Using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties

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

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

Item B

Investigating pupils with behavioural difficulties

Some pupils experience behavioural difficulties and problems interacting with others. This can create a major obstacle to learning, for both themselves and their classmates. In some cases, they are taught in specialist schools or in pupil referral units separate from mainstream education. Often, their behavioural difficulties result from problems outside school and many pupils come from materially deprived and chaotic home backgrounds.

Some sociologists may study pupils with behavioural difficulties using covert participant observation. This method enables the researcher to witness directly the pupils’ behaviour and its context. It may also allow the researcher to build a relationship of trust with pupils and parents. However, the researcher may find it difficult to fit in and he or she may need to adopt a specialised role such as teacher or support worker.

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

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

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

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

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

Section 3 – Conclusion

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

The last sentence is optional!

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

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

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

 

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Outline Three Ways in Which Schools Have Become Increasingly Privatised in Recent Years (6)

Privatisation involves the transfer of public assets to private companies

This is an example of a possible 4 or 6 mark question for the A Level sociology paper 1 education exam, possible answers below…

  • Marketization = exogenous privatisation, or introducing the principles of the free-market, private sector into how schools are run. This involved giving parents the right to choose (like consumers) and making schools compete for funding (funding per pupil) =
  • The expansion of Academies – Many academy chains are private companies (such as Harris) and have an ‘executive structure’ like businesses, with one ‘CEO’ overseeing many schools.
  • The control of exam boards by international companies – Edexcel is owned by the global publishing company Pearson’s for example, which makes money from exams (colleges pay for students to enter exams), but also publishing text books and running revision courses linked to those exams.
  • Global ICT companies such as Apple and Google producing educational hardware and software which schools are required to purchase. iTunes Edu is a good example of this (may overlap with the point above!
  • Education or knowledge becoming a commodity – through the introduction of fees in higher education – this turns students into ‘consumers’ and makes them want knowledge they can use to get a career and make money, rather than knowledge for its own sake. So Marketing courses expand, English Literature courses decrease.
  • The emergence of the Education Services Industry – Private companies building and maintaining schools through public-private partnerships – in which the state enters into a long term contract and pays a private company to either build a school or carry out repair and maintenance work (electrics/ plumbing/ gardening)
  • The expansion of private tuition – increased competition for results has led to most parents employing private tutors in addition to regular education – sometimes through agencies, which are private businesses.

* (you don’t need to write the definition when you answer this particular question!)

Sociology of Education CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle

This document 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

Methods in Context – Possible Method and Topic Combinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

The strengths and limitations of secondary data

What is secondary data?

Information which has been collected previously, by someone else, other than the researcher. Secondary data can either be qualitative, such as diaries, newspapers or government reports, or quantitative, as with official statistics, such as league tables.

Strengths of using secondary data in social research

  • There is a lot of it! It is the richest vein of information available to researchers in many topic areas. Also, some large data sets might not exist if it wasn’t for the government collecting data.
  • Sometimes documents and official statistics might be the only means of researching the past.
  • Official statistics may be especially useful for making comparisons over time. The U.K. Census for example goes back to 1851.
  • At a practical level, many public documents and official statistics are freely available to the researcher.

Limitations of using secondary data

  • Official statistics may reflect the biases of those in power – limiting what you can find out.
  • Official statistics – the way things are measured may change over time, making historical comparisons difficult (As with crime statistics, the definition of crime keeps changing.)
  • Documents may lack authenticity– parts of the document might be missing because of age, and we might not even be to verify who actually wrote the document, meaning we cannot check whether its biased or not.
  • Representativeness – documents may not be representative of the wider population –especially a problem with older documents. Many documents do not survive because they are not stored, and others deteriorate with age and become unusable. Other documents are deliberately withheld from researchers and the public gaze, and therefore do not become available.

This was a brief post, for revision purposes, designed as last minute revision for the AS and A Level sociology exams.

An Overview of the Education Module for A Level Sociology

The AQA Specification – Education

Students need to know….

