The technique to answering such a question is to think of it in terms of 3 lots of 1 + 1 – you need 3 identifiers and then three developments
Teacher’s sexist ideas channeling girls into ‘girls subjects’
Science taught in a male way using male examples (engines), put girls off
Biological differences. Girls better at communication, not much discussion in science subjects
Differential parental encouragement
Boys more likely to play with technical toys
Fewer girls in text books
Fewer female science teachers
Boys dominate classroom by dominating practical equipment
Three identifiers plus three explanations/ developments…
(ID) Teachers may have stereotypical ideas that girls would struggle in male dominated subjects such as physics, (EX) and they may try and put them off, steering them towards other, more traditionally feminine subjects such as English, meaning fewer girls end up doing science subjects.
(ID) Science subjects are often taught using masculine examples – for example, physics text books might use cars to illustrate the laws of motion. (EX) This might put girls off doing physics because they have no interest in the masculine examples used to teach these subjects.
(ID) Girls are more likely to be socialised into discussing their feelings, (EX) and thus they might be more likely to choose subjects such as history and English where you need to discuss things more, rather than sciences where there is less discussion and ‘one right answer’.
For more examples of exam practice questions, please see links on my ‘exams page‘!
Federal prosecutors in the U.S. recently charged dozens of wealthy parents with committing fraud in attempts to get their children into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford.
Parents have adopted strategies which range from faking athletic records and test scores to outright bribes.
Lori Loughlin (a sitcom star) and her husband Mossimo Giannulli (a fashion designer) allegedly paid $500 000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California’s rowing crew, even though they weren’t actually rowers.
Felicity Huffmann (of Desperate Housewives) allegedly paid $15 000 to an invigilator to ensure her daughter did well on a SATs test.
The institution which facilitated all of this elite education fraud was called ‘The Key’ – a ‘college counselling business’ in Sacremento which paid off invigilators to provided certain students will correct answers or even correct their test sheets. He also bribed college sports officials to take on students who didn’t play sports.
This was all covered up by getting parents to donate to a bogus charity to help disadvantaged students, in reality of course the money went to the bent officials faking the test scores etc.
NB – this may not actually be as bad as the legal situation – if you look at Harvard’s entrance stats, 42% of students whose parents made donations got in, compared to only 4.6% of the wider population, and of course the whole of the university system is already stacked in favour of the rich given that it’s so expensive to get a university degree!
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is clearly relevant to the reproduction of class inequality within education, and supports the Marxist perspective on crime, within crime and deviance.
Interviews are one of the most commonly used qualitative research methods in the sociology of education. In this post I consider some of the strengths and limitations of using interviews to research education, focussing mainly on unstructured interviews.
This post is primarily designed to get students thinking about methods in context, or ‘applied research methods’. Before reading through this students might like to brush up on methods in context by reading this introductory post. Links to other methods in context advice posts can be found at the bottom of the research methods page (link above!)
Practical issues with interviews
Gaining access may be a problem as schools are hierarchical institutions and the lower down the hierarchy an individual is, the more permissions the interviewer will require to gain access to interview them. For example, you might require the headmaster’s permission to interview a teacher, while to interview pupils you’ll require the headmasters and their parent’s permission.
However, if you can gain consent, and get the headmaster onside, the hierarchy may make doing interviews more efficient – the headmaster can instruct teachers to release pupils from lessons to do the interviews, for example.
Interviews tend to take more time than questionnaires, and so finding the time to do the interviews may be a problem – teachers are unlikely to want to give up lesson time for interviews, and pupils are unlikely to want spend their free time in breaks or after school taking part in interviews. Where teachers are concerned, they do tend to be quite busy, so they may be reluctant to give up time in their day to do interviews.
However, if the topic is especially relevant or interesting, this will be less of a problem, and the interviewer could use incentives (rewards) to encourage respondents to take part. Group interviews would also be more time efficient.
Younger respondents tend to have more difficulty in keeping to the point, and they often pick up on unexpected details in questions, which can make interviews take longer.
Younger respondents may have a shorter attention span than adults, which means that interviews need to be kept short.
Students may see the interviewer as the ‘teacher in disguise’ – they may see them as part of the hierarchical structure of the institution, which could distort their responses. This could make pupils give socially desirable responses. With questions about homework, for example, students may tell the interviewer they are doing the number of hours that the school tells them they should be doing, rather than the actual number of hours they spend doing homework.
To overcome this the teacher might consider conducting interviews away from school premises and ensure that confidentiality is guaranteed.
