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The University of Cambridge appoints first female black head of a college

Jesus College Cambridge recently appointed the first ever black female as its head. This is the first time in British history that either a female or a black person has been the Master of an Oxbridge College.

Sonita Alleyne is 51 years old studied Philosophy at Cambridge 30 years ago and went on to establish a successful career in journalism and has been awarded and OBE. She is a real champion for diversity and inclusion.

black woman cambridge.png

At first sight this seems like a very progressive move to promote equality and diversity, especially when Oxbridge universities have been under so much criticism recently over their disproportionately low numbers of black students and staff.

However, critics might suggest this is an ‘easy trophy appointment’ – what do Heads of Colleges do after all? They’re basically figure heads who liaise with other educational establishments, businesses and the wider communities.

Surely addressing the lack of black female staff (and especially professors) would have more of an impact in promoting equality and diversity?  I mean these are the people who students interact with on a day to day basis, so surely appointments to these positions would have more of a role-model effect, and surely make a difference to the lives of more people (i.e. the people appointed and the students they might inspire.

This appointment is progress, yes, but maybe not the most effective way of promoting equality and diversity

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education. You can use this as contemporary evidence against the view that elite universities are institutionally racist.

Sources/ find out more:

Guardian Article (2018) – Oxbridge faces criticisms over lack of black students.

Article (2017) – List of black female professors in the UK (54 at time of writing, 6 of them in Sociology!)

Vogue Article – we urgently need more black female professors in UK universities (it’s not just Oxford and Cambridge!)

Picture source – BBC – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-48413098

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The consequences of cutting bursaries for student nurses…

Cutting free tuition and bursaries for student nurses seems to be a good candidate for the one of the worst social policy decisions of the decade…

The NHS is currently critically short of nurses, with 42 000 posts in England unfilled.

This seems to be due to a decision by the Tory party in 2015 to remove free tuition and bursaries for those undertaking nursing courses, requiring nursing students to take out loans to cover their fees and costs of living while studying.

It appears that the prospect of starting a nursing career up to £50K in debt has but people off applying for nursing in droves. Since 2016 nursing applications have dropped by one third, and they are down 40% among mature students.

There seems to be a direct correlation here between the removal of bursaries and people deciding to not do nursing courses, which makes sense given that nursing is a low paid, stressful and low status career: who would want to start out £50K in debt?

In 2015, it was projected that the policy would have saved £1 billion a year, but this is almost certainly not going to be the case as it is estimated that nearly 50% of loans to student nurses will be written off because they will never earn above the repayment threshold, and because of the requirement to hire nurses through more expensive agencies.

It is estimated that replacing agency nurses with regular full-time nurses would save the NHS £560 million a year.

Why did the Tories introduce this policy?

It could be due a total disconnect between elite Tories and the kinds of people doing nursing degrees. Most Tories will have no idea what it’s like living on marginal wages and  the difference bursaries can make down at the bottom of the pay scale.

Or it might be ideological – deliberately done to put the NHS in crisis and make it more expensive to run, justifying (in a downward spiral) the further outsourcing and selling off for profit later. Tories don’t need it after all, they have private health care.

It can’t be due to any rational decision making as this policy clearly makes no financial sense on any level.

Sources 

https://www.rcn.org.uk/news-and-events/news/removing-the-student-nurse-bursary-has-been-a-disaster

The Week

 

 

 

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Exam advice from the AQA’s Examiner Reports from 2018

The AQA produces an examiner report after every exam, and it’s very good advice to look at these reports to see common mistakes students made last year, so you can avoid making the same mistakes this year!

AQA sociology examiner report 2018.png

Below I’ve selected FIVE choice pieces of advice based on the two most common errors from the 2018 Education with Theory and Methods paper.

  1. For the short answer questions, make sure you get your ID and Development the right way round – for example, last year’s 4 mark question was on ‘two reasons why marketisation policies may create social class differences in educational achievement’ – many students started with a policy rather than a reason, they should have started with a reason and then illustrated with a policy.
  2. The six marker was ‘outline three reasons for gender differences in educational achievement – the report says that many students did not get a second mark because they failed to be specific enough in their application to gender or educational achievement, so be specific!
  3. For question 5 – the methods in context question – the best answers used the hooks in the item, so use the item!
  4. At the other end of the paper – the final 10 mark theory and methods and question, a lot of students seemed to run out time to answer this, so make sure you get your timing right. Remember that it’s almost certainly going to be easier to get 4/10 for a 10 mark question than to go from 12/20 to 16/20 on a methods in context question – the bar’s lower after all!
  5. Focussing on the final 10 marker – if you get another ‘criticise a theory’ type question’ then the best answers simply used other perspectives to develop their criticisms.

It seems that the 10 marker with item and 30 mark essay question were OK!

Sources 

All information taken from the AQA’s 7192/1 examiner report.

You can read the full report here.

You can view the 2018 paper here.

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Outline three ways in which pupil identities may come into conflict within school

A possible 6 mark question in the sociology of education exam. Unlike many 6 markers, this one lends itself to research studies!

Paul Willis: Learning to Labour – found that the traditional working class male identity came into direct conflict with the norms of the school – for the ‘lads’ he studied being male for them meant being cool, and not caring about school work. For them ‘real boys didn’t try hard at school’ and they were more interested in dossing around.

Louise Archer –found that girls that didn’t conform to traditional gender identities (passive and submissive) came into conflict with the school. For most of the girls, constructing and performing a heterosexual, sexy feminine image was the most important thing to them. Each of the girls spent considerable money and time on their appearance, trying to look sexy and feminine which gave the girls a sense of power and status. The peer group policed this.

Mac an Ghail argued that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism. He mainly blamed the school rather than the students

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The globalisation of education

Three examples of the ‘globalisation of education’

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective this encourages competition between countries – with each country trying harder to raise standards. The UK ranks in the mid 20s for most of the tests for example and so should be under pressure to do better!

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries

U.K. private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Related posts

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.

 

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Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using participant observation to investigate pupil exclusions

This 20 mark methods in context question came up in the 2018 A-level sociology 7192/1 paper, below is the full question and some thoughts about how you might go about answering it!

 

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using participant observation to investigate pupil exclusions

Hints for answering

The item mentions many different types of exclusion, you should address them all and contrast the usefulness of participant observation for researching different types. E.G….

  1. Permanent (although you are really directed away from this
  2. Fixed (1/20 pupils)
  3. Pupils excluded from lessons (‘no reliable data’)
  4. Self-exclusion for truanting
  5. Self-exclusion by ‘switching off’.

You’re also directed to discuss particular types of students – those with special educational needs and those from traveller backgrounds for example.

The paragraph on the method directs you to discuss the role you would take amongst other things. NB the method is participant observation in general, so you could contrast overt and covert.

Here are some of the points you could develop:

  • Overt participant observation as a learning support assistant is probably the only way you could do this – useful for gaining insight into pupils being excluded from lessons and those self-excluding by switching off, but not for truancy.
  • If you took that role you could get close to SEN students – some of the students more likely to be excluded, but less so for traveller children.
  • An SEN learning support assistant could view more than one teacher/ classroom over the course of a few weeks, so reasonable representativeness.
  • You could check for teacher bias agains certain students in terms of why they get excluded – but this might be difficult IF you are actively trying to support learners in your role.
  • Also, your presence might improve behaviour and lesson the likelihood of exclusion.
  • Practically you’re limited to one school.
  • To be ethical you would have to tell management your true purpose for wanting to join in as an assistant, maybe investigating teachers with the highest exclusion rate, but you would have to not tell them for validity purposes, which would be unethical.
  • Practically you would still have to be trained as an LA.
  • Exclusions are rare, so you might be hanging around a long time waiting for one to happen.
  • You could embed yourself within a group of traveller or SEN children to get their take on school, which might give you insight, but this is not practical for adults.
  • Ultimately you’d have to combine it with Unstructured Interviews to really find out why exclusions take place, which is possible if you’re overt, not covert.

Not an exhaustive list, just a few ideas…. NB you would have to use more methods concepts.

Sources 

https://filestore.aqa.org.uk/sample-papers-and-mark-schemes/2018/june/AQA-71921-QP-JUN18.PDF

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Using contemporary examples to evaluate within the sociology of education

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of education, you’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

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Outline three reasons why girls are less likely to choose science subjects than boys (6 marks) 

This is a possible 6 mark question for the AQA’s 7192/1 Education and Theory with Methods Paper

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

Possible identifiers

  • 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‘!

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How the rich cheat their way into elite universities

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.

Sources 

https://www.thisisinsider.com/felicity-huffman-college-admissions-scheme-allegedly-disguised-bribe-as-charity-donation-2019-3

https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-idiots-guide-to-bribing-and-cheating-your-way-into-college-11552479762

https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8782389/harvard-donation-rebuttal

 

 

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Using interviews to research education

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.

Validity issues

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.

Ethical issues

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.

Group interviews

Peer group interviews may well be a good a choice for researchers studying topics within the sociology of education.

Advantages 

  • 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.

Disadvantages

  • 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.