  • The role and functions of the education system, including its relationship to the economy and to class structure (the perspectives: functionalism etc.)
  • Differential educational achievement of social groups by social class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary society.
  • Relationships and processes within schools, with particular reference to teacher/pupil relationships, pupil identities and subcultures, the hidden curriculum, and the organisation of teaching and learning.
  • The significance of educational policies, including policies of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy.

Education brief

How most text books break the specification down further….

Topic 1 – Perspectives on Education (‘role and function of education’)

There are 4 Main Perspectives:

  • Functionalism
  • Marxism
  • The New Right
  • Postmodernism
  • You can also use knowledge from these perspectives: Feminism/ Social Democratic/ Liberalism

Functionalism

  • Focuses on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs
  • Creating social solidarity (value consensus)
  • Teaching skills necessary for work
  • Bridge between home and school
  • Role Allocation and meritocracy

Marxism

  • Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. The education system performs three functions for these elites:
  • Reproduces class inequality.
  • Legitimates class inequality.
  • The Correspondence Principle – School works in the interests of capitalist employers

The New Right 

  • Created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given choice. This required league league tables
  • Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth.  Hence: New Vocationalism!
  • The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum

Postmodernism

  • Not a major perspective on education.
  • Use to criticise the relevance of the previous three perspectives.
  • A ‘one size fits all’ education system does not fit with a post-modern society
  • Education needs to be more flexible and targeted to individuals.

Topic 2 – In-School Processes

Make sure you explain the difference between Interactionism and Structural Theories

School Ethos and The Hidden Curriculum

Teacher Stereotyping and the halo effect

  • The ideal pupil
  • Labelling and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Banding, streaming and setting
  • Definitions of banding/ streaming setting
  • Summaries of evidence on the effects of banding etc.
  • Unequal access to classroom knowledge
  • Educational triage

Student responses to the experience of schooling: school subcultures

  • Differentiation and Polarisation
  • Pro-School subcultures
  • Anti-school (or counter-school) subcultures
  • Between pro and anti-school subcultures: a range of responses

Gender and differential educational achievement 

There are three main types of question for gender and education – achievement, subject choice the trickier question of how gender identities affect experience of schooling and how school affects gender identities. 

Distinguishing between out of school and in-school factors in explaining these differences is one of the key analytical skills for this topic (and in class/ ethnicity)

Achievement (why do girls generally do better than boys)

  • In the 1980s boys used outperform girls
  • Today, girls do better than boys by about 8% points at GCSE.
  • There are about 30% more girls in University than boys.

Subject Choice (why do they choose different subjects)

  • Subject choice remains heavily ‘gendered’
  • Typical boys subjects = computing/ VOCATIONAL especially trades/ engineering
  • Typical girls subjects = dance, sociology, humanities, English, hair and beauty.

Experience of Schooling/ Gender Identity

  • Pupils’ gender identities may influence the way they experience school.
  • Schools may reinforce traditional (hegemonic) and femininity
  • Gender identity varies by social class and ethnicity.

Out of school factors and differential educational achievement

  • Changes in Employment – Rise of the service, decline in manufacturing sector, crisis of masculinity.
  • Changes in the family – dual earner households, more female worker role models. LINK TO FAMILY MODULE
  • Changing girls’ ambitions – from marriage and family to career and money (Sue Sharp)
  • Differential socialisation –girls socialised to be more passive/ toys related to different subjects (Becky Francis) LINK TO FUNCTIONALISM/ PARSONS.
  • Parental attitudes – traditional working class dads may expect boys to not try hard at school.
  • Impact of Feminism – equal opportunity policies.
  • Policy changes – introduction of coursework in 1988/ scaling back of coursework in 2015.

Gender and In-School Factors

  • Teacher Labelling – typical boys = disruptive, low expectation, typical girls = studious, high expectations (Jon Abraham) – LINK TO INTERACTIONISM, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • Subcultures –boys more likely to form counter-school cultures (Willis) – LINKS to out of school.
  • Feminisation of teaching – increase in female teachers puts boys off
  • Subject counsellors advise boys to choose boys subjects
  • Gendered subject images match traditional gender domains
  • Boys’ domination of equipment puts girls off practical subjects like PE
  • Traditional masculine identities – boys just don’t see school as a ‘boy thing’ – Working class boys saw school as ‘queer’, middle class work hard but hide this (Mac An Ghail)
  • Hyper-Feminine identities (hair/ make up) clash with the school (Carolyn Jackson)
  • Verbal Abuse – boys who study hard get called ‘gay’ as a term of abuse.

Social class differences in educational achievement

Why do working class kids do worse than middle class kids? (Free School Meals to measure, not class!)

Material Deprivation

  • Lots of ways!
  • Hidden costs
  • The cycle of deprivation
  • Selection by mortgage

Cultural Deprivation – blame the working classes

  • Immediate/ deferred gratification
  • Restricted/ elaborated speech codes

Cultural Capital – Marxist – blame the middle classes

  • Skilled and Disconnected Choosers
  • In-School Processes
  • Labelling, the ideal pupil (Becker)
  • Counter School Culture (Willis)
  • Aspirational culture in school (links to cultural capital)

Ethnicity and differential educational achievement

Chinese/ Indian kids do best/ African-Caribbean, Gypsy Roma worst.

Material Factors

  • Differences in income/ class don’t explain the difference (poor Chinese kids compared poor white kids)

Cultural factors

  • Family structure (single parent households)
  • Parental attitudes (Steve Strand 2007)
  • Language differences (linguistic deprivation)
  • Black anti-school masculine street cultures (Tony Sewell)

In-School Processes

  • Teacher racism/ labelling (Gilborn)
  • Subcultures and anti-school attitudes (Tony Sewell)
  • Subcultures as a means of resisting racism (Mac An Ghail).
  • Banding and Streaming/ Educational Triage
  • Ethnocentric Curriculum
  • Experiences of institutional racism and from other pupils (Crozier)
  • Also – racism in admissions at Oxford University

Education Policies

Main policies 

  • 1944 – The Tripartite System
  • 1965 – Comprehensivisation
  • 1988 – New Right – Education Act – Marketisation
  • 1997 – New Labour – Academies, Expansion of HE, Sure Start, EMA.
  • 2010 – Coalition/ New Right – Forced Adacademisation, Free Schools, Funding Cuts, Pupil Premium, and MORE STATE GRAMMARS.
  • Compenstory Education – E.G. EMA.
  • Vocationalism – e.g, Apprenticeships.

Policies – key questions

  • To what extent have policies raised achievement?
  • To what extent have policies improved equality of opportunity?
  • How have policies changed the way schools select pupils and what are the consequences (apply the perspectives)
  • In what ways has education becoming more privatised and what are the consequences (apply the perspectives)?
  • What is the relationship between globalisation and education policy?

 

 

 

Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

An essay on ethnicity and education written for the A Level Sociology paper 1 exam, AQA focus. 

Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

There are significant differences in educational achievement by ethnicity. Around 80% of Chinese children achieve 5 or more GCSE grades at A*- C compared to only 55% of Caribbean and about 15% of Gypsy Roma children. The national average is around 65%.

The idea that in-school processes are the main reason for these differences is associated with Interactionism which focuses on processes such as teacher labelling, Institutional racism and pupil subcultures. I will explore how these in-school factors affect pupils differently while evaluating using cultural deprivation and cultural capital theory.

Two classic studies in Sociology found that teacher labelling based on ethnic stereotypes did occur in British schools 25 years ago.

Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children.  Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly, were seen as aggressive and disruptive, and were more likely to be disciplined for bad behaviour than children from other backgrounds.

David Gilborn (1990) found that teachers tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system.

The main problem with both of these studies are based on small scale samples and they are very dated, and they tell us nothing about whether ethnic stereotyping exists today. If anything, teacher bias is less likely given the greater emphasis put on multi-cultural education and the increased awareness of diversity.

Having said this, the rates of African-Caribbean pupils are still 3-4 times higher than the national average, which could be a result of the biases found by Wright and Gilborn, but given lack of recent research, we simply don’t know whether African-Caribbean children are objectively more deviant, or whether they are just perceived to be so by racist teachers.

A further problem with the above is that if teachers are just ignoring Asian pupils, and letting them get on with it, then they can’t really be having much of an impact on their education – and thus it must be home factors which explain why many Asian (Indian and Chinese) students today do better than the white majority.

A second reason for ethnic differences in achievement may be Institutional Racism which is where discrimination against minority groups is built into the organisation of the school – this can happen in various ways: through the ethnocentric curriculum, through banding and streaming and through the hiring of fewer minority teachers.

The ethnocentric curriculum is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain. The curriculum can be described as Ethnocentric – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.

Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets  and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have no hope of achieving A-Cs.

Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism among Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion.  The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; feeling that assemblies were not relevant.

The problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.

Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.

However, some recent statistics do suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate) – the end result of this was that in 2013, in the whole of the UK only three black people were accepted as trainee-history teachers. Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.

Another in-school factor is pupil subcultures – as with teacher racism a number of classic studies from 20 years ago have focused mainly on black subcultures:

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school. Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.

Mac an Ghail (1998) looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was 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.

As with the research on teacher labelling, the research on the relationship between pupil subcultures and educational achievement is somewhat thin today. If anything, today subcultures are probably less important, as there seems to be less resistance to the school today than in previous years.

Most sociologists seem to agree that home background is more important than in-school factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity: As with class and gender, schools only account for s10% of the differences in achievement (according to a recent Analysis podcast), home-factors are much more important. Pupils only spend a minority of their time in-school after all!

Tony Sewell, for example, focuses on the higher rates of single parent households and the influence of gangsta culture on young black boys, which is far more significant than anything which goes on in-school.

Also, where the excellent achievement on Chinese children is concerned, it seems to be the ‘tiger parenting’ style which advantages these pupils compared to others.

Most of the research on in-school factors focuses on African-Caribbean underachievement, which is a narrow focus, there are other differences too – Gypsy Roma for example, and given that the main reason for their underachievement is the low attendance rate, again school is not a significant factor here.

However, in-school factors may play a role in explaining the biggest problem with underachievement today – that of white working class children, who themselves feel excluded from the culture of the school because they feel school does not reflect their culture, but this is more of a matter of social class (and gender) rather than ethnicity.

In conclusion, I would say that in-school factors explain very little of the differences in achievement by ethnicity, most of the difference is accounted for by home factors and schools cannot be expected and should not be expected to close the gap, moreover, I believe that focusing on issues of race within education are a red-herring, the issue of class and differential achievement is far more important, irrespective of ethnic background, and here, as with ethnicity, much of the differences in achievement are down to differences in home background, not differential achievement within schools.

Using material from item A, analyse two reasons why Gross National Product may not be sufficient to measure a country’s level of development (10)

Applying material from the item analyse (ten mark) questions appear with an item as the second question on section B of the AQA A Level Sociology topics paper.

Before looking at this question, you might like to review the main post on this topic: economic indicators of development.

Below is a suggested answer to the a possible ten mark question on Global Development which stems directly from the item below,

Read Item A and then answer the question below…

Item A

Gross National Product (GNP) has long been one of the main economic indicators used to measure development by international agencies such as the World Bank, and there is a general correlation between increasing GNP and improvements in social development.

However, Post-Development thinkers have criticized GNP as being a very limited measurement of a country’s development because it does not tell us anything about how the wealth generated from production is distributed within a country. Post-Development thinkers argue we need to look at a broader range of indicators to accurately measure development, such as the happiness of a country, the level of peacefulness, equality, and even sustainability.

Applying material from item A, analyse two reasons why Gross National Product may not be sufficient to measure a country’s level of development (10)

The first reason is that Gross National Product does not tell us the income or wealth generated from production is distributed in a country.

Gross National Product may be very high, as it is in the USA for example, but high levels of inequality in that country mean that at least the bottom fifth of the country see little benefit from high overall income and wealth, and so GNP doesn’t necessarily translate into social development.

High social inequality, or relative deprivation, is also correlated with a range of social problems, such as poor health (for the poor) and high levels of crime.

Gender inequality can also mean that high GNPs do not benefit women as much as men, as is the case in especially Saudi Arabia, where women’s freedoms are much more restricted than mens, and many Sub-Saharan African countries too.

In contrast, more economically equal countries seem to have higher social development to unequal countries, irrespective of GNP, and It follows that in addition to GNP, we need to at least look at equality indicators to get a better idea of how socially developed a country might be.

The second reason is that by increasing Gross National Product, a country may actually harm its social development, and that of other countries, so it could actually be something of a ‘perverse indicator’.

For example, in pursuing industrialisation in pursuit of economic growth (and thus high GNP), China has become the sweat shop capital of the world, and has increased the exploitation of its workers who are typically paid low wages. This especially applies to women (given the low levels of gender equality in China).

Another negative consequence of economic growth and industrialisation is the increase in pollution, which leads to sea levels rising, and more climate change refugees.

In contrast, some countries, such as Bhutan, put social development indicators, such as happiness and sustainability first, and arguably countries such as these are less developed when we look at GNP per capita, but more developed when we look at how happy the people are, and they don’t retard the social development of other countries in the process.

Outline and explain two reasons why Positivists generally prefer to use quantitative methods (10)

The theory and methods 10 mark question appears as a special treat at the end of paper 1 (Education, Methods in Context and Theory and Methods), you’ll also get a big 30 mark essay question at the end of paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods) too, but more about the 30 markers in other blog post.

The reason for splitting the theory and methods questions across two papers is probably to make sure that more students fail the exam, and possibly because the man has a burning hatred of teenagers.  Apparently every A-Level exam has one aspect split across two papers, so at least the hate is evenly distributed, otherwise this might be an example of a ‘hate crime’ against sociology students.

For 10 mark questions it’s good practice to select two very different reasons, which are as far apart from each other as possible. In this question, it’s also good practice to contrast Positivism to Interpretivism (to get analysis marks) and to use as many theory and methods concepts and examples as possible.

The first reason is that Positivists are interested in looking at society as a whole, in order to find out the general laws which shape human action, and numerical data is really the only way we can easily study and compare large groups within society, or do cross national comparisons – qualitative data by contrast is too in-depth and too difficult to compare.

Numerical data allow us to make comparisons easily as once we have social data reduced down to numbers, it is easy to put into graphs and charts and to make comparisons and find correlations, enabling us to see how one thing affects another.

For example, Durkheim famously claimed that the higher the divorce rate, the higher the suicide rate, thus allowing him to theorise that lower levels of social integration lead to higher rates of suicide (because of increased anomie).

The second reason for preferring quantitative methods is that Positivists think it is important to remain detached from the research process, in order to remain objective, or value free.

Quantitative methods allow for a greater level of detachment as the researcher does not have to be directly involved with respondents, meaning that their own personal values are less likely to distort the research process, as might be the case with more qualitative research.

This should be especially true for official statistics, which merely need to be interpreted by researchers, but less true of structured questionnaires, which have to be written by researchers, and may suffer from the imposition problem.

You may need to add in a further layer of development to each of these points!

Related Posts 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like to purchase more of the same…

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’.

Using material from item A, analyse two ways in which globalisation may have changed pupils’ experience of education(10)

A suggested model answer to this 10 mark analyse question, a possible question for the AQA’s education with theory and method’s A level paper (paper 7192/1) 

  • Hooks
  • What you need to apply the hooks to

Item A

Globalisation, or the increasing interconnectedness of countries across the globe, creates both challenges and opportunities for the United Kingdom. For example, economic globalisation has resulted in both more opportunities abroad and more competition for jobs for these jobs; and increasing migration has resulted in greater multiculturalism in the UK.

Education has had to adapt to globalization, and as a result, pupils today experience education very differently to previous generations.

Suggested Answer

Point 1 – Economic globalisation means increased competition from abroad, which means British students today are expected to spend longer in education (as evidence by the increasing of the school leaving age. So one change in the experience of education is that students stay in school for longer.

