Kath Roberts, guest blog author – sociology teacher and former Learning Manager for Year 12/13 in a large and successful sixth form
In this blog I look at what makes OCR’s A Level Sociology specification different, and share some of the reasons teachers and students enjoy the course.
Sociology is a fascinating and relevant subject for both teachers and students alike. When choosing which specification to teach, my preference is for the one which will engage students the most, and be most relevant to them and their world. The OCR specification is current and focused on what students will find interesting rather than necessarily prioritising what teachers are used to – and surely that’s what sociology should be about?
All sociology specifications have some compulsory content and some optional topics. The key difference lies in which topics are compulsory and which options are offered.
Research methods is a compulsory topic for all, based on DfE requirements. OCR focuses solely on research methods and does not include a section on theory or science. Personally I have found this much more manageable to teach. I try to refer to research methods throughout the other course content, so students get the idea that all these ‘names’ they have to learn are actually people who did research!
The other compulsory topics in OCR are ‘Socialisation, culture and identity’, ‘Social inequalities’, and ‘Globalisation and the digital social world’. You can check the full details in the specification.
It seems to me that identity, inequalities and digital technology are the most fundamental issues facing society. For a course that gives a critical analysis of today’s society, surely these areas must be covered?
As far as ‘Socialisation, culture and identity’ is concerned, issues of identity and ‘identity politics’ are very current. Gender and ethnicity have featured strongly on most students’ radar in the last few months, following high profile movements like Black Lives Matter and concerns around misogyny and female safety. There’s so much more awareness of issues such as disability and sexuality – just look at Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC!
‘Globalisation and the digital social world’ was a new topic introduced in the 2015 specification. Many teachers, including myself, were slightly nervous about preparing and delivering a topic that they hadn’t covered before or learned themselves.
But if you