A suggested template for the Methods in Context Question on one of the AQA’s 7191 (1)education and methods in context sample exam papers – the template should work for most Method in Context questions, but it won’t work for all of them (it’ll fit less well for secondary data MIC questions)
Question: 06 Read Item B below and answer the question that follows
Investigating pupils with behavioural difficulties
Some pupils experience behavioural difficulties and problems interacting with others. This can create a major obstacle to learning, for both themselves and their classmates. In some cases, they are taught in specialist schools or in pupil referral units separate from mainstream education. Often, their behavioural difficulties result from problems outside school and many pupils come from materially deprived and chaotic home backgrounds.
Some sociologists may study pupils with behavioural difficulties using covert participant observation. This method enables the researcher to witness directly the pupils’ behaviour and its context. It may also allow the researcher to build a relationship of trust with pupils and parents. However, the researcher may find it difficult to fit in and he or she may need to adopt a specialised role such as teacher or support worker.
Evaluate the strengths and limitations of using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties (20)
Suggested Essay Plan
Cover Four things – Sampling/ Representativeness, Access, Validity, Ethics – In relation to the specific topic you are will be researching….
Discuss getting a sample/ Representativeness
How might you gain a representative sample of the group you are studying? Are there any reasons why it might be difficult to get a representative sample?
Will the research method in the question make achieving a representative sample easier or more difficult?
What could you do to ensure representativeness?
Discuss gaining access to respondents
Once you’ve decided on your sample, why might gaining access to respondents be a problem? (think of who you will be researching, and where you will be researching)
Will the choice of method make gaining access easier or more difficult?
What would you have to do to make sure you can gain access to this particular group?
Discuss validity/ empathy/ trust/ Insight
Think of who you will be researching – are there any specific reasons why they may not wish to disclose information, or be unable to be disclose information?
Will the research method in the question make gaining trust easier or more difficult?
What could you do to make sure you get valid data from the people you will be researching?
Think of the specific topic you are researching in relation to who you will be researching – are there any specific ethical problems with researching these people?
Given these ethical problems, is the research method appropriate?
How can you make sure research is ethical?
Based on all of the above is this a practical, theoretically sound and ethical method for this topic
NB – For the Topic you could discuss any of the following:
Who you might be researching
Where you might be researching pupils with behavioural difficulties
Specific characteristics of the subjects under investigation
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Evaluate the extent to which home based, rather than school – based factors account for social class based differences in educational achievement (30)
Focusing on home background initially, we can look at how material and cultural factors might affect a child’s education.
The lower classes are more likely to suffer from material deprivation at home which can hold children back in education because of a lack access to resources such as computers, or living in a smaller house means they would be less likely to have a quiet, personal study space. In extreme situations, children may have a worse diet and a colder house, which could mean illness and time off school. According to Gibson and Asthana, the effects of material deprivation are cumulative, creating a cycle of deprivation. This would suggest that home background influences a child’s education.
Also, the amount of money one has and the type of area one lives in affects the type of school a child can get to. Richer parents have more choice of school because they are more likely to have two cars or be able to afford public transport to get their children to a wider range of schools. Also, house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools can be up to 20% higher than similar houses in other areas – richer parents are more able to afford to move to these better schools. At the other end of the social class spectrum, those going to school in the most deprived areas may suffer disruptions in school due to gang related violence. All of this suggests that location, which is clearly part of your ‘home background’ in the broader sense of the word, is a major factor in educational achievement.
Cultural deprivation also has a negative effect on children at home. Bernstein pointed out that working class children are more likely to be socialised into the restricted speech code and so are less able to understand teachers at school compared to their middle class peers who speak in the elaborated speech code. The classes are also taught the value of immediate rather than deferred gratification, and so are less likely to see the value of higher education. In these theories, home background influences children all the way through school.
Although the concept of cultural deprivation is decasdes old, more recent research suggests it is still of relevance. Fenstein’s (2003) research found that lower income is strongly correlated with a lack of ability to communicate, while research by Conor et al (2001) found that being socialised into poverty means working class students are less likely to want to go to university than middle class students because they are more ‘debt conscious’.
Cultural Capital Theory also suggests that home background matters to an extent – this theory argues that middle class parents have the skills to research the best schools and the ability to help children with homework – and to intervene in schools if a child falls behind (as Diana’s research into the role of mothers in primary school education suggested). However, cultural capital only advantages a child because it gets them into a good school –suggesting that it is the school that matters at least as much as home background. There wouldn’t be such a fuss over, and such competition between parents over schools if the school a child went to didn’t have a major impact on a child’s education!
In fact, one could argue that probably the most significant advantage a parent can give to their child is getting them into a private school. To take an extreme case, Sunningdale preparatory school in Berkshire costs £16000/ year – a boarding school which confers enormous advantage on these children and provides personalised access via private trips to elite secondary schools Eton and Harrow. In such examples, it is not really home background that is advantaging such children – it is simply access to wealth that allows some parents to get their children into these elite boarding schools and the schools that then ‘hothouse’ their children through a ‘high ethos of expectation’ smaller class sizes and superb resources.
Similarly, the case of Mossborn Academy and Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius programme show that schools can overcome disadvantage at home – if they provide strict discipline and high expectation.
Although all of the above are just case studies and thus of limited use in generating a universal theory of what the ‘major cause’ of differences in educational achievement by social class might be, many similar studies have suggested that schools in poorer areas have a lower ethos of expectation (from Willis’ classic 1977 research on the lads to Swain’s research in 2006). It is thus reasonable to hypothesis that the type of school and in school factors such as teacher labelling and peer groups might work to disadvantage the lower classes as Becker’s theory of the ideal pupil being middle class and Willis’ work on working class counter school cultures would suggest, although in this later case, Willis argues that the lads brought with them an anti-educational working class masculinity, so home factors still matter here.
Finally – Social Capital theory also suggests that home background is not the only factor influencing a child’s education – rather it is the contacts parents have with schools – and later on schools with universities and business – that are crucial to getting children a good education, and making that education translate into a good job.
So is it home background or school factors that matter? The research above suggests home background does have a role to play, however, you certainly cannot disregard in school factors in explaining class differences in educational achievement either – in my final analysis, I would have to say that the two work together – middle class advantage at home translating into better schooling, and vice versa for the working classes.
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Here’s a quick visual overview of how I’m intending to teach the new (although not that new given the relatively minor changes made) AS Sociology AQA 7191 Families and Households Option. (Click to enlarge/ save).
NB – This isn’t in the same order as the Scheme of Work on the AQA’s web site, but the content is the same. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with the AQA’s SOW, it’s just that I don’t see the need to change what I’ve got!
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