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Example Answers for AQA GCSE Paper 1 - Education (2019)


Last updated 28 May 2019

Here are some example answers to the written questions on Education in AQA GCSE Sociology Paper 1 (2019).


According to Marxists, the curriculum is culturally-biased towards the middle class as the middle class will have the cultural capital and the desired elaborated language codes to understand the curriculum, which put it at an advantage over working-class students. Working-class students may find it hard to access the curriculum, for example they may not understand the formal language used in exam questions or they may not have the base knowledge expected by some subjects like history or English.


A curriculum might be biased to towards British culture and in a multicultural society other cultures might be ignored, for example in History there might be a bias towards teaching about the British Empire, ignoring Asian or African Caribbean culture. This may disadvantage some ethnic-minority students, as some ethnic-minority students feel devalued and alienated in education.


Official statistics – sociologists can see trends and patterns over time and compare / contrast the numerical data produced. From this, the sociologist can have a statistical overview.


Females’ achievement at GCSE may have increased over the last few decades because females have higher aspirations now due to changes in the law, such as the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. Female students may feel they have an equal chance of getting a well-paid job and therefore feel motivated to try harder in school to achieve this.


When carrying out a non-participant observation of students, a sociologist can’t pretend to be a student and maybe not even pretend to be a teacher, as this would be unethical as they would be misleading the students. So students would be aware there is an adult watching them / not engaging, so they act differently, either act up or be more passive because there is an unknown stranger watching them. This is known as the Hawthorne Effect. This may happen when Ofsted comes into a school and the students’ behaviour could become more positive due to someone watching them.


According to Ball, Bowe and Gerwirtz, the publication of league tables led to schools introducing different methods to improve their ranking on league tables. They found that schools brought in setting and streaming, and cream skimming techniques, which meant that schools could focus on the most able. This would mean the students would get good results, which mean they would have higher rankings on league tables.


One disadvantage could be that the higher-ability students are not challenged and their needs are not met. This could mean these students might not the highest grade they could get, as the teacher is busy helping the students who find the work harder. This could mean that those who need the most help would get this and other students are not stretched.


Marxists, such as Bowles and Ginitis, would agree that class is the main reasons for a student’s achievement. They believe, working-class students are more likely to underachieve as they have less life chances in education compared with a middle-class student. Bowles and Ginitis argue there is a myth of meritocracy, which means that working-class students are unable to achieve in education due to barriers inside school, such as the curriculum being culturally biased and favouring the middles classes. For example in English, students are expected to read classic texts such as Shakespeare. However, functionalists such as Parsons would disagree and argue that education is meritocratic, which means everyone has an equal chance of achieving merit, so for example, every student is taught the same with the same in-school support.

On the other hand, recent social policies would suggest that class is not as important in achievement, as it was in the past, as policies such as Pupil Premium and free school meals have helped to close the class gap. Pupil Premium enables working-class students to receive financial support for books and extra revision to study. The free school meals enable working class students to have a hot healthy meal so they can concentrate in lessons. However, some sociologists, such as Marxists would argue this could result in these students being stigmatised and these polices only go some way in reducing the gap.

Finally feminists would say gender would be a key factor in understanding achievement. However, when sociologists look at gender and achievement middle-class girls tend to still do better than working-class girls, which would suggest that class is the main factor in achievement. It is evident that there is some attempt to close the class divide with education policies, but, as Marxists suggest and recent GCSE data would show, class remains significant.


According to Marxists, such as Bowles and Gintis, education mirrors the class system, this is known as the correspondence principle. Marxists suggest that the class system and the opportunities made available to students differs based on class. Working-class students are socialised through the hidden curriculum to become exploited workers that are passive and docile, eg students are expected to accept authority in school like they would the boss in the workplace. For Marxists, this passive workforce is of benefit to capitalists as they are obedient to the capitalists / business owners. However, functionalists would also agree the role of education is to to prepare for capitalist society, as this is required to maintain social cohesion/ the organic analogy. Unlike Marxists, functionalists would suggest school does prepare people for work and capitalism, but this is not a correspondence to class but in fact it is meritocratic system where all students can achieve. This means if they work hard in school they can become managers and business owners. School, according to Parsons, is a bridge between home and work, preparing students to go to work in future via the hidden curriculum, such as school hierarchies mirrors the management structure in the workplace.

On the other hand, it could be argued many students are not sufficiently prepared for capitalism, as they will not be employed and will remain on benefits, as suggested by the New Right. New Right sociologists would argue that education is not effective and should be more competitive, so that students are prepared for the competition in the workplace. However, some sociologists would argue school should not be about competition, but instead should be about collaboration.

Alternatively, feminists would argue that the role of education is to prepare students to live in a patriarchal society not just a capitalist society, where gender stereotyped roles are reinforced through the curriculum, for example teachers may use gendered language to socialise gender roles. Girls and boys could be prepared for specific gender roles through gender-specific subjects, such as Hair and Beauty for girls and Construction for boys. However, recent policies have helped to close the gender gap and raise girls' aspirations, such as GIST and WISE, so arguably gender socialisation might not be a role of education.

To conclude, it is clear the hidden curriculum prepares students for work and capitalism / competition with competition through standardised tests and work-related courses. However, there is a debate between Marxists and functionalists about whether or not this is a positive role of education.

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