Development  – globalisation has meant that most of the unskilled factory jobs have now moved abroad, and increasingly British workers need to be better educated in order to get jobs at all, thus the expansion of higher education means that more students ‘experience’ higher education and are better qualified than their parents.

Further development – however, ironically, poorer UK students are put off by the fees universities now charge, meaning that the globalisation of HE is possibly resulting in more class inequality.

Further development  – increased competition also means more pressure to succeed, schools are now ranked by PISA league tables, which means even more ‘teaching the test’ and ‘narrowing of the curriculum’, which is a final way the experience of education has changed.

Point 2 – The item also refers to the pressures of increased immigration resulting in more multiculturalism – and British schools have long had multicultural education in response to this, which also changes pupils’ experiences of education.

Development 1 – For example, religious education has long taught about other religions, and increasingly schools and colleges have events such as ‘black history month’ raising awareness of diversity.

Further Development – schools have also introduced compensatory education to help recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, such as extra support for pupils who don’t have English as a first language.

Further development – however, some policies may be seen as potentially divisive, for example, the prevent agenda in schools seems to target Muslim pupils through ‘categorical suspicion’.

Further development – There is also doubt that these inclusive policies are working, many people, especially in working class areas, object to the extra resources being spent on minority groups, and given the fact that it is the white working classes who have the lowest achievement, they might have a point.

A Level Sociology – Outline Questions (4 and 6 Marks, Education Paper 1)

Four and Six mark outline questions appear on the education and crime and deviance AQA A level sociology exam papers. This blog post shows you some possible examples of outline questions which might appear on the Education exam paper, along with some suggested answers.

NB These questions are marked in a ‘1+1’ style – you get one mark for identifying and one mark for developing and explaining further. So to be on the safe side, make a point and then develop it – do this twice for a 4 mark question, and thrice for a three mark question.

Outline two ways in which material deprivation may affect educational achievement (4 marks)

Suggested points, you need to add in the explanations as to HOW these factors have a negative effect on educational achievement.

  • Smaller, overcrowded houses
  • Poor diets and higher levels of sickness
  • Less/no educational books/toys, PC’s
  • Parents can’t afford to support children in education after 16
  • Less access to nursery facilities
  • W/C more likely to have part time jobs.
  • Schools themselves, less resources etc than schools in M/C areas
  • Selection by mortgage
  • Can’t afford private tutors

Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining two ways)

  • (ID) Low income means families will live in smaller houses which could mean there is lack of a private study space, or children may even have to share bedrooms. (EX) This means there is no quiet space for children to do homework, which could result in them falling behind at school.
  • (ID) Children from low income households are more likely to have poor diets, the low nutritional content of which could result in higher levels of sickness. (EX) This could result in them having time off school, which could have a detrimental effect on their education.

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Outline two ways in which cultural deprivation may affect educational achievement (4 marks)

Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining two ways)

  • (ID) Working class pupils are more likely to have immediate Gratification (wanting to work straight after school to earn money immediately) (EX) this explains working class underachievement because working class kids are more likely to be poor thus more likely to want to earn money immediately after finishing their GCSEs, which means they are less likely to stay onto further education
  • (ID) The working classes are more likely to be fatalistic, which is where one resigns oneself to the fact that they can’t improve their lot in life. (EX) This explains working class underachievement because they think they are inevitably going to go into working class jobs so don’t try hard at school as there is no point.

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Outline three reasons why girls are now generally out-performing boys in education (6 marks)

Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining three ways)

  • (ID) Introduction of coursework: (EX) has enabled girls to do better as they are more organised, meticulous, persistent, etc than boys and this is rewarded in coursework.
  • (ID) Changes in the family such as more divorce (EX) has given girls a greater incentive to gain useful qualifications, as they cannot now expect to be full-time housewives permanently provided for by their husbands.
  • (ID) Changes in the labour market such greater numbers of women working and opportunities for promotion (EX) have given girls more role models and the inspiration to achieve qualifications with which to pursue a career. 

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

Suggested points, you need to add in the explanations in most cases.

  • Teacher’s sexist ideas channelling 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

 Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining three ways)

  • (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’.