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Revising core themes in A-level sociology

There are six ‘core themes‘ in the AQA’ A-level sociology specification: 

  • Socialisation
  • culture
  • identity
  • Social differentiation
  • power
  • stratification

These six core themes cut across every compulsory topic and every optional topic (usually families and beliefs), and they can form the basis of any 10 mark or any essay question. Students should not be at all surprised if they see any of the words cropping up in one of the 30 mark essay questions.

NB – these themes should look familiar, as they are basically some of the core concerns of the perspectives: Functionalism and postmodernism tend to focus on the top three, Marxism and Feminism the bottom three, with interactionism sitting somewhere in between them.

Where 10 mark questions are concerned, I recommend trying to use these two sets of core themes to develop points you find in the item – ‘one way’ focussing on a Functionalist/ postmodern analysis, the other focusing on developing a marxist/ feminist/ postmodern analysis. To my mind, it’s easy to develop Postmodernism from Functionalism and Labelling theory from Marxism/ Feminism.

Where essays are concerned, the 4 boxes above might be used as a suitable structure for four paragraphs, again, in relation to the item.

Quite a useful revision task is to place different questions in the middle of the above slide and just talk through how you might relate the different core themes/ perspectives/ concepts to the question.

In future posts this month I’ll outline how I use this analysis structure in mainly 10 mark questions!

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A-level Sociology Revision Webinars 2019 (AQA focus)

A Level Sociology Revision Webinars starting April 2019

I will be running a series of 12 A-level sociology revision webinars to cover the entire two year A-level sociology specification (AQA) including exam technique for the various question formats on the three AQA A-level sociology exam papers (7192/1, 7192/2 and 7193/3).

The webinars are scheduled for 19.00 every Monday (with one on a Thursday) and will run from Monday 1st of April to Monday 20th June, 2 days before the last exam (crime and deviance with theory and methods). Webinars are scheduled early so that we can get through the entire specification BEFORE the first paper (on May 22nd).

To register for the Revision Webinars, please click here.

NB Registration will only be open during March and the first two weeks of April, then it will close!

Schedule (please see below for a more detailed version)

  1. Monday 1st April – Education 1
  2. Monday 8th April – Education 2
  3. Monday 15th April – Families and Households 1
  4. Monday 22nd April – Beliefs in Society
  5. Monday 29h April – Crime and Deviance 1
  6. Monday 6th May – Crime and Deviance 2
  7. Monday 13th May – Research Methods
  8. Thursday 16th May – Social Theories
  9. Monday 20th May – Education and Theory and Methods 3 (exam on 22nd June )
  10. Monday 27th May – Request webinar, content TBC
  11. Monday 3rd June – Families and Beliefs 2 (exam on 4th June)
  12. Monday 10th June – Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods 3

All of these webinars will last 45 minutes to one hour during which I will provide a brief overview of some of the content within each topic, and a discussion of at least three specific exam practice questions. Students will be able to ask questions during the Webinar, via text, and there will also be time for students to ask questions at the end.

I will be conducting the Webinars via Click Meeting, which allows students to download support materials in advance of the seminars, ask questions during the seminars via ‘chat’, and which will also allow students to review the seminar afterwards as they will be recorded and stored on the site. Recordings will be available until the 16th of June (several days after the final A-level sociology exam).

Webinar Support materials

The first eight revision Webinars are supported by a PowerPoint, revision notes and exemplar exam questions, and the education, families and methods topics (basically the first year content) have gapped revision hand-outs too, so these really are being offered at a bargain price!

NB – if you have purchased any of my revision bundles, some of these resources are the same. If you’ve already purchased one or more, please let me know and please contact me by email and I can arrange a partial (10% per bundle refund) via PayPal only.  

Detailed Schedule..

Sociology revision online.png

Please click below for the full schedule (PDF)

Revise Sociology Webinars ScheduleV2

How to access the Webinars and resources

Access to all 12 Webinars is only £49.99, which is less than £5 a Webinar. 

To register for the Revision Webinars, please click here.

The link will take you to a registration page for my ‘Permanent Room’ on the ClickMeeting platform. This is the room I will be running all revision Webinars from, every Monday (and one Thursday) from April 1st.

