaluate each of these points (unlike the not item outline and explain 10 mark questions, you do get marks for evaluating in these ’10 mark with the item’ question.

You might like to review these two posts before attempting this question:

The Mark scheme

applying-item-question-10-mark-scheme

 A brief model answer..

I advise developing each of the points below still further!

Point 1: As it says in item A, one change in children’s position in society is that parents spend more time and money on them, and so they have a more comfortable life… the average child now costs about £250K to raise, much more than 100 years ago.

Development – this is because of economic growth over the last 100 years, parents now earn more money and so are able to spend more on children’s toys and ‘educational experiences’ which can further child development; as well as more nutritional food, which means children are healthier.

Further development – parents are also more involved with the socialisation of their children; this is especially true of middle class parents who invest a lot time ‘injecting cultural capital’ into their children.

Further development – lying behind all of this is the fact that children are no longer seen as economic assets: they no longer have to work, but rather there has been a cultural shift in which children have rights and should be allowed a lengthy childhood in which they are cared for.

Evaluation – However there are critics of this ‘march of progress view’ – not all parents are able to afford products for their children (lone parents for example) which can create a sense of marginalisation; also there is a sense in which parents spend time with their kids because they are paranoid about their safety in a risk society – Frank Furedi for example argues that this might stifle child development by preventing them from becoming independent.

Point 2: The second social change which can be said to have improved the lives of children is improved opportunities for children – such as with the expansion of education.

Development – 100 years ago (early 19th century) schooling was only compulsory up until about the age of 14, and this was gradually extended through the decades until today children are expected to be in education or training until the age of 18.

Further Development – From a functionalist point of view, education is meritocratic today and so provides opportunities for all children to achieve qualifications and get jobs appropriate to their skills. Children also benefit from the secondary socialisation schools provide, which many uneducated parents may not be able to provide effectively. We now have National Curriculum which ensures all children learn maths English and a broad range of other subjects

Further development – The expansion of education has been combined with the expansion of child welfare more generally – so schools are about improving child well being and safety more generally, meaning children have more opportunities to escape abuse than in the past.

Evaluation – However, from a Marxist point of view, not everyone has the same opportunities in school, and from a Feminist perspective gendered socialisation and stereotyping in school means that girls do not have equality of opportunity with boys.

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level  Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which an ageing population may affect family structures.

My attempt at a model 10/10 answer for this A-level sociology exam question (families and households topic)

This is the 10 mark question in the crime and deviance section of the AQA’s 2016 Specimen A-level sociology paper 2: Topics in Sociology, section A: Families and Households option.

In this post I consider a ‘lower middle mark band’ student response (4/10 marks) to this question and the examiner commentary (both are provided by the AQA here) before considering what a ‘top band’ answer might look like.

The Question (with the item!)

analyse-using-item-question-10-marks

The Mark Scheme:

AQA-sociology-mark-scheme

Student Response:

sociology example student response

Examiner Commentary: (4/10 marks)

This is taken straight from the AQA’s own specimen (2016) material. NB I think the commentary actually misses out the most significant thing the candidate does not do, see below for my commentary on the commentary… 

What the candidate does well

  • Two reasonable suggestions are offered
  • There is no problem that they are “opposites” in that both situations may occur in different families.
  • The response provides a competent explanation of each change, explaining how and why older people may impact on female members of the generation beneath them (unfortunately, this is not what the question has asked for).

What the candidate does not do well

  • The response fails to fully answer the question because it does not explicitly connect the change in the position of women to family structures – implicit links to roles are as far as the response gets.
  • This answer does not have a strong knowledge base and concepts are limited
  • The second paragraph could do more to explain how/why the ageing population will lead to more grandparents who are able to provide the suggested role.
  • Both knowledge and application to family structures could be much stronger in this response however there is enough material of partial relevance to access the middle band.
  • This answer is a little too brief, given that around 15 minutes of an examination should be allocated to a 10 mark question.

How you might improve on this response to move up to the top band….

