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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: