Methods in Context Questions: A Full Mark Answer from the AQA

An example of a full mark answer to a methods in context question from the AQA.

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Methods in Context

Below I provide an example full mark answer to a methods in context question taken from the AQA’s 2016 Specimen A-level sociology paper 7192 (1) and provide some running commentary on this model answer.

NB – I also outline why the AQA has miss-marked this exemplar… it SHOULD NOT get full marks, because IT DOES NOT do what the mark scheme says it should do to get 20/20.

However… it’s still a good answer…

Methods in Context Questions:

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.

 

Methods in Context

The Question:

Read Item C below and answer the question that follows.

Item C

Investigating the influence of the family on pupils’ education

Families have an important influence on pupils’ education. For example, the family’s income may be able to pay for educational materials and experiences as well as for comfortable conditions in which to study. Similarly, parents’ own education, their child-rearing and socialisation practices, and their speech codes and cultural background can influence children’s’ attitudes to school and their ability to succeed. In all these respects, there are significant class and ethnic differences in family life and they help to explain differences in the educational experiences of different pupils.

One way of studying the influence of the family on pupils’ education is to use structured interviews. These are a good way of gathering basic data quickly. Structured interviews also allow researchers to establish patterns and make comparisons. However, they may be less useful when dealing with sensitive or private issues.

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using structured interviews to investigate the influence of the family on pupils’ education (20).

Mark Scheme (top band only: 17-20)

Answers in this band will show accurate, conceptually detailed knowledge and sound understanding of a range of relevant material on structured interviews.

Appropriate material will be applied accurately and with sensitivity to the investigation of the specific issue of the influence of the family on pupils’ education.

Students will apply knowledge of a range of relevant strengths and limitations of using structured interviews to research issues and characteristics relating to the influence of the family on pupils’ education. 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 individual pupils, parents, other relatives, teachers (eg class and ethnic differences among parents; teachers’ professionalism or attitudes towards pupils’ families)
  • the research contexts and settings, eg pupils’ homes, school premises, school gates
  • the sensitivity of researching influence of the family on pupils’ education, eg families’ material circumstances or child-rearing practices; eligibility for free school meals; stigmatisation; policy and resource implications for schools; parental consent).

Evaluation of the usefulness of structured interviews will be explicit and relevant. Analysis will show clear explanation. Appropriate conclusions will be drawn.

Indicative Content for the strengths and limitations of the method

Strengths and limitations of structured interviews, as applied to the particular issue in education, may include: time, cost, access, hypothesis-testing, quantitative data, factual data, correlation, reliability, sample size, representativeness, generalisability, inflexibility, superficiality, lack of validity, interviewer bias, social desirability effect, status differences, misunderstanding, ethical issues.

Student response

KT’s comments in bold and red beneath each paragraph…

Structured interviews are usually closed-ended interviews which produce reliable, quantitative data. They are relatively quick to carry out and require little training. If the school agrees to the research taking place the researcher would be able to get a large sample of pupils. However, these interviews, although preferred by positivists, are limiting because the questions are fixed. The quantitative nature of the interviews means they are ideal for examining cause and effect such as whether parent attending parents’ evening has an impact on the pupils’ education.

This is a good general introductory paragraph about structured interviews, but it’s really only a mark band level 3 response: because you could replace the phrases ‘school’ and ‘pupils’ with (for example) ‘hospitals’ and ‘patients’ and it would be saying the same thing. The same is true with the final sentence. You could say that about ‘eating 5 pieces of fruit a day’ has an impact on ‘patient recovery rates’.

This is a good example of a paragraph where the candidate may think they’ve said something at level 4 or 5, but really it’s down at level 3!

However, when asking parents about how they bring up their children there could be many problems. Most parents will not want to be thought of as bad parents who do not care about their child. These parents will want to show that they are supportive of their child. The formality of a structured interview will increase parents’ fear and this means that parents may give socially desirable answers, especially as they are face-to-face with the interviewer. They may see the interviewer as a teacher in disguise and this will further encourage choosing answers that may not reflect the true situation of their involvement in their child’s education.

This is a solid ‘mark band level 5’ paragraph – the method applied specifically to the topic under investigation.

Another problem with unstructured interviews is they are inflexible. Closed questions with limited responses will only give the options chosen by the researcher and so may miss vital aspects of home life that could have an impact on a child’s achievement such as temporary housing or domestic abuse. This is likely if the parents are working class and the sociologist is middle class and does not have experience of working class life or know the concerns or worries facing working-class families.

Not quite as solid as the first paragraph, but it does pick up on aspects of home life, so should be at least level 4.

Working-class parents may have lower levels of education and speak in restricted speech code. This means they may not understand a question or they may say something the sociologist does not understand. In a structured interview the sociologist cannot ask for clarification of what has been said. The same problem applies if the parent and the sociologist are of a different ethnic background, in this case there may also be a language barrier if the parent does not speak English or it is not their first language.

Seems like a solid level 5 paragraph again.

Many deprived pupils may have a sense of shame or stigma attached to them. Many do not claim free school meals for this reason and if they are asked about this they may not want to tell the truth. They may lie and they are more likely to lie when they do not feel relaxed or comfortable. This is much more likely in a structured interview as there is no chance to gain rapport. Since the interviewer is present there is an increased risk of social desirable answers. There may be an ethical issue of harm linked to the research due to the nature of the topic and the questions that the interviewer may ask about personal circumstances linked to the pupil’s home background.

The link to free school meals at the beginning should just about clarify this a level 5 response.

A problem with structured interviews with pupils is that most of them will be under 18. This means that they are unable to give their consent and this will cause some ethical concerns. Parents will be unlikely to give their consent because they will feel a sense of shame or they just may not want their child to be part of the research which asked them to give personal details about the parent-child relationship.

This should classify as a standard ‘level 4 response’, about pupils in general.

Structured interviews could be used with teachers to assess their views of the impact of home background. Teachers would be more likely to take part in a structured interview as they are less time consuming. As the questions would be related to children’s home backgrounds teachers may not be able to answer all the questions if they did not have all the details of a pupil’s home situation. Teachers may also give answers that suggest that achievement is linked to factors at home rather than in the school as this takes some of the pressure away from their responsibility.

A clear level 5 response… teachers not knowing about home background… one of the clearest level 5 responses in the whole essay.

Examiner commentary

The answer shows a wide range of application. Many of the points are linked explicitly to the issue of the influence of the family on pupils’ education. The answer covers a range of characteristics of research subjects; parents, pupils and teachers. There is some consideration of the school as a research setting. There are a number of points that consider the sensitivity of researching this subject and the problematic nature of the presence of the interviewer when carrying out this research.

20/20 marks awarded

KT’s commentary…

This is a solid answer, HOWEVER… this SHOULD NOT get 20/20 because IT DOES NOT DRAW APPROPRIATE CONCLUSIONS. Hence as far as I can see the AQA should have awarded it a maximum of 16/20.

There’s another example of a methods in context essay here!

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’.

 

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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

 

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’.T

 

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
Version/Stage: v1.0
AS
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the exam(s)
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 Education with Methods in Context
Published: Autumn 2017

How I Would’ve Answered Yesterday’s AS Sociology Exam Paper (7191/1 – Education)

A few thoughts on how the AQA’s 7191 (1) Education AS exam from May 2017 –

If any teacher finds this annoying because they like to keep these papers back for next year’s mock exam, forget it –

  • Any student can find out the questions on social media, very easily
  • The AQA seems to be publishing last years’ exam on their public access web site earlier, rather than keeping them secure.

You can easily just make up yr own exam papers and mark schemes using adobe editor. Also, I’m not giving the exact questions (well, with the exception of Q01) 

Question 01 – Define term hidden curriculum

Boom! Easy starter – in my 13 key concepts for the sociology of education

The norms and values taught at school which are not written down as part of the formal curriculum – for example the norm of respecting authority and being punctual.

Question 02 – Selection policies and social class

Covered here

Some oversubscribed schools select by catchment area – pupils have to live in a house within a certain distance from the school to stand a chance of getting in – this has resulted in covert selection by mortgage – house prices near the good schools increase and so poorer, working class families cannot afford to move into those areas, thus they have no real choice of getting into the best schools.

Question 03 – Three ways in which school mirrors capitalism

Classic Marxist correspondence theory: see here for three ways, explain school – work…

  • hierarchy
  • authority
  • motivation by external rewards
  • even the reproduction of class inequality 

Question 04 – Education policy and ethnic minorities’ experience of education 

Looks awful, but I’m assuming the policies don’t have to be about ethnicity in particular.

Policy 1 – Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius Programme – linked to positive aspirations for black boys, pro-school subcultures. 

Policy 2Banding and streaming – linked to institutional racism, Steve Strand, Gilborn and Youdell, educational triage. 

Question 05 – In school factors, the gender gap and educational achievement 

Simple really – It’s covered here and you could’ve bolstered it with this stuff

  • Point 1 – teacher labelling and evaluations 
  • Point 2 – Feminisation of teaching and evaluations
  • Point 3 – Subcultures – laddish ones obviously, also hyper-feminine and evaluations
  • Point 4 – Gender identities – I’d use sexual harassment of girls as an evaluation
  • Overall evaluations using out-of school factors and changing gender roles linked to in-school factors, probably concluding that schools really don’t change very much! 

Question 06 – Questionnaires and class differences in educational achievement.

It’s quite similar to this question here

My answer would have focused on the strengths of the method for making comparisons, and the ease of measuring material deprivation compared to the problems of measuring things like cultural deprivation and cultural capital and gaining access to working class parents. 

I would’ve covered all of Theoretical, ethical and practical of course. 

Interestingly the item didn’t give you very much….

You may have noticed that if you follow this blog, you can pretty much game the sociology exams just by memorizing the content. Personally I’ve no problem with this, being good at exams and being able to think sociologically are two different things, and one of these is a useful life-skill, the other isn’t!

Game on!

Evaluate the strengths and limitations of using questionnaires to the role of parents in pupils’ achievement

An example of a ‘methods in context’ question take from an AQA specimen paper – suggested strategy below…

(05) Read item B, then answer the question below (hooks in bold)

Item B

Investigating the role of parents in pupils’ achievement

 Parents play a vital role in pupils’ achievement. There may be social class differences in parents’ income levels, cultural capital, educational qualifications, attitudes to school and how they socialise their children, for example into using different speech codes. Similarly, ethnic differences among parents, for example in family structure, discipline styles or home language, may affect pupils’ achievement.

Questionnaires may be a good way of investigating the role of parents in pupils’ achievement. Pupils can be asked to distribute them to parents at no cost, giving wide coverage. Parents are accustomed to supplying information to the school on a regular basis and this will help to ensure a good response. However, the questions asked may be very personal and some parents may feel that they are being judged. However, they may be less useful when dealing with sensitive issues

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using questionnaires to the role of parents in pupils’ achievement (20 marks)

 Section 1 – Deal with the method –

Remember to deal with

  • Theoretical
  • Practical
  • Ethical

And link education in general, or the topic at this stage if you can…

Section 2 – Link the method to the specific topic.

Examples of top mark band statements – these will be quite different from the previous exemplar because the topic under investigation is different, although there will also be some overlap because there are similarities.

  • Questionnaires might be a quite useful method for researching some aspects of the role of parents in pupils’ achievement because they make it easy to compare differences in home background. Some aspects, such as income levels and educational qualifications of the parents are relatively easy to measure, and would be simple to correlate this with the educational achievement of the child.
  • However, other aspects of home life would be more difficult to measure – cultural capital for example is much more complex than income levels, as it appears in many different forms – how could you measure how ‘skilled’ a parent is at choosing a school in a questionnaire, for example?
  • Similarly with speech codes and language differences, if parents have linguistic deprivation, they may not be happy completing a questionnaire designed to measure their poor language skills, they may not even be able to, thus you would get poor representativeness from such parents.
  • Again with socialisation practices, which takes place over many years, questionnaires wouldn’t allow you find out with any depth the many interactions that go into making up the child.
  • A stated strength in the item is that parents are used to giving information to schools, and so would be happy to complete a questionnaire, this may be true of parents who have a good relationship with the school, but less so with those who value education less, or feel that school is biased against them, maybe because they perceive it as ethnocentric.
  • Also, as stated in the item, if you were going to give the questionnaires to students, those students with poor performance in school may not give their parents the questionnaires, possibly because they think it may harm them.
  • A final problem mentioned is that parents may feel they being judged, and the formal nature of the questionnaire wouldn’t help this, again meaning a low response rate is likely from such parents.

Conclusion

You decide! Personally I think it’s not as stupid a choice of method for this topic as compared to some others, as it’s not that sensitive or complex.

 

 

 

Using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties

An example of how you might answer a methods in context question on the AQA’s A level sociology paper 1.

(05) Read item B, then answer the question below (hooks in bold)

Item B

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.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties.

 Section 1 – – Deal with The Method (and hit the middle mark band, 9-12) – If possible, link to education general or even the topic using words in the item from the beginning.

  • Covert participant observation is generally preferred by interpretivists – good for insight, depth.
  • Validity is generally good, but in this case it may not be (see below)
  • Reliability and representativeness are poor
  • Practically – difficult to do, especially with closed institutions like PRUs
  • Ethically – highly problematic, especially within education, researching vulnerable students.

Section 2 – Main body – Covert PO directly applied to the specific topic of pupils with behavioural difficulties – all of these hit the top mark band descriptor (17-20)

  • Students with behavioural difficulties are vulnerable, thus gaining access would be a problem, especially with any type of PO given the close contact you would have with the students. Gatekeepers would be reluctant to let people in in order to protect students, they may also not be keen for a researcher to see how chaotic life is in such institutions. Thus Covert PO is a sensible choice because you’re more likely to get into a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) if you pose as a professional and thus appear on ‘the side of the institution’.
  • However, covert would still be difficult to gain access, because getting into a PRU covertly would require you to be trained as a teacher or LF, they won’t just let anyone in!
  • In terms of validity, while PO is good for getting respondents to trust you, if you were covert, apparently working with the PRU, then they may not open up to you because such students wouldn’t trust authority figures, thus this major advantage is nullified.
  • Having said this, it would still allow the researcher to observe how peer groups reinforce bad behaviour in the context of the institution.
  • Ethically, there is a possibility of the researcher being put in danger, they may come across violent students and not be able to break cover easily if in a class room.
  • Practically, if you were to adopt to role of covert observer as a support worker, you would not be able to follow the students to their home backgrounds or onto ‘the street’ to see how they behaved outside of the institution where you ‘worked’, thus you wouldn’t get any insight into where they spend most of their time. Thus this method is pretty useless for this topic.
  • On a similar level, you wouldn’t be able to gain access to their homes either, to explore their ‘chaotic’ backgrounds, so you wouldn’t be able to observe this, you’d be stuck with asking them about it while in the PRU.

Section 3 – Conclusion

Overall, participant observation may well be a sensible choice of method for researching this topic, but there is nothing to be gained from doing covert compared to overt, and with covert, it probably wouldn’t happen because no one would fund it given the ethical problems surrounding researching vulnerable students, so all of this has been a rather pointless discussion.

The last sentence is optional!

Methods in Context CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then why not purchase my handy ‘How to Write Methods in Context Essays‘ hand-out, a bargain at only £1.49, and who knows, it may prevent you from being the victim in a future research study focusing on why certain students fail their A levels… 

It covers the following processes of how to deal with Methods in Context (MIC) questions.

  1. It starts off by looking at an example of a methods in context question and a mark scheme and outlines what you need to do to get into the top three mark bands.
  2. It tells you how to plan methods in context essays.
  3. It tells you how to actually write methods in context essays – presenting a ‘safe’ strategy to get into at least mark band 4 (13-16)
  4. In total it provides three examples of how you might go about answering a three different MIC questions.

 

Using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school

An example of a methods in context question, mark scheme, and some thoughts on how to answer the question. The ‘methods in context question’ appears on paper 1 at both AS and A Level, and it’s the same format in both papers.

The item and question below are taken directly from an AQA AS sociology specimen paper, I’ve put in bold the useful ‘hooks’ in the item.

Example of a Methods in Context Question:

(05) Read item B, then answer the question below

Item B

Investigating unauthorised absences from school

There is a close correlation between frequent unauthorised absence from school and educational underachievement. Those pupils who are not doing well at school are more likely to truant. Similarly, those who truant regularly are likely to finish their school career with poor qualifications. Pupils may be absent without authorisation for many reasons, from caring responsibilities at home or dislike of school, to parents arranging family holidays in term time.

Sociologists may use self-completion written questionnaires to study unauthorised absences. These can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents or teachers. The findings of the questionnaires can also be used to establish patterns and trends in relation to unauthorised absences. However, self-completion questionnaires often have very low response rates, especially when they ask about sensitive issues.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school (20 marks)

Examples of ‘Top Band’ Statements

If you top and tail this with an intro paragraph about Positivism and the strengths/ limitations of the method (thus show good knowledge and evaluation of the method in general) and a conclusion saying it’s a pretty crap method, then just 3-4 of these statements below should be enough to get you into the top mark band (17-20)

  • An advantage of self-completion questionnaires is that they can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents, or teachers, HOWEVER there are numerous reasons why pupils who are absent from school without being authorised won’t want to fill in the questionnaires – as the item states, such pupils may not be doing well at school and would be reluctant to fill in a questionnaire about something they don’t like (school), which could result in a low response rate
  • A second reason for a low response rate is, as the item states, because students have caring responsibilities at home, and they may not have time to complete the questionnaire, or they may not see it as important as their caring duties.
  • Another problem is that validity of responses may be low – if unauthorised absences are due to parents arranging holidays in term time, they may not want to admit to this in a questionnaire because they may have lied about this reason to the school to avoid a fine.
  • The item states that self completion questionnaires are a good way of finding trends and you could use them to explore the relationship between unauthorised absences and low qualifications, however, if people have low qualifications they may have low literacy levels, meaning they would not be happy filling in a questionnaire, so a booster sample would be required, or another method for such people, such as structured interviews, but this would reduce the reliability.
  • One advantage of the method is that you can distribute large numbers of questionnaires quickly, and they are usually quick to fill in, so teachers would like them as they have busy schedules, and would also probably be happy to talk about this issue, given its negative effects.
  • One problem with this method is the imposition problem – you need to set questions in advance, and as the item says, there are many reasons for unauthorised absences, they problem is that you may not discover these reasons if you don’t include it in the questionnaire in the first place.
  • This imposition problem would be a problem especially if absences are due to bullying, which is a sensitive issue – even if it is on the questionnaire, it’s quite a cold method and so respondents may not want to discuss it in a ‘tick box’ manner.
  • A final advantage of this method is that it is anonymous, which may outweigh some of the problems above.

Methods in Context CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then why not purchase my handy ‘How to Write Methods in Context Essays‘ hand-out, a bargain at only £1.49, and who knows, it may prevent you from being the victim in a future research study focusing on why certain students fail their A levels… 

It covers the following processes of how to deal with Methods in Context (MIC) questions.

  1. It starts off by looking at an example of a methods in context question and a mark scheme and outlines what you need to do to get into the top three mark bands.
  2. It tells you how to plan methods in context essays.
  3. It tells you how to actually write methods in context essays – presenting a ‘safe’ strategy to get into at least mark band 4 (13-16)
  4. In total it provides three examples of how you might go about answering a three different MIC questions.

The Mark Scheme (top three bands)

Top Mark Band (17-20) – Good knowledge of method and applies the method to the specific topic

‘Students will apply knowledge of a range of relevant strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to research issues and characteristics relating to unauthorised absences from school.

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 individual pupils, peer groups, parents, teachers (eg class, ethnic and gender differences; parental literacy skills; teachers’ professionalism, self-interest or stereotypes of pupils)

contexts and settings (eg classrooms; staffrooms)

the sensitivity of researching unauthorised absences from school (eg policy and resource implications for schools; schools’ market and league table position; its impact on achievement or behaviour; stigmatisation; parental consent).’

Fourth Mark Band (13-16) – Good knowledge of method and applies the method to education in general.

‘Application of knowledge will be broadly appropriate but will be applied in a more generalised way or a more restricted way; for example:

applying the method to the study of education in general, not to the specifics of studying unauthorised absences from school, or

specific but undeveloped application to unauthorised absences from school, or

a focus on the research characteristics of unauthorised absences from school, or groups/contexts etc involved in it.’

Middle Mark Band (9-12) – Good knowledge of method, loosely applied to education

‘Largely accurate knowledge but limited range and depth, including a broadly accurate, if basic, account of some of the strengths and/or limitations of self completion written questionnaires.

Understands some limited aspects of the question; superficial understanding of the presented material.

Applying material (possibly in a list-like fashion) on self-completion written questionnaires, but with very limited or non-existent application to either the study of unauthorised absences from school in particular or of education in general. ‘

Related Posts 

Methods in Context Mark Scheme (Pared-Down)

 

Methods in Context – Possible Method and Topic Combinations

Methods in Context- Here you need to be able to assess the strengths and limitations of using any method to research any topic within education.

The different methods you need to be able to consider include –

  1. Secondary documents
  2. Official statistics
  3. Lab/ field experiments
  4. Questionnaires
  5. Interviews
  6. Participant observation (overt and covert)
  7. Non participant observation (overt and covert)

Some of the different topics within education you might be asked to consider include

  • Researching how the values, attitudes, and aspirations of parents contribute to the achievement of certain groups of children
  • Why boys are more likely to be excluded than girls
  • Why white working class boys underachieve
  • Exploring whether teachers have ‘ideal pupils’ – whether they label certain groups of pupils favourably!
  • Looking at whether the curriculum is ethnocentric (racist/ homophobic)
  • Exploring the extent to which sexist ‘bullying’ disadvantageous children
  • Examining how ‘gender identities’ enhance or hinder children’s ability to learn
  • Assessing the relative importance of cultural deprivation versus material deprivation in explaining underachievement
  • Assessing the success of policies aimed to improve achievement such as ‘employing more black teachers’.

The above isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

A useful activity is to pick one method and go through 2 or more of the topics, stating how you might use the method to research the topic, and what SPECIFIC advantages are and what SPECIFIC problems you might face.

For example:

Structured questionnaires would be a good method to research the values and attitudes of parents and how these affect achievement, because this is a relatively simple topic, and it would be quite easy to operationalise and measure how long parents spend helping with homework, or whether they want their child to go to university. However, a problem is that if parents aren’t that interested in their children’s education, they wouldn’t bother to fill in a questionnaire.

Structured questionnaires would be a bad method to research ‘gender identities’, especially from a postmodernist perspective, because gender identities are quite complex, and ‘played out’ within groups. It would be an especially bad method to use to explore the gender-identities of groups of boys – ‘lads’ are unlikely to take structured questionnaires seriously, as if one member of a laddish subculture completed it, he would be ridiculed by the group for doing so.

The above two sentences are examples of ‘top band’ (17-20) statements – they relate an aspect of the method to the topic.

You need to include good knowledge and evaluation of the method in addition to a number of such question-specific-statements, ideally developed even further, to get into the top mark band.

Methods in Context Mark Scheme

My pared down mark scheme for the methods in context question in the previous post, which is adapted from the AQA’s own mark scheme, just put into easier language:

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties (20)

Marks Level Descriptors
17-20

 

If work your guts off you could get here!

 

Knowledge of the strengths and limitations of covert participant observation will be accurate and conceptually detailed.

Application will be very focussed on the specific topic. Students will consider at least two of the following in relation to the specific issue (pupils with behavioural difficulties)

1.    Who you might be researching (e.g. pupils, peer groups, parents, teachers, support staff).

2.    Where you might be doing the research (e.g. classrooms, staffrooms, pupils’ homes).

3.    The sensitivity of researching pupils with behavioural difficulties (e.g. vulnerability, stigmatisation, parental consent, school reputation).

Evaluation of the usefulness of covert participant observation will be explicit and relevant. Analysis will show clear explanation and may draw appropriate conclusions.

Students will typically apply 4/5 of the following strengths and limitations of covert Participant Observation to the above issue:

1.    Practical issues in the research process: Access (getting in, staying in, getting out), data recording, time/ cost

2.    Ethical issues – e.g. sensitivity, informed consent

3.    Issues of validity: qualitative data/ verstehen/insight, flexibility

4.    Interpretation and analysis problems

5.    Small sample size/ unrepresentativeness

 

Marks Level Descriptors
13-16

You should aim to be here!

 

1.    Knowledge of the strengths and limitations of covert participant observation will be accurate, broad and deep, but incomplete.

2.    Application of knowledge to the topic (students with behavioural difficulties) will be more generalised or more restricted way, for example:

 

•      applying the method to the study of education in general, not to the specifics of studying pupils with behavioural difficulties, or

 

•      specific but undeveloped application to pupils with behavioural difficulties, or

 

•      a focus on the research characteristics of pupils with behavioural difficulties, or groups/contexts etc. involved in it.

 

3.    Evaluation and analysis are likely to be explicit but limited

 

9-12

It’s reasonable but not desirable to be here

1.    Knowledge of the strengths and/or limitations of covert participant observation will be accurate but with limited breadth and depth

 

2.    Application of the method will be limited to education in general, rather than the specific topic

 

3.    Evaluation and Analysis will be limited, with answers tending towards the descriptive.

 

5-8

No one should be here!

1.    Knowledge of covert participant observation will be limited and undeveloped – e.g. two to three insubstantial points about some features of covert participant observation.

 

2.    Application to the topic will be very limited and at a tangent to the demands of the question, e.g. perhaps drifting into an unfocused comparison of different methods.

 

3.    Minimal/no evaluation.

 

1-4

You defo shouldn’t be here!

Answers in this band will show very limited knowledge, eg one to two very insubstantial points about methods in general. Very little/no understanding of the question and of the presented material.

Significant errors, omissions, and/or incoherence in application of material.

Some material ineffectually recycled from the Item, or some knowledge applied solely to the substantive issue of pupils with behavioural difficulties, with very little or no reference to covert participant observation.