Once registered you will receive an email from ClickMeeting which will provide you with an access link which will allow you access my permanent room for March-June 2019. (NB I will only be using this at the scheduled times, as outlined in the schedule.)

Following registration I will also send you an email containing all the relevant revision resources for the 12 Webinars. These will also be downloadable during and immediately after each revision session.

Reminder emails will be sent out the day in advance of each of the 12 Webinar Revision Sessions, and also watch out for a bonus ‘introducing revision Webinars’ session on the final Monday in March, to give you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with how ClickMeeting works.

Payment is via PayPal only!

About your Tutor

I’ve taught sociology for 20 years, 16 of those in a successful sixth form college between 2002 and 2018 (10 years as Head of Department).

In 2014 I set up this blog, and managed to save enough off the back of it to quit working for the ‘man’ and now I work independently, developing non-corporate support materials to facilitate the teaching and learning of A-level sociology.

I also see myself as something of a trail-blazer in developing 16-19 online education: in 2019, we should be doing better than 20 teenagers all having to travel to a central location and then ‘sitting in a room’ for an hour or two. To my mind this all seems a bit 19th century. These Webinars are a move towards making A-level education more flexible and decentralised.

 

 

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Are schools meritocratic?

In this post I apply some sociological concepts to develop arguments for and against the view that schools are meritocratic.

This post is really designed to show students how they can apply concepts to this question from across the sociology of education topic within A-level sociology.

applying sociology concepts education.png

Arguments for the view that education is meritocratic 

Particularistic values

Functionalists argue that at in school students are judged by universalistic values, so it is more meritocratic than at home where children are judged by different particularistic values.

Cultural deprivation

Schools offer children equality of opportunity and so are fair, it’s the inferior values of working-class parents such as immediate gratification that stops them achieving.

School ethos

Nearly all schools today, especially academies have a high ethos of achievement.

Pupil Premium

Introduced under The Coalition government, this encourages schools to accept more students from poor backgrounds, helping to combat selection by mortgage, which is not meritocratic.

Other supporting concepts and evidence

Life-long learning, parity of esteem, expansion of modern apprenticeships, compensatory education.

Arguments and evidence against the view that education is meritocratic 

Correspondence principle

In state school children are taught to obey authority and accept hierarchy rather than to use their talents to achieve.

Cultural capital

Middle class parents have always been more able than working class parents to use their skills to get their kids into the best schools, thus there is not real equality of opportunity

Teacher labelling

Teachers are more likely to negatively label boys, working class and Black Caribbean children as problem students, meaning they are held back through being put in lower bands.

1988 Education Act

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:

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Sociology tuition online! From April 2019…

I will be running a series of A-level sociology revision webinars from April to mid-June 2019. The focus will be on maximising marks in the three AQA sociology exams, as well as reviewing basic content across the main sociology options: education, methods, families, beliefs, crime and theories.

These Webinars will be live events, with 30-40 minutes of structured lecture/ Q n A revision supported by a PowerPoint, followed by 20 mins to deal with student questions and popular requests. Webinars will be recorded and accessible if students wish to go back over them, or if they cannot make a particular session.

The online revision sessions will be fully supported with work packs containing revision notes and activities and plenty of practice exam questions and model answers covering all of the short answer questions, the two types of 10-mark questions and the 20- and 30-mark essay questions.

I’m going to be offering access to these via a subscription through Patreon, so there will be tiered access ranging from £20 a month to £40 a month. If you subscribe to the lower tier, you get access to the revision webinars  and resources (NB this is a bargain price!), if you subscribe to the higher level tiers, you get the webinars, resources AND I will provide you with feedback to any practice exam questions you do (basically I’ll mark more essays the higher up the tiers you go).

These Webinars will run on Tuesday evenings at 19.00 GMT, with the exception of the one before the families and beliefs exam, which will be on a Monday, because paper 2 is on a Tuesday!.

There will only be 20 places available* on these webinars. Subscriptions will open on March 1st 2019, but if you want to register your interest early just drop a comment below or email me and I can make sure you get a place.

(*There are more than 30 000 students who study A-level sociology , so these are actually ver rare!)

Quality Guaranteed!