This is my input:

NB -THE POINTS MADE DO NOT SEEM TO COME EXPLICITLY FROM THE ITEM…. IF THE CANDIDATE WAS USING THE ITEM, THEY WOULD HAVE ONE POINT ABOUT ‘INCREASING LIFE EXPECTANCY’ AND ONE POINT ABOUT ‘DECLINING BIRTH RATES’ AND THEN LINK THESE TO CHANGING FAMILY STRUCTURES.

TO MY MIND THE RESPONSE ABOVE IS BASICALLY ‘THE MIDDLE BITS’ – WHAT’S MISSING IS CLEAR REFERENCE TO THE ITEM (THE BEGINNING BITS OF BOTH POINTS) AND ESPECIALLY THE END BITS, ON FAMILY STRUCTURE!

Anyway, if you’d like to submit an improved answer in the comments which takes on board the above feedback, I might even mark it!

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level  Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.

If you’re not quite as flush, how about this… just the 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Sociology Revision Notes

*Price will vary with dollar exchange rate

 

Research Methods Practice Questions for A-level sociology

AQA A-level sociology Papers 1 and 3 will both contain an ‘outline and explain’ 10 mark (no item) question on sociological theories, and/ or methods.

One possible format for this question is what I like to think of as the ‘pure research methods’ format (‘classic’ might be a better word than ‘pure’) in which students are asked to outline and explain two theoretical, practical or ethical advantages or problems of using one of the main research methods.

For example (taken from the AQA’s June 2017 Education with Theory and Methods paper): ‘Outline and explain two problems of using documents in social research’

There are actually 36 possible variations of such ‘pure’ or ‘classic’ research methods questions, as outlined in the flow chart below.

Outline and Explain 10 mark research methods questions

Students may be asked to give two advantages or problems of any of the above methods, or more specific methods (field experiments for example), or they may be asked to give two advantages of using overt compared to covert participant observation, or asked to simply give two ethical problems which you may encounter when doing research more generally.

Then of course, students may be asked to relate methods to theories, or just asked about a pure ‘theoretical’/ perspectives question.

While there is no guarantee that this particular format of question will actually come up on either paper 1 or 3, it’s still good practice for students to work through a number of such questions as revision practice.

Outline and explain two practical problems of using documents in social research (10)

There are a lot of documents available and it can be time consuming to analyse them qualitatively

Taking news for example, there are thousands of news items published every day.

You also need to distinguish between ‘real and ‘fake news’.

Also, in the postmodern age where fewer people get their news from mainstream news it is necessary to analyse a wide range of media content to get representatives, which makes this more difficult.

Because there are so many documents available today, it is necessary to use computer assisted qualitative analysis, which effectively quantifies the qualitative data, meaning that some of depth and insight are lost in the process.

With personal documents, gaining access might be a problem

Personal diaries are one of the most authentic sources of information because people write them with no intention of them being seen.

However, they may not be willing to show researchers the content because they say negative feelings about people close to them, which could harm them.

Blogs would be easier to access but  the problem is people will edit out much of what they feel because these are published.

Analyse two reasons why women remain economically disadvantaged compared to men despite the increase in the gender gap in educational achievement (10)

Using material from item A and elsewhere, analyse two reasons why women remain economically disadvantaged compared to men despite the increase in the gender gap in educational achievement (10)

Item A

Girls have been outperforming boys in education for 30 years now. However, despite this, men still earn more than women.

There are many explanations for this: the most obvious being that schools fail to adequately tackle other aspects of gender inequality: such as gender differences in socialisation, social roles and gendered differences in subject choice.

Suggested Answer

gender gap education work

One reason is that despite getting better qualifications than men, women are more likely to work part-time than men.

This is because despite changes to education in the world of work women are still more likely to be the primary child carers, and thus take time off work, putting their careers on hold in order to bring up children.

According to Radical Feminists this shows that schools fail to tackle in-grained gendered socialisation learnt at home and via the media…. girls may increasingly be going into careers, but by the time they get to 35 and have their first baby it is generally women who take time off work, not men.

This might be because schools only focus on the formal aspects of qualifications (i.e. exam skills, grades) and fail to challenge gender-stereotypes about appropriate future work roles for men and women.

