Why are we relying more on drugs to treat teenagers’ mental ill-health?

In a recent BBC documentary: ‘The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs’ Dr Chris Van Tulleken (Dr CVT) set out to answer the above question. Here I summarise the section of part 2 of this documentary (which deals with teen mental ill health and antidepressants) and throw in a few links and additional commentary.

You can watch the documentary on BBC iPlayer here at least until Late June 2018, although TBH you may as well save yourself 50 mins and just skim read what’s below.

You will also find this post on ‘steemit.com‘ – a most excellent crypto-currency based blogging platform where users get paid in cryptocurrency (steem) for posting, commenting and even just upvoting other people’s work. I recommend you check it out!

Introduction: why are prescriptions for antidepressants in the UK increasing?

The general gist of the documentary is that we’re relying more on drugs to treat teenagers’ mental ill-health, but we could be giving out pills to thousands of teenagers which are not only ineffective but actually have severely dangerous side effects.

The number of British teenagers prescribed antidepressants has almost doubled in 10 years: in 2005, 30 000 teenagers were prescribed antidepressant drugs, increasing to 58, 000 in 2015.

The Increase in antidepressants: a visual representation

Each ping pong ball represents 4 teenagers prescribed antidepressants

2005

increase teenage depression UK.png

2015

teenage depression UK

This increase might be because more people are getting diagnosed and more effectively treated, however it might reflect the fact we are quicker to seek medicalised solutions to ‘depression’, and that these drugs are not effectively dealing with the underlying causes of depression, and maybe this doubling of prescriptions in 10 years is no a long term solution to depression.

A case study of teenage depression

To provide us with a ‘human face’ of depression, the documentary now visits Jess, 15 year old teenager who has been on antidepressants for 8 months and  whose suffered from anxiety since she was a young girl, finds school stressful because she feels trapped (30 odd kids in a class, with everyone close together). She hasn’t been in lessons for 10 months, and may not be doing her GSCEs.

Following counselling, she was put on Sertraline to combat her depression, 100 mg, double the normal dose of 50 mg. We now get the usual trawl through the possible side effects of the drug, and it’s not pretty: clinical trials have shown an increased risk of suicidal behaviour in adults aged less than 25 years, and Jess says she has felt more suicidal since starting the medication.

Interestingly, Jess states a desire to be free of the drugs, while her mother appears more relaxed, saying that there’s evidence that they work, and that her daughter shouldn’t be afraid of the stigma attached to taking antidepressants: the idea of just ‘pulling yourself together’ and coping is outdated.

Research evidence on the effectiveness of antidepressants

Dr CVT now looks at a recent study conducted by professor Andrea Cipriani of the University of Oxford. This study summarised all available evidence of how effective 14 antidepressants are in children and adolescents specifically, (rather than just evidence from adult trials). The basic research question was ‘do these drugs work’ (not ‘how do these drugs work), and they compared the drugs with each other and against the effectiveness of a placebo, a sugar pill.

depression drugs don't work.png

They found that only one drug: fluoxetine, or prozac, was more effective than a sugar pill in combatting depression among teenagers, which is worrying given that around 40% of teenage prescribed antidepressant drugs are on Sertraline. However, there is still a level of uncertainty around the research on the effectiveness on Fluoxetine – because people respond very differently to the drug.

Where Sertraline  there is good evidence that it works for adults, but the problem here is that teenagers brains are wired differently, and professor Cipriani’s research suggests what works for adults may not work for teenagers.

Wilderness Therapy as an alternative means of treating mental ill health

Dr CVT says there’s lots of evidence that being active out of doors is effective in treating mental ill health, especially depression.

To test this out, the documentary now returns to Jess, one month on, who has now had her prescription of Sertraline increased to 125 milligrams, and feels increasingly panicky and has upped her rate of self-harm, and expose her to a ‘therapeutic intervention’, in the form of the ‘Wilderness Foundation’ which uses activities in wild spaces and one on one counselling to help teenagers suffering from mental ill-health.

Research conducted by the University of Essex suggests that 83% of the kids on the charity’s leading scheme have successfully gone on the further education or full time employment.

Jess gets taken along to the the Wilderness Foundation for a day to do ‘stuff’ outdoors, and we get treated to footage of Jess in an extremely pleasant wooded glade sparking a fire to life and putting up a hammock. Wilderness therapy is apparently well established in the USA, and it certainly seems to work for Jess, who spends 6 hours out of doors.

Do antidepressants ’cause’ an increase in teen suicides?

The documentary also visits one mother, Sarah, whose daughter Rachel killed herself within 11 days of an increase in her dose of Sertraline.

Rachel’s story seems similar to Jess’: she found secondary school difficult and hit a wall at GCSEs, finding it difficult to cope with the stress. After a visit to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, she was prescribed fluoxetine and experienced the following side effects after 2 weeks:

  • Violent thoughts
  • Disturbing dreams
  • Bodily shaking
  • Nosebleeds

Rachel tried to hang herself at one point, and after several months of this, she was prescribed a different drug: Sertraline. She actually wanted this herself, she wanted something to work, but within 11 days of an increase in her dose of this second antidepressant Rachel killed herself.

Rachel’s mum Sarah doesn’t blame the Doctors as they were just following the approved ‘pathways’ to treating mental illness laid down in the formal guidelines, she blames the system which seems to based on inadequate knowledge of the harmful side effects of these drugs.

NB – we cannot actually prove a causal link

Could antidepressants actually be harming our children’s health?

Drug trials should not only tell us if the drugs are effective, they should also tell us if the drugs have any harmful side effects. The problem is that many of the drugs trials are run by drugs companies, with a vested interested in making their drugs look both effective and sage.

Dr David Healy is one of the few people to have done independent research into the effectiveness and safety of antidepressants with the raw data provided by the company. He argues that we need to see the raw data to uncover how the drugs affect individual patient – and this raw data can run into several reams of paper if there 100s of people in a trial.

It is extremely rare for drugs companies to release this original data, in fact, it’s only happened once when in 2004 legal challenges were made against claims made about the effectiveness of Seroxat, and antidepressant manufactured by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

Dr David Healey analysed this original data and found that the claims made in the original 10 page article summarising the findings of the trials which claimed the drug was not only effective but also sage, were basically false, with Healey’s team finding that not only did the drug not work, but that the number of teenagers who developed suicidal thoughts following the use of the drug was three times greater than intimated in the original study, in which this side effect was described as ‘some teenagers becoming more emotionally labile’.

This research actually led to GlaxoSmithKlein being fined $3 billion in penalties and fines for health care fraud.

Dr David Healy says that in between the raw data and the sometimes misleading ‘main articles’ on the research findings published by the drugs companies, there are ‘company reports’, and even if we dig into these, there is cause to be concerned over the safety of many of antidepressants.

The rest of the documentary

The documentary returns to Jess, who has kept up her therapy for 6 months (I think it’s 6 months, it’s not that clear) and after some ups and downs (including one suicide attempt at school) the therapy seems to be working – she gets taken through a process of gradually having things she finds difficult added into the programme, and eventually manages to cope with going shopping and buying something (progress for her, in dealing with crowds).

After 6 months, Jess even manages to return to school and sit her mock GCSE exams, and at the very end of the documentary, we even see her at her 16th birthday party on stage singing, in front of friends and family.

The documentary also pays the standard visit to the Clinical Lead for Child Mental Health Care Services who reiterates that all Doctors are doing in prescribing antidepressants is following NICE guidelines, which are based on the best available evidence, however, Dr CVT’s point is the best available evidence is shaky at best.

NICE refuse to be interviewed, but do say they are reviewing their guidelines

Conclusions

The whole point of the documentary seems to be to inform us of the uncertainties surrounding the effectiveness and safety of many of the antidepressants we are increasingly prescribing to our teenagers.

Dr CVT suggest we are far too trusting of the research done by drugs companies, and we shouldn’t allow them to control the information we have about these drugs… we should be much more sceptical, and in the meantime, we should pursue alternative treatments such as wilderness therapy and mindfulness which are unlikely to cause harm.

K.T.’s Commentary

One thing I want to pick up on his the ‘social causes’ of Jess’ anxiety. Basically, it seems she just hates the crowded environment of the school, along with all the stress of testing that goes along with it….

Personally, I get this, it has exactly the same effect on me as a teacher.

I also get the ‘wilderness therapy’ as a solution  – I love being outdoors, walking: it’s just that I don’t need anyone to structure it for me, I also don’t really regard it as ‘therapy’ – rather it’s just ‘doing something enjoyable’.

It appears to me that Jess’ depression is pretty much 100% socially induced – by the school system. Get her back to nature, and doing something ‘naturally’ empowering, and she’s O.K, as she is singing in front her friends and family – surely it’s the social context that’s the problem?

It’s not rocket science is it! What needs to change here is society, although that’s easier said than done.

I also have to admit being a bit taken aback by the size of that GSK fine – $3 billion for health care fraud, that’s something I’m going to have to come back to later!

Sources/ find out more!

Disclaimers/ health advice provided in the documentary

Doctor Chris Van Tulleken reminds us that it might be dangerous to stop taking antidepressants suddenly and that any change of dose should only be made with medical supervision.

 

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How to get an A* in A-level Sociology (Paper 2: Families and Households section only)

This post draws on marked examples from the AQA exam board’s A-level sociology papers 7192/32: Topics in Sociology to demonstrate what you need to do to get an A* grade in sociology A-level.

NB – this post only refers to section A: the families and households option, your option in section A might be different, and you will need to repeat this level of performance in section B in order to A* this paper!

According to the AQA’s 2017 A-level grade boundaries you need an average of about 60 raw marks out of a total of 80 get an A* in paper 2. This means you can ‘drop’ 20 marks and still get into the A* category.

A grade sociology

However, let’s play it safe and say that the easiest way to ‘guarantee’ your A* is to just sneak into the top mark bands for each of the questions. If you did this in section A, you would get:

  • Q04 – 8/10
  • Q05 – 8/10
  • Q06 – 17/20

= Total marks of 66/80, if you repeat this performance for the same question styles in section B, COMFORTABLY into the A* category!

The remainder of this post explains how to get top band marks in each of the 3 style of questions on paper 3, drawing on specific examples from a the AQA’s specimen papers and some model marked scripts from last year’s 2017 A-level sociology examination series.

For more details on how these exams are assessed, please see the AQA’s we site.

Strategies to get an A* in A Level sociology (focusing on paper 7192/2, families and households option)

Question 04: the 10 mark, no item, question: outline two ways/ reasons/ criticisms, no item

The example below, from the 2017 paper 2 achieved 8/10.

Q05: Applying material from item A ‘Analyse Something’

This is my summary of the the AQA’s guidance on the two types of 10 mark question (the second type is question 06 below).

To summarise the key points from the top band of the mark scheme for this type of question, you need:

  • Good knowledge and understanding of relevant material
  • Two reasons/ ways/ effects (whatever the action word is)
  • Two developed applications from the item
  • analysis and/ or evaluation of these effects.

So far, so abstract: the question below is a full mark answer taken from the AQA’s 2017 A-level paper 7192/2.

Question 06: the 20 mark ‘evaluate’ something using the item essay question

This question will ask you to evaluate something using an item.

To get into the top mark band, you basically need to demonstrate excellent knowledge and understanding, analysis and evaluation, AND use the item, and conclude!

Below is a link to a response taken from the AQA’s 2016 specimen material which achieved 17/20 – so just into the top band!

Sources 

  • The AQA’s 2016 A level specimen paper and commentaries.
  • 2017: A-level SOCIOLOGY: Feedback on the Examinations Student responses and commentaries: Paper 2 7192/2
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Evaluate the view that the growth of family diversity has led to a decline in the nuclear family (20)

This is an example of a 17/20 top band answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

Sociology essay mark scheme

Student’s Response (concepts highlighted in blue, evaluation in burnt orange)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

 

Family diversity essay 2018

A-level sociology essay full marks

 

KT’s commentary

This is a bit of a bizarre essay, but this is a good example of how to answer it.

Without the final paragraph it would be floundering down in the middle mark band!

 

Source 

AQA specimen material 2016

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Sociology Crime and Deviance Research Project, Summer Term 2018

This my very simply ‘research’ project task for summer timetable 2018. I’m experimenting with going back to a very open ended project!

Crime Deviance Sociology.jpg

The AQA Sociology specification states that you should be able to cite examples of your own research, hence this summer term research project (which is also useful for introducing theories of crime and deviance.

Task

Select one ‘type’ of crime from the list below and produce a 1500 -2000 word report applying perspectives and incorporating some independent research exploring how and why this crime occurs.

Examples of crimes you might look at

  • Burglary
  • Theft
  • Domestic violence
  • Corporate crime
  • State violence
  • Fraud
  • Knife crime/ gun crime
  • Subcultures
  • Drug dealers
  • Terrorism
  • Any other type of crime or deviance of your choice

Section 1: Introduction

Outline what crime you’ve chose to focus on, define it, and provide a few basic statistics to outline the extent of it.

Section 2: Theoretical context

Summarise how conflict, consensus and action theories would explain this crime. Use the following links or your main text books as necessary:

Section 3: Research summary

Find at least three (ideally more) pieces of contemporary (last 10 years) independent research conducted on this crime – this might be by official government sources, or specialist criminologists.

Summarise these pieces of research and use them to evaluate the above perspectives (which are supported, which are not.)

Section 4: Methods section (optional)

If you find there are significant gaps in your knowledge not covered by available literature, outline what research methods you might employ to find out more.

Timing: you have until the end of summer term timetable to hand in a 1500-2000 word research project.

 

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Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood (10)

This is the 10 mark (no item) question which appeared on the 2017 Families and Households paper.

In this post I consider a ‘top band’ answer (provided by the AQA here) which achieved 8/10.

The Question

Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood (10)

The Mark Scheme:

10-mark-question-sociology-mark-scheme-families

Note: there are no marks for evaluation on the 10 mark no item questions (there are for the ‘analyse with the item’ 10 mark questions!)

Student Response:

Highlighted to show the different stages of development.

One way is with the changing roles of women in society, where women are more likely to want to pursue a career before starting a family, with less stigma attached to them, women have taken on more aspects of the instrumental role which Parsons had said traditionally rested with men. This has meant a decrease in family size since the 1970s from 3.2 children to 2, as women in full time employment have children later in life. It has also led to a mono-child society and a ‘fuller experience’ of childhood as parents have more money to spend on one child.

As second change is associated with Young and Wilmott’s symmetrical families – couples have moved from segregated to joint conjugal roles where they share leisure time and chores much more equally than before. This is also related to the rise of the new man who offers more emotional support. This means children are no longer socialised into traditional gender roles and will not experience canalisation like Oakley suggested – e.g. boys are less likely to be given typical boys toys sjuch as guns and socialised into typical traditional male traits such as aggression.

Examiner Commentary: (8/10 marks)

outline-explain-10-mark-question-sociology-families.png

 

Source:

Student responses with examiner
commentary
AS AND A-LEVEL
SOCIOLOGY
7193

Reproduced here for educational purposes!

 

 

 

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Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which migration patterns have affected household structures in the United Kingdom (10)

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to a 10 mark ‘analyse with the item question’ which achieved a top band-mark, 10/10 in fact!

For general hints and tips on how to answer all questions across paper three please click here.

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

10-mark-question-item-sociology

The Mark Scheme (top band only)

10-mark-question-item-mark-top-band-sociology.png

Student Response:

Item C points out that most immigrants come to Britain from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica. Bertod did a study of Caribbean families which found a type of individualism: the norm that people had to right to be free within marriage even if they had a child with the other person. This meant many Caribbean fathers chose not to stay with the mother of their children, leading to an increase in lone parent families.

Thus it follows that the increase in carribbean immigration has lead to an increase in single parent families which is up from 10% in the 1970s to 23% today.

Item C also says that immigrants come from India. A study by Ballard found that South East Asians have collective, traditional values and tight knit extended families which support traditional family values – women having many children and being in the expressive role, and men in the breadwinner role, with close ties to grandparents.

This should mean an increase in traditional extended families in the UK due to Indian immigration, however the statistics do not confirm this as the divorce rate has increased dramatically since the 1970s. This does not support the idea of increased traditional families as these value marriages.

However, functionalists argue that divorce can be healthy as it there is better quality relationships in surviving marriages and remarriages.

 

Examiner Commentary:

Mark: 10/10

aqa-sociology-paper-2-commentary.png

KT’s commentary:

  • This is overkill, easily 10/10!
  • Apparently 4 students died instantly of boredom on seeing the question because of reference to yet more sociology from before their parents were born. 

Source:

A-level
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/2 Topics in Sociology
Published: Autumn 2017

NB – this document is NOT available on the AQA website, but any teacher should have access to it via eaqa. I’m sharing it here in order to make the exam standards more accessible, and to support the AQA in their equality and meritocratic agendas, because there will be some poor students somewhere whose teachers aren’t organised enough to access this material for them. 

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

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

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

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

Difficulty – very easy

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

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

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

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

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

I would have gone for something like….

  • Socialisation differences
  • subcultures
  • Teacher labelling

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

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

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

Difficulty –  fairly easy

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

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

It follows that you want to develop using the following

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

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

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

Difficulty – easy

 

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

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

Difficulty – easy for a methods in context question!

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

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

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

06 – Two problems with using Functionalism to understand society

Difficulty – easy

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

 

A-Level Sociology Revision Bundle

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

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

 

 

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How to get an A* in A-level Sociology (Crime and Deviance)

This post draws on marked examples from the AQA exam board’s A-level sociology papers 7192/3: Crime and Deviance with demonstrate what you need to do to get an A* grade in sociology A-level.

NB – The later links below will only become operational later this week! (Everything by Weds!)

According to the AQA’s 2017 A-level grade boundaries you need an average of 60 raw marks out of a total of 80 get an A* in paper 1. This means you can ‘drop’ 20 marks and still get into the A* category.

A grade sociology

However, let’s play it safe and say that the easiest way to ‘guarantee’ your A* is to max out the short answer (4-6) mark questions, and then sneak into the top mark bands for every other question. If you did that you’d end up with a total score of 67/80, made up of the marks as below

  • Q01 – 4/4 marks
  • Q02 – 6/6 marks
  • Q03 – 8/10 marks
  • Q04 – 25/30 marks
  • Q05 – 17/20 marks
  • Q06 – 8/10 marks

= Total marks of 68/70, which is still COMFORTABLY into the A* category!

The remainder of this post explains how to get full marks in the first two short answer ‘outline and explain’ (4 and 6 mark) questions and then examines the ‘top band’s of the mark schemes for the other 10 mark and essay questions, drawing on specific examples from a the AQA’s specimen papers and some model marked scripts from last year’s 2017 A-level sociology examination series.

For more details on how these exams are assessed, please see the AQA’s we site.

Strategies to get an A* in A Level sociology (focusing on paper 7192/3)

Questions 01 and 02: the four and six mark questions 

 

Q03: Applying material from item A ‘Analyse Something’

This is my summary of the the AQA’s guidance on the two types of 10 mark question (the second type is question 06 below).

To summarise the key points from the top band of the mark scheme for this type of question, you need:

  • Good knowledge and understanding of relevant material
  • Two reasons/ ways/ effects (whatever the action word is)
  • Two developed applications from the item
  • analysis and/ or evaluation of these effects.

So far, so abstract: the question below is a full mark answer taken from the AQA’s 2017 A-level paper 7192/3.

Question 04: the big, 30 mark, pure education essay question

This question will ask you to evaluate something using an item.

To get into the top mark band, you basically need to demonstrate excellent knowledge and understanding, analysis and evaluation, AND use the item, and conclude!

Below is a link to a response taken from the AQA’s 2015 specimen material which achieved 25/30 – so just into the top band!

Q05: The Methods in Context Question

This question can ask you about any method, or any theory (perspective) or any combination of both! Below is an example of a full mark response to the 2017 paper:

Q06: Outline and Explain Two…(10)

This final question will ask you to outline and explain two reasons, arguments, ways, criticisms etc…. there is no item, and unlike the other 10 mark question, there are no marks for evaluation!

Below are links to two marked exemplars, both of which achieved 10/10.

Remember that this exact question could appear on either paper 1, or paper 3!

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’.

 

Crime and Deviance Revision Notes for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Notes  – 31 pages of revision notes covering the following topics:

  1. Consensus based theories part 1 – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory
  2. Consensus based theories part 2 – Sub cultural theories
  3. The Traditional Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspective on crime
  4. Labeling Theory
  5. Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology (including situational, environmental and community crime prevention)
  6. Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
  7. Sociological Perspectives on  controlling crime – the role of the community and policing in preventing crime
  8. Sociological Perspectives on Surveillance
  9. Sociological Perspectives on Punishment
  10. Social Class and Crime
  11. Ethnicity and Crime
  12. Gender and crime  (including Girl gangs and Rape and domestic violence)
  13. Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
  14. Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
  15. The Media and Crime, including moral panics

 

Sources 

  • The AQA’s 2015 A level specimen paper and commentaries.
  • A-level SOCIOLOGY: Feedback on the Examinations Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/1 Education with Theory and Methods. Published: Autumn 2017
  • A-level SOCIOLOGY: Feedback on the Examinations Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods. Published: Autumn 2017
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Applying material from Item C and your knowledge, evaluate the view that conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches to our understanding of society (20)

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to the 20 mark theory essay which came up in the 2017 A-level sociology paper.

The specific question under investigation in this case is: ‘Applying material from Item C and your knowledge, evaluate the view that conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches to our understanding of society’ (20).

For general advice about how to answer the whole of paper three please see this post on ‘the 2017 crime and deviance with theory and methods’ paper.

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

AQA Sociology 20 mark essay mark Scheme

The Mark Scheme (top band only)

AQA Sociology 20 mark essay mark Scheme 2

Student Response:

Sociology is divided between conflict and consensus approaches. The former believe there is harmony in society because of shared values (Functionalists), the later believe society is not harmonious but based on a division between a dominant and subordinate group (Marxists/ Feminists)

Some sociologists argue conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches for understanding society – Marxists view society as a conflict between the Bourgeosie (ruling class) and proletariat. They argue there is no harmony because the former exploit the later to create profit and keep their businesses running. The proletariat feel frustrated and alienated because they don’t control the means of production and technological advancement means many are losing their jobs and being made redundant. This all serves the interests of the ruling class who look for new, innovative ways to increase their profits. Marxists argue that certain aspects of society which appear functional are simply a false consciousness – making it appear the Bourgeoisie care about their workers but in reality they don’t for example health and safety laws exist so the proletariat are fit to keep working. However, Marxism only looks at the economic contribution of society and argues that all other institutions are influenced by the economy. Yet many would disagree, arguing that the purpose of the family or religion is to provide comfort, not profit for the Bourgeoisie.

Moreover, labelling theory also argue that conflict approaches act as a better understanding to society than consensus approaches. As an action theory, it argues that if we believe that an event is real, then it will have real consequences. Therefor they look at labelling in society and how there is link between conflict and power (item C) – an individual is given a label in society which influences their behaviour. Becker found that if a student is labelled as deviant then they are more likely to underachieve in school because they accepted that label as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When labels are given from those in higher authority, then they become a master status and become a dominant feature of the individual, which can lead to a deviant career. This also happens with certain crimes – e.g. those with the drug label are more likely to have the crime and the label enforced. However, LT is criticized for not taking into account wider structural features of society such as how capitalism influences people’s behaviour.

However consensus theories are critical (repeats question)… they argue societies are based on shared values and value consensus which allows institutions to harmoniously work together (item C). Parsons argues that this is because of functional prerequisites. Firstly there is economic adaptation to society to meet the economic needs of members, there is goal attainment where society create goals and allocates resources to these goals – the role of government. Then there is integration so the different institutions can meet share goals – the media, education, religion. Finally there is latency where the family socialises individuals into shared norms that society needs: instrumental and expressive role. Thus society hasn’t collapsed because it has a shared value system.

However, functionalism is criticised by postmodernists because it has an absolutist view of society as being functional for all. It neglects the fact that society is fragmented and diverse and the rise of different social movements like black lives matter or Feminism contradict the view that individuals form cohesive communities.

In conclusion it seems Functionalism as a consensus theory has relatively good ideas… for example that social change in society is a result of increasing complexity of society and to ensure that society doesn’t move into a state of anomie so equilibrium occur, different bits of society adapting to compensate.

However conflict theory seems more useful in understanding our society where there is complexity and no longer individuals who follow the same norms and values but rather join different groups which enhance their individual personal beliefs.

Examiner Commentary:

Well, at least one student’s been paying attention for the last couple of years!

Mark: 20/20

Source:

A-level
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/3 Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods
Published: Autumn 2017

NB – this document is NOT available on the AQA website, but any teacher should have access to it via eaqa. I’m sharing it here in order to make the exam standards more accessible, and to support the AQA in their equality and meritocratic agendas, because there will be some poor students somewhere whose teachers aren’t organised enough to access this material for them. 

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Evaluate the usefulness of functionalist approaches in understanding crime and deviance (30)

This is an example of a 25/30 answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

crime-deviance-essay-full-mark-answer.png

Student’s Response (evaluation highlighted in red)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

Evaluate functionalist views crime essay (30).png

Evaluate consensus theories crime (30).png

 

Examiner’s commentary

This is a thorough account of a range of functionalist studies. There is sophisticated understanding of the material presented.

Analysis is clear and the material is well explained using appropriate concepts. This conceptual detail in some evaluation is shown, although this is limited to internal evaluation between the various functionalist perspectives.

Other perspectives are only briefly mentioned in the final paragraph. This could be developed further to show a clear debate between perspectives. The answer shows application of material from the item and also from the student’s knowledge. This is accurately applied to the question.

The final concluding paragraph could be more developed. The brief points on Marxism and feminism could be developed throughout the answer rather then simply stated at the end.

Analysis is explicit and relevant.

Source 

AQA specimen material 2015

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