I taught sociology for 16 years between 2001-2018 until I quit recently (because I live frugally I’ve retired from full-time work early) and I’m still an AQA examiner, so I know the content of A-level sociology and the exam rules intimately. I now spend most of my ‘working time’ maintaining this blog and keeping up to date with all things sociology, A-level and exams.

Provisional Timetable

Month/ Week Content
1 April Education
08 April 2 Methods and Methods in Context
15 April 3 Theories (the theories part of theories and methods)
22 April 4 Families
29 April 1 Beliefs
6 May 2 Crime
13 May 3 Education and Theory and Methods (exam on 22nd May)
20 May 4 Education and Theory and Methods
27 May Families and Beliefs
3 June 2 Families and Beliefs (exam on 4th June)
10 June Crime and Deviance and Theory and methods (exam on 12th June)

A reminder of this years exam dates!

A level sociology exam dates 2019.png

NB the above timetable is from the AQA exam board, other boards may have different times! Click here for the AQA’s A-level timetable.

Influence the content of these webinars – Requests!

What do you want covered in these Webinars? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll use the feedback to make sure certain topics are covered…. I know what the real bogeymen of A-level sociology are (selection, the fully social theory of deviance, green crime etc.), but I also know different students struggle with different things, so if you’re thinking of ‘attending’ and want something specific covered let me know and I’ll make sure I go over it!

 

 

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A-level sociology of education summary grids

I’ve been designing some sociology of education summary grids to try and summarise the AQA’s A-level sociology of education specification as briefly as possible. I’ve managed to narrow it down to 7 grids in total covering…..

  • Perspectives on education (Functionalism etc)
  • In-school processes (labelling etc.)
  • social class and differential achievement
  • gender: achievement and subject choice
  • Ethnicity
  • Policies
  • Globalisation and education (I couldn’t fit it in anywhere else!)

Here’s a couple of them… I figure these should be useful for quick card sorts during revision lessons. And let’s face it, there is only ONE thing students love more than filling in grids, and that’s a card sort!

Perspectives on education summary grid:

sociological perspectives education.png

Education policies summary grid:

education policies.png

Of course I couldn’t resist doing fuller versions of these grids too, but more of that laters!

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Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Karl Marx famously argued that religion was the ‘opium of the masses’ and Simone de Beauvoir argued that religion compensated women for their second class status. Both theorists believed that religion was an ideological tool which pacified the oppressed.

These views have, however, been criticized:

Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression (10)

Firstly, Marxist and Feminist views tend to downplay the positive functions of religion.

As Functionalists have pointed out, it is quite likely that some form of religious belief and organisation is functional (i.e. beneficial for the individual and society) given that religion is practically universal (i.e found in nearly all societies).

Functionalists have pointed to many positive functions of religion – such as helping people deal with death and societies deal with transition and times of uncertainty. Rather than this being about simply keeping inequality in place, it could be that religion benefits everyone by keeping society stable.

Furthermore, people still practiced religion in secret in communist countries when religion was banned, suggesting that they actively wanted religion for their own comfort, rather than it simply being something forced on them by elites.

You could argue that a similar thing is found with religion today in the form of ‘civil religion’ – where people find comfort in quasi-religious ceremonies such as Football matches and Royal Weddings… again this seems to be a matter of choice, and because attendance is optional, it’s hard to argue that these ‘shallower’ forms of religion have a  sinister social control function like Marxists and Feminists suggest!

Secondly, The above theories assume that people simply passively accept an elitist interpretation of religious doctrines. There is plenty of evidence that this is not always the case.

Liberation theology is a good example of this: where Catholic Church leaders in Latin America took the side of the landless peasants, and argued against the elitist interpretation that inequality was God’s will: instead helping the poor fight back against inequality and elite institutions and attempting to bring about a more equal society.

This is supporting evidence for the Neo-Marxist view that religion is not simply controlled by elites, but is relatively autonomous, thus meaning it can be a tool for social change.

From an Islamic Feminist point of view, Nawal el Sadawi argued that Islam was not inherently patriarchal, but rather that it had been interpreted in a patriarchal way in patriarchal societies (patriarchy comes first, if you like!). She further argued that it was perfectly possible for women to challenge Patriarchal interpretations of Islam, as she herself did, thus meaning it doesn’t have to be a tool of social control and pacification.

A postmodern analysis of religion further supports the ‘active intepretation’ criticisms of Marxism and Feminism – today people are much more likely to pick and mix their religious beliefs, and reject anything they don’t like, and use religion at selected times when they find it useful. This is hardly religion controlling and pacifying the population!

 

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Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations.

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Feminists have criticized many traditional religions such as Christianity and Islam for being patriarchal: positions of power within the traditional institutions of both religions are largely controlled by men, an both tend to support traditional roles for men and women.

Feminists have also suggested that the New Age Movement appeals much more to women because it celebrates many aspects of femininity that traditional institutions seek to repress.

Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations (10)

Suggested answer

Simone de Beauvoir suggested that Christianity offered women spiritual compensation for accepting their inferior roles in society  as housewives and mothers.

However, now that more women are in work, and they place less emphasis on the importance of such traditional gender roles, there is less need for such spiritual compensation, hence why the numbers of women attending church may be declining.

Middle class women especially may find the New Age Movement appealing because it allows them to ‘shop’ for their particular therapy, and demands very low levels of commitment.

the NAM is also less focused on social roles, and allows women (and men) a much greater degree of freedom to express their feminine sides – it celebrates nurturing and caring and emotion in a much more ‘fun’ way than traditional churches tend to, which again might appeal to postmodern women more.

It is also more accepting of diversity and thus much less likely to look down on women who are divorced.

Secondly, traditional religious organisations tend to encourage the repression of female sexuality: Catholicism for example is anti-abortion and anti-contraception.

This does not fit in age of female sexual liberation and greater sexual promiscuity. Since the  contraception and the pill (what Giddens calls ‘plastic sexuality’), which may explain why women are turning away from the church.

In contrast, the New Age Movement actually celebrates female sexuality. This may also explain why men don’t feel that attracted the the NAM, maybe they are threatened by empowered women, reflecting a crisis of masculinity.

Finally, the New Age Movement, in its pick and mix approach and celebration of diversity, is more likely to appeal to gender diverse individuals, as it is not against homosexuality like more traditional religions tend to be.

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Sociological Perspectives applied to The Apprentice….

Now in its fourteenth season, The Apprentice is one of Britain’s longest running T.V. series and remains one of the most popular, with average weekly viewing figures stable at just over 7 million for the past four years.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 10:00:01 on 25/09/2018 – Programme Name: The Apprentice – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: **IMAGE EMBARGOED FROM PUBLICATION UNTIL 10AM TUESDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER 2018**
Lord Sugar with The Apprentice Candidates of 2018. Lord Sugar – (C) Boundless Taylor Herring – Photographer: Jim Marks

In this post, I’m just going to analyse what its ‘social functions’ might be by applying a few sociological perspectives…

From a Functionalist perspective, which tends to focus on the positive functions which institutions perform in contributing to the maintenance of the whole, then I guess there are several positive functions which the apprentice might perform: we can see it as playing a role in secondary socialisation, reinforcing the ‘work ethic’ that is deemed so fundamental to capitalist society, for example, and even providing additional opportunities for entrepreneurs.

From a Marxist perspective the main function would probably be one of spreading false consciousness. The broad diversity of contestants suggests (As it does on any BBC show that we have equality of opportunity. This is a myth, especially where successful entrepreneurs are concerned. Such people tend to be drawn disproportionately from the middle classes.

It might also perform the function of ideological control: it has a soporific effect as 7 million people tune in to it every week, and it celebrates the values of individualism, selfishness and competition, disguising the many downsides to these traits.

I can’t see that there would be much of a feminist critique of the apprentice…. There are equal numbers of both sexes, and there are plenty of female winners who have been successful because of the apprentice. Possibly the show might be supporting evidence for liberal feminism?

Although, just as with Marxism, it does little to highlight the very real barriers that ‘ordinary women’ face every day in the workplace – such as harassment and the effects of the persistent dual burden/ triple shift.

From a neoliberal point of view, you might see this show as a real celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. From this perspective, society needs innovative individuals to come up new business ideas to drive the economy forward, and the sort of competition we see on the Apprentice is a perfectly healthy means of promoting this.

From a neoliberal point of view, the show ticks a lot of boxes – not only is it providing an opportunity for enterprising individuals to kick-start their businesses (either through winning and getting an investment, or through simply having their profiles raised as a result of being on the show), it also provides two generations of role models – in the form of Alan Sugar himself and the young apprentices. The show is itself is even a profit generating product in its own right as well.

Finally… this is a very postmodern show…. The sphere of production become the sphere of consumption, as entertainment. And the entertainment mainly comes from the extreme individualism of the contestants. It’s also hyperreal, as I argued in this post: how the apprentice really works!

Finally, from a late modernist point of view, while most the individuals think ‘they’ve done it all themselves’ – they are wrong: they need to realise the importance of the structures they’re embedded into, not least of all the competition itself: they need that external support of £250K and Alan Sugar’s business contacts to kick start their businesses, after all!

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Good Sociology Movies: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a soon to be released move that looks like it touches on a lot of sociology themes.

It’s a movie about a girl who gets sent to a Christian Conversion Therapy Camp where she is subjected to various forms of psychological manipulation to avert her from being gay.

It’s definitely time for a movie like this – apparently 700 000 people in the USA have undergone Christian Conversion Therapy, and 50 000 is the base point for those likely to undergo some form of it in the next five years

It’s Illegal in 14 states for America, but only for minors…. For adults, it’s legal in every single state.

The lead actress, Chloe Grace Moretz, discusses the movie on that most excellent sociological resource: The One Show –  (available on iPlayer until mid September!)

In the interview she outlines how the film focuses on the micro interactions between the various ‘inmates’ in the centre, and how they still manage to hold on to their true identities and find their chosen families despite the enormous barriers put in their way by the oppressive system.

The movie has clear relevance to religion, sexuality and identity, as well as to theories of social change.

My concern is that the overall message of the movie might be that all you need to do to ‘fight anti-gay oppression’ is to be yourself, focus on developing your close relationships, and the oppressive institutions will just whither away around you.’

The Movie closes with the main protagonists disappearing on a road trip – which kind of reminds my of Bauman’s concept of the individualized utopia… the never ending journey, with no real thought about where we are going, society abandoned.

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sociology statistics

How many students study A-level sociology in England?

In 2017, there were 32, 269 entries to the A-level sociology exam, up from 26, 321 entries in 2008.

sociology statistics

How does this compare to A-level entries overall?

Sociology has grown in popularity compared to the overall A-level numbers. Overall A-level numbers have increased less rapidly during the same period: from 760 881 in 2008 , to 828355 2017.

It’s probably worth noting that these recent trends actually have a longer history, and are shared by other ‘critical humanities subjects’ such as politics and psychology. Please see this post for a brief summary of some recent research findings from the British Sociological Association on this topic.

What kind of people study A-level sociology?

Research suggests that sociology students are significantly more awesome than students who mistakenly choose not to study sociology. There’s no actual data to back this up, but that’s what the available evidence suggests.

Girls (sorry, ‘young women’) are also more likely to study sociology than boys…. approximately 77% of students studying sociology in 2017 were female, and the proportion of girls to boys has actually increased the last decade.

sociology gender.png

This means that if you’re a straight lad, and you’re relatively nice and mature, then you’ve got more chance of picking up a girlfriend in a sociology class than in pretty much any other subject!

What are my chances of getting an A* in Sociology?

Not great. 

Overall, 4.7% of students achieved an A* in A-level sociology in 2017. 18% 43.8% got an B or above, and 72.9% got a C or above. The pass rate was 97.5%

Sociology A-level results 2017.png

How does this compare to other subjects?

It’s much harder to get an A* or an A in sociology compared to other subjects, a little bit harder to get a B, but your chances of ending up with a C-E grade are about the same as for other subjects.

Boys seem to do much worse than girls in sociology relative to other subjects, perhaps because they’re more distracted (by the girls?)

A level grades 2017

Where does this data come from?

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) publishes all A and AS level results for all subjects. It show the results by cumulative and actual percentage per grade, broken down by gender.

Just in case you came here looking for information on ‘statistics’ you might like to check out my material on research methods – there’s some pretty good material if you follow the links, even if I do say so myself!