Young people’s intellectual and linguistic skills are less developed that adults and the interviewer needs to keep in mind that:
They may not understand longer words or more complex sentences.
They may lack the language to be able to express themselves clearly
They may have a shorter attention span than adults
They may read body language different to adults
Having said all of that, younger people are probably going to be more comfortable speaking rather than reading and writing if they have poor communication skills, which means interviews are nearly always going to be a better choice than questionnaires where younger pupils are concerned.
To ensure greater validity in interviews, researchers should try to do the following:
Avoid using leading questions as young people are more suggestible than adults.
Use open ended questions
Not interrupt students’ responses
Learn to tolerate pauses while students think.
Avoid repeating questions, which makes students change their first answer as they think it was wrong.
Unstructured interviews may thus be more suitable than structured interviews, because they make it easier for the researcher to rephrase questions if necessary.
The location may affect the validity of responses – if a student associates school with authority, and the interview takes place in a school, then they are probably more likely to give socially desirable answers.
If the researcher is conducting interviews over several days, later respondents may get wind of the topics/ questions which may influence the responses they give.
Schools and parents may object to students being interviewed about sensitive topics such as drugs or sexuality, so they may not give consent.
To overcome this the researcher might consider doing interviews with the school alongside their PSHE programme.
Interviews may be unsettling for some students – they are, after all, artificial situations. This could be especially true of group interviews, depending on who is making up the groups.
Peer group interviews may well be a good a choice for researchers studying topics within the sociology of education.
Group interviews can create a safe environment for pupils
Peer-group discussion should be something pupils are familiar with from lessons
Peer-support can reduce the power imbalance between interviewer and students
The free-flowing nature of the group interview could allow for more information to come forth.
The group interview also allows the researcher to observe group dynamics.
They are more time efficient than one on one interviews.
Peer pressure may mean students are reluctant to be honest for fear of ridicule
Students may also encourage each other to exaggerate or lie for laffs.
Group interviews are unpredictable, and very difficult to standardise and repeat which mean they are low in validity.
Education funding per pupil has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2009-10, which is the biggest cuts to education in three decades.
You can clearly see from the chart below (produced by the IFS and annotated by me how a dramatic increase in funding followed New Labour coming to power in 1997, and then a corresponding decrease in funding followed The Tories coming to power in 2010.
According to a recent editorial in The Observer these cuts are doing real harm to children’s education, with some schools having resorted to the following to make up for the funding gap:
putting wish lists on Amazon to get parents to help buy stationary items.
some headmasters are doubling up as cleaners and/ or minibus drivers.
some schools are finishing early one day a week. In Birmingham primary schools now finish at lunch time, for example.
At the same time funding cuts have also reduced children’s services more generally, so schools and children themselves will find it harder to access the services they need.
But is this just a moral panic?
As you can see from the chart above, funding levels are still way above what they were when New Labour came to power, still a massive 30% higher than when I was at school, and most of my generation turned out OK, so are these cuts really going to have that much of a negative effect on children?
And let’s face it, who doesn’t like early doors Friday: it’s just what they need to prepare them for a job in the city!
Last week, senior police chiefs wrote to Theresa May arguing that there was a link between the increase in the number of formal school exclusions and ‘off-rolling’ (where heads informally get parents to withdraw their children, without them being formally recorded as ‘permanently excluded’) and an increase in knife crime.
The theory is that those excluded or off-rolled are more likely to ‘drift’ because they are less effectively cared for and monitored in alternative provision institutions. The problem is believed to be especially bad for those who are off-rolled. When a pupil is off-rolled, the parents are responsible for finding alternative provision, and it is their kids who are much more likely to end up out of education altogether.
If we look at the stats, there does seem to be a correlation between the increase in school exclusions and the increase in knife crime:
School exclusions have been increasing since 2013
Knife crime has been increasing since 2015
HOWEVER, it is a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation doesn’t mean causation, and there is very good reason to think that this is the case here.
Numerous commentators (see below for links) have criticised the police for suggesting there is a causal link between the increase in exclusions and the increase in knife crime, and here’s a summary of why we should be critical…
Nine criticisms of the ‘school exclusions cause knife crime’ theory
For starters, even with the above crude statistics there isn’t a perfect correlation – it’s true that London has a higher exclusion rate and knife crime rate than any other city, but then the West Midlands has a higher knife crime rate than Yorkshire and Humber, but a lower exclusion rate.