This could also be linked marketization – the curriculum narrows to focus on teaching to the test rather than focussing on broader educational issues such as promoting gender equality and diversity.

A second reason may be that girls are more likely to choose caring subjects which are linked to lower paid careers such as health and social care which leads into nursing.

In contrast boys choose more technical subjects which are linked to more highly paid careers, such as maths and computer programming leading onto engineering and computer programming.

According to labelling theory, this happens because of gendered stereotypes held by careers advisors, with subject advisors steering girls and boys into ‘traditional subject choices’.

This criticises the Liberal Feminist view that mere ‘equality of opportunity’ is sufficient to being about wage equality, and supports the Radical Feminist view that patriarchy (in the form of stereotypical assumptions) still works within schools to disadvantage girls.

However, all of this is changing and that a higher proportion of girls are choosing to do traditionally male subjects and are going into male jobs in greater numbers and that things are actually becoming more equal. Supporting evidence for this lies in the fact that women in their 20s actually earn more than men in their 20s.

 

 

Women do lower payed jobs than men.

Gender gap

Educational achievement

Also subject choice

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

Analyse two ways in which marketization policies may have increased inequality of educational opportunities for some students (10)

Exam practice for A-level sociology

This is one example of a 10 mark question and answer that might come up in the Education with Theory and Methods exam for A-level Sociology.

Question

Applying material from item A and elsewhere analyse two reasons why marketization policies may have increased inequality of educational opportunities for some students (10)

  • Hooks
  • What you need to apply the hooks to

Item A

Since the 1980s, a major aim of government policy has been to increase parental choice in education. In order to increase choice, the government introduced Open Enrolement, allowing parents to choose more than one school and league tables on school performance were also made publicly available.

However, critics of marketization argue that such polices have increased inequality of educational opportunity.

Suggested answer

The first way is that although open enrolement gave parents the right to choose more than one school, technically giving all parents the right to choose the ‘best schools’, middle class children have more effective choice than working class parents.

Development/ analysis: This is because middle class parents have more cultural capital than working class parents – they are more comfortable with reading school literature, attending open evenings and filling in multiple application forms (where they can use their elaborated speech skills), while working class parents are less confident and just end up sending their children to the local schools.

Further development/ analysis: This is further compounded by the ‘school-parent alliance’ – schools want middle class children because they know they get better results, which

Further development/ analysis: An even more basic reason is selection by mortgage – schools have catchment areas, and the houses which fall inside these catchment areas are more expensive, meaning only wealthier children get selected for such schools.

Further development/ analysis: All of this means that ‘choice policies’ have resulted in unequal opportunities for working class children, because they are less likely to be selected for the best schools, not because of their individual potential, but because the higher levels of material and cultural capital of the middle classes gives them more effective choice and thus a greater opportunity to be selected for the best schools.

A second way is that league tables have resulted in schools tending to focus more on formal academic subjects such as English and maths which possibly disadvantages those children who are not good at formal academic subjects.

Development – Because schools are now concerned about their position in the league tables, which depends on their reports and exam results, they have narrowed the curriculum to focus more on core subjects such as English and Maths, putting more resources into these subjects – this is good for those pupils who like those subjects, but bad for students who are gifted in sports or creative subjects, as these are now relatively less funded, meaning there is no equality of opportunity for all students to fulfil their diverse potentials.

Development – Postmodernists would argue this is especially problematic in a postmodern society which is supposed to be more individualised – surely in such a society, if schools are to provide equality of opportunity then they would diversify the way their resources are distributed rather than focusing them more narrowly on ‘core subjects’ for the sake of going up the league tables.

Evaluation – Having said this, the above point only applies to schools: it is quite possible that students who are more creative or vocational will put less emphasis on the cores subjects and instead take advantage of the greater diversity of ‘learning opportunities’ now available outside school to explore their talents, such as online courses and apprenticeships, which you could say ‘fit in’ with the idea of ‘an education market’.

Signposting

For more examples of questions please see my page on exams, essays, and short answer questions.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

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