Tom Genillard, Sociology and Criminology Subject Advisor with Paul Taylor, from Queen Katherine Academy in Peterborough.
In Paper 2, Section B, of A Level Sociology, students need to develop their knowledge and understanding of contemporary patterns and trends of social inequalities. They must engage in theoretical debate and develop their skills of analysis and evaluation using sociological research and evidence.
I talked to senior assessor and author of Paper 2, Paul Taylor, to get answers to some key questions. We’re sure his input will help teachers deliver this tricky area with confidence, and ensure students get excellent outcomes including for the 40-mark essays.
The theories covered in the specification from this area can be used across all papers so making the knowledge accessible to all is critically important.
A pattern is something which occurs on a regular basis. When we look for a pattern in statistics, we are often looking for something which is similar in one group or different between two or more groups. For example, if we look at statistics on educational attainment we can observe regular patterns. For example at GCSE, girls on average consistently perform better than boys in nearly every subject. Similarly, there is a strong relationship between social class and performance at GCSE. Children receiving free school meals, who tend to be among the poorest on average, gain lower grades than other children.
A trend is something which changes over time. Usually we are looking at something which is increasing or decreasing in a set of statistics. For example, the fact that there is a gender pay gap, with men on average earning more than women, is a pattern. However, the fact that over the last 50 years the gender pay gap has been narrowing is a trend.
So, when looking at statistics in a question on Paper 2, if the statistics cover several years, you can identify a trend by looking at whether a line on a graph or figures in a table are increasing, decreasing or possibly fluctuating. If a table or graph only covers one point in time, we would not be able to identify any trends, but we might find some patterns if the figures allowed us to compare different groups.
Generally, when we set exam questions, we try to think about what material students will have available to them and try to avoid asking questions where current textbooks only have a narrow range of material. If a question were to be set on New Right explanations of ethnic inequalities that might be quite tough as only two studies, Murray and Sewell, are mentioned in the current OCR textbook.
However, a question on the New Right could potentially come up but also might present a view which the New Right would agree with, for example functionalism, which is similar to the New Right on a number of issues. Alternatively, we might ask a question about New Right explanations which would allow candidates to discuss other kinds of inequalities apart from ethnic inequalities, allowing them to use their wider sociological knowledge.
For example, showing how some groups are advantaged like the middle class, compared with the working class, who are disadvantaged.
The specification does not require this, so we haven’t asked questions like this in the past. However, it would still be useful to be able to make comparisons between things like the life chances and experiences in work and employment of people in different social class categories. A source could include data on the different sub-groups of class for example.
If so, would there be enough for something like feminism explaining age inequality?
Some theories lend themselves to explaining certain types of inequality. For example, feminism has a lot to say on gender inequality and we might even expect students to be able to discuss specific types of feminism such as liberal, radical and Marxist feminism as separate explanations of gender inequalities. On the other hand, it would be challenging to construct a good answer on feminist explanations of social class inequality using four different theories or studies. However, it is useful to understand what feminists have to say about social class inequality so that we can use feminism to offer a critical evaluation of other theories.
To summarise I would suggest that students learn four studies to be able to explain areas of inequality that they obviously relate to. For example, in the textbook there is good coverage on Marxism in relation to social class inequalities and of Weberian and social action theories in relation to age inequalities, so these might be potential topics where you could be expected to answer a question using four studie s to support a viewpoint.
If they produce a table like the one below, it will help them to understand the easiest theories to use for each of the areas of someone’s identity.
On a 40-mark question the main essay should include four developed points of knowledge which support the theory or viewpoint mentioned in the question. In looking at whether a point is developed, examiners will be looking whether candidates have key sociological knowledge which might include key theories, studies and concepts but the question is also marked on how well these have been explained and the level of detail in the point.
There should also be four points of evaluation which question or criticise the theory or viewpoint in the question and these need to also be developed like the knowledge points with theories, studies and concepts. Evaluation points should also be explicitly evaluative and explain how alternative theories or evidence could be used to question the view represented in the question, rather than just providing alternative viewpoints.
Throughout your answer you need to apply the material you discuss which means explaining how it relates to the question either for or against the view. In recent years we have moved away from giving marks for a conclusion at the end of the essay so although this is good practice it is not essential.
The mark scheme does not specify any structure for a 40-mark essay if you include these ingredients. Thus, some candidates outline all their knowledge points first and then follow up with evaluation while others prefer to alternate knowledge and evaluation points, either is acceptable. Whichever approach you choose you should try to develop a discussion in the form of a debate rather than simply listing points for and against.
In the refreshed OCR specification teachers and students will find the range of knowledge required has been reduced as many candidates found the number of theories and aspects of inequality a bit overwhelming.
I think OCR has done a great job on the refresh. There is new focus on changes in relation to social inequalities, in relation to the patterns and trends which tend to be covered in the first of the inequality’s questions. This is welcome as I think candidates need to be aware that inequalities are not rigid and unchanging. In some areas like the gender pay gap we have seen a real narrowing in recent years whereas some kinds of inequalities, for example, in the distribution of wealth and income, have become much more pronounced leading to a widening of social class inequalities.
I am also looking forward to teaching some newer areas on other topics. For example, the aim will be to get to grips with areas like gender identity where there is a growing interest in the idea that gender is not simply a binary division between males and females, but needs to consider trans, non-binary and a host of other gender identities. The youth subcultures topic has also been given a proposed update with a focus on current examples such as urban music subcultures.
We’re working with publishers on updated textbooks to accompany the new specification that will reflect its focus on contemporary and cutting-edge sociology, as well as including some of the classics. All in all I’m really looking forward to both teaching and examining the new specification.
For full visibility of our planned refreshed A Level in Sociology, including our draft specifications and the support available, please visit our dedicated webpage: OCR’s refreshed A Level in Sociology.
If you have any questions, email us at email@example.com, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Sociology. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive the latest information about resources and support.
Tom Genillard is overseeing sociology as well as the exciting upcoming criminology AAQ. Previously, he was a teacher for 11 years which included various roles in teaching and middle management leading to his last role, as Head of Human Sciences. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sport, watching crime documentaries and playing with his two sons.
Paul Taylor has been teaching sociology in secondary and further education for over 40 years in a variety of roles. He currently teaches at Queen Katharine Academy in Peterborough. He is also one of a team of senior assessors for OCR Sociology and authors Paper 2, as well as leading a team of examiners marking the paper. Paul has also contributed to a number of sociology textbooks including the two volumes of OCR Sociology textbooks. He is currently about to embark on helping to write a new textbook to go with OCR’s revised specification which should be approved shortly.