The above data only includes formal exclusions, not off-rolling, so we don’t get a full picture (there are validity issues) – true, it might be more likely that someone who is off-rolled turns to knife crime compared to someone who is formally excluded, but I these figures don’t show us the off-rolling.
This government report from June 2018 which examined the relationship between educational background and knife crime found that ‘knife possession rarely followed exclusion’.
There may be another cause behind both ‘being excluded from school’ and ‘being convicted of knife crime’ – possibly rooted further in the past of these individuals, such as their having come from a troubled family and/ or having experienced neglect or abuse during their childhood.
It is unfair to blame schools for excluding children in greater numbers as they have been hit by 10 years of Tory funding cuts – schools actively educate about not getting involved in knife crime, but have become less effective at dealing with ‘troubled kids’ because they now have fewer resources to help them do so.
The fact that someone has previously been excluded from school may make it more likely that they are going to get a knife-crime conviction – being excluded from school puts you on the police radar and doesn’t sit well with judges and juries. It could be that there are proportionally just as many people who have not been excluded from school who commit knife crime, but they just don’t appear in the official statistics because they are less likely to get caught and convicted.
Back to underlying causes, it’s possible that a ‘deeper’ reason lying behind why people who are excluded from school are also more likely to appear in the knife crime conviction figures is because they are victims of discrimination by the system – males, the poor, and African Caribbean children are more likely to appear in both the exclusion figures and the knife rime conviction figures – it could be that both are caused by a sense of injustice at being excluded in the first place.
The stats available to us tell us nothing about the life-histories, or the journies people take from being excluded (or not) to knife-crime. This could be a more complex few years than we imagine, and these possibly diverse journies are simply not going to be unveiled by crude statistical analysis. The data simply isn’t there!
Finally, there are number of other variables that cause knife crime to increase – the changing nature of drug-dealing (county lines), and cuts to police funding come to mind as being two of the most obvious. These would somehow need to be factored in to any ‘causal’ equation.
In conclusion it’s a well-known mantra in sociology that correlation does not mean causation, and this particular topic is a great one to use to illustrate this.
To my mind there are so many problems with maintaining the causality argument here that the only possible reason anyone would try to make it in the first place is to distract attention away from all the other social problems that correlate with the increase in knife crime – the kind of problems government policies either exacerbate or can do little to combat.
Most of these schools are part of a ‘multi academy trust’, and once a school joins one of these trusts, then it no longer exists as a legal and financial entity in its own right – it is wholly ‘incorporated’ by the Trust.
In terms of standards and results, this is generally advantageous when a Trust is performing well, but when a chain performs badly, individual schools are now just stuck with that trust, with no way out, no means of lifting themselves out of the situation. There’s an interesting Observer article about this here.
There is some case study evidence that suggests some academy trusts are fraudulently claiming money from the government for school improvement works, and then spending considerably less. One example of this is the Bright Side Academy Trust which runs 10 schools in England: it claimed £556 000 to demolish and rebuild some unstable sports hall walls in one school, but then simply installed some steel supports to the existing walls at a cost of £60, 000.
And what can the individual school in these trusts do about their dire situation? Absolutely nothing. They are basically ‘stuck suffering in the chain’.
This is a feature of the new education landscape I hadn’t really considered before: the possibility of there being ‘batches’ of schools in one trust that end up sinking to the bottom together in certain areas of the country.
Was it ever realistic to expect the academy model to improve failing schools anyway?
The flagship early academies, most notably Mossbourne Academy, was a huge success, getting excellent results with some of the most disadvantaged children in London: but that was 2010, that was the flagship that had £23 million spent on it, and there have been additional motivation from it being a role-model.
Now that academies are generalised, now that they’ve become the norm – it appears that there are good academy chains, and there are bad academy chains, surprise surprise!
in fact this shouldn’t be any surprise. Given that most of the main barriers to educational achievement are all external to the school (such as material deprivation), it was always unlikely that simply changing the structure of how schools are organised )from an LEA to an academies model) was going to make a difference in the long run.
I mean, new academies don’t get any more money than LEA schools, and while they might gain from economies of scale, this can’t make that much difference. It’s not as if they can afford to pay a 50% premium to address the shortage in science teachers for example, and it’s not enough to combat the radical hardships that the bottom 10% or so face at home.
1 in 3 sixth formers now receive at least one unconditional offer from a university. 117 000 students received a university offer with at least one unconditional element last year, compared to just 3000 five years earlier. (Guardian article, Jan 31st 2018).
