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Example Answer for Question 3 Paper 1: A Level Sociology, June 2017 (AQA)


Last updated 9 Jun 2017

Section A – Education: Q3 [10 marks]

One effect of increased parental choice on pupil’s experiences of education is a growing gap in terms of the educational achievement of the different social classes. Due to the marketization of the education system which was a central part of the educational reform act of 1988 (a conservative policy introduced by Margaret Thatcher) and continued under New Labour. Schools now ensure that “league tables on school performance” are “publicly available” (Item A) which means schools are forced to operate more like a business which aims to attract and please its customers and which also aims to attract the best performing students and their families. The middle classes according to Gewirtz (1995) have a much greater level of economic and social capital which they use to exercise greater choice over secondary schools. They are able to manipulate the system to ensure their children get into the best schools and often have the luxury of taking time to visit them and make the best decisions. They can also afford the greater travel costs and afford to live in areas with the best schools. This means that middle class children are at a significant advantage in terms of the educational experience they receive and therefore the gap between the achievement of rich and poor continues to grow, according to Marxist sociologists. However this view is criticised by Functionalists who would argue the education system is based on a meritocracy and parental choice could benefit the working classes just as much if they took advantage of the support schools and governments offer.

Another effect of increased parental choice on pupils’ experiences of education is the growth of a “wider range of school types.” (Item A). Since the coalition government in 2010 all schools have been encouraged to leave LEA control (a development of the original labour policy which again aimed to offer schools and parents more choice) and there has also been an expanse in the number of free schools which have been set up by parents, teachers, businesses and faith organisations. Critics of parental choice would argue that it has brought about a divisive educational system which segregates social groups based on characteristics such as class, gender and ethnicity and again creates differential educational achievement. Allen (2010) for example argues that free schools tend to only really benefit those from a higher social class background. Ball (2011) also points to the way in which such parental choice over schools has created a fragmented educational experience with an inconsistent approach to education. Critics however would defend the measures, arguing instead that the range of choice available to parents actually results in a drive towards improving standards as they are forced to attract students and parents and so need to ensure they occupy a respectable place in the school league tables.
[~450 words]

Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.

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