And according to the latest UCAS figures, there are 20 universities which are fuelling the trend. Nottingham Trent is at the top of the list – 40% of its offers last year were unconditional.
Russel Group universities are much less likely to make unconditional offers, although of these Birmingham has an 11% unconditional rate.
Of particular concern to UCAS is the rise of so called ‘conditional unconditional offers’ which is where universities make an unconditional offer to a student so long as they make that university their first choice.
At root we have a competitive, free-market higher education system: universities have to compete for students and making unconditional offers is one way universities can make themselves more appealing (I mean, who wants to actually have pass exams to get in?!)
It could also be due to the increasing amount of apprenticeships looking more appealing than university. There are hundreds of thousands of these after all and surely a 1-2 year apprenticeship where you actually paid is going to be more appealing than a 3 year degree and £30K of debt at the end?
Finally, it’s worth noting that unconditional offers are more likely to be handed out by the lower end universities, most of the Russel Group universities make very few unconditional offers, and students generally have to pass their exams to get in.
Problems with unconditional offers…
As I see it, there are three main problems…
Firstly, these may not be in the students’ best interest. They may reduce stress for you in your exam year, but they may lead you into a three year degree that has little value at the end of it. Worse, an unconditional offer may attract you to doing the wrong degree and saddle you with £9K of debt after one year with nothing to show for it.
Secondly – it’s likely to have a detrimental affect on school and college results that the more unconditional offers their students get then the worse the A level results are going to be – why work when you’re going to get in anyway?
Thirdly, it doesn’t seem fair on those students who get standard offers….. at least not in the final exam year when they’re under stress. In the long run, these students may be better off with better A-levels and having got into better universities!
Could this be a topic for a ‘horrible’ methods in context question: look at the strengths and limitations of ‘A method’ for researching the increase in unconditional university offers’ – it’s horrible, but VERY relevant to the majority of sociology students.
I say either ban unconditional offers absolutely, or ration them to a handful per institution, which have to be ‘sponsored’ by the pastoral team, and backed up with hard evidence that there is a need for them (due to severe deprivation, abuse, emotional issues), in the name of equality of educational opportunity.
Also, it’s 2019 now, time for 18 year olds to apply to uni AFTER they get their A-levels results in mid-August?
The 2018 report shows that the overall rate of permanent exclusions was 0.1 per cent of pupil enrolments in 2016/17. The number of exclusions was 7,720.
The report also goes into more detail, for example….
The vast majority of exclusions were from secondary schools >85% of exclusions.
The three main reasons for permanent exclusions (not counting ‘other’) were
Persistent disruptive behaviour
Physical assault against a pupil
Physical assault against an adult.
Certain groups of students are far more likely to be permanently excluded:
Free School Meals (FSM) pupils had a permanent exclusion rate four times higher than non-FSM pupils
FSM pupils accounted for 40.0% of all permanent exclusions
The permanent exclusion rate for boys was over three times higher than that for girls
Over half of all permanent exclusions occur in national curriculum year 9 or above. A quarter of all permanent exclusions were for pupils aged 14
Black Caribbean pupils had a permanent exclusion rate nearly three times higher than the school population as a whole.
Pupils with identified special educational needs (SEN) accounted for around half of all permanent exclusions
The ‘reasons why’ and ‘types of pupil’ data probably hold no surprises, but NB there are quite a few limitations with the above data, and so these stats should be treated with caution!
Limitations of data on permanent exclusions
According to this Guardian article, the figures do not take into account ‘informal exclusions’ or ‘off-rolling’ – where schools convince parents to withdraw their children without making a formal exclusion order – technically it’s then down to the parents to enrol their child at another institution or home-educate them, but in many cases this doesn’t happen.
According to research conducted by FFT Education Datalab up to 7, 700 students go missing from the school role between year 7 and year 11 when they are supposed to sit their GCSEs…. Equivalent to a 1.4% drop out rate across from first enrolment at secondary school to GCSEs.
Datalabs took their figures from the annual school census and the DfE’s national pupil database. The cohort’s numbers were traced from year seven, the first year of secondary school, up until taking their GCSEs in 2017.
The entire cohort enrolled in year 7 in state schools in England in 2013 was 550,000 children
However, by time of sitting GCSEs:
8,700 pupils were in alternative provision or pupil referral units,
nearly 2,500 had moved to special schools
22,000 had left the state sector (an increase from 20,000 in 2014) Of the 22,000,
3,000 had moved to mainstream private schools
Just under 4,000 were enrolled or sat their GCSEs at a variety of other education institutions.
60% of the remaining 15,000 children were likely to have moved away from England, in some case to other parts of the UK such as Wales (used emigration data by age and internal migration data to estimate that around)
Leaves between 6,000 to 7,700 former pupils unaccounted for, who appear not to have sat any GCSE or equivalent qualifications or been counted in school data.
Working out the percentages this means that by GCSEs, the following percentages of the original year 7 cohort had been ‘moved on’ to other schools.
6% or 32, 000 students in all, 10, 00 of which were moved to ‘state funded alternative provision, e.g. Pupil Referral Units.
4%, or 22K left the mainstream state sector altogether (presumably due to exclusion or ‘coerced withdrawal’ (i.e. off rolling), of which
4%, or 7, 700 cannot be found in any educational records!
There is very little detail on why pupils were excluded, other than the ‘main reason’ formally recorded by the head teacher in all school. There is no information at all about the specific act or the broader context. Labelling theorists might have something to say about this!
There is a significant time gap between recording and publication of the data. This data was published in summer 2018 and covers exclusions in the academic year 2016-2017. Given that you might be looking at this in 2019 (data is published annually) and that there is probably a ‘long history’ behind many exclusions (i.e. pupils probably get more than one second chance), this data refers to events that happened 2 or more years ago.
Relevance of this to A-level sociology
This is of obvious relevance to the education module… it might be something of a wake up call that 4% of students leave mainstream secondary education before making it to GCSEs, and than 1.4% seem to end up out of education and not sitting GCSEs!
A recent paper by the Higher Eduction Policy Institute found that 45% of pupils at selective schools come from households with below median income, which suggests a very ‘fair intake’ across the social class spectrum.
45% of pupils selected to grammar schools come from the poorest 50% of households, which suggests that children from the poorest 50% of households have a near equal chance of being selected to a grammar school compared to the wealthiest 50%.
The chances of being selected aren’t quite equal, but once you factor in all of the ‘objective’ material deprivation related barriers to education which children from low income households face, then this seems to suggest that grammar schools are doing a pretty good job of providing equality of educational opportunity where household income is concerned.
It’s more common to look at selection in relation to Free School Meal (FSM) households, which represent the bottom 15% of households by income. By this measure, only 3% of pupils on Free School Meals get into grammar schools.
Grammar schools are also good for social mobility
The report also looked at the chances of grammar school educated children getting into highly selective universities (defined as the top 1/3rd by academic performance, not the ‘Russel Group’) compared to children in non-selective (or just regular comprehensive) schools.
It found that:
39% of pupils in selective school areas progress to highly-selective universities, compared to only 23% in comprehensive areas (so nearly twice as likely)
3% of selectively educated pupils get into Oxford or Cambridge compared to only 1% from regular state schools.
a state school pupil with a BME background is more than five times as likely to progress to Oxbridge if they live in a selective area rather than a non-selective area.
The report also looked at other things and made some policy recommendations. Check it out at the link above!
limitations of the study
NB – the stats immediately above are NOT looking at how well the bottom 50% of students by household income do, they are looking at all students from state and grammar schools. The study makes something of a leap of faith and assumes that ‘because 45% of students at grammar schools are from the poorest 50% of households then these have exactly the same chance of getting into a good university as students from the top 50% of households’.
This may not be the case if we isolate out the bottom two quintiles. Interestingly the report says the DFE were not prepared to release this data!
Also, if it is only grammar schools (rather than comprehensive schools) that are doing this, then it is a good argument for expanding selective education as the Tories want to do.
It’s also an important illustration of how measuring a concept differently gives you different results – if looked at by Free School Meals, it looks like grammar schools are not providing equality of educational opportunity, but if you use wider income categories and compare the bottom 50% with the top 50% then they appear to be doing so. And if you look at how well the poorest 40% do (rather than the poorest 15% on FSM), they also allow for social mobility. NB – this would be a great analysis point in any sociology essay on this topic.
Unfairly benefitted middle class parents through selection by mortgage and the school-parent alliance.
Other criticising concepts and evidence
Banding and streaming, myth of meritocracy, hidden curriculum, ethnocentric curriculum.
Sociology Teaching Resources for Sale
If you’re a sociology teacher and you like this sort of thing, and you want to support my resource development work, then you might like these teaching resources for the sociology of education. They are specifically designed for A-level sociology students and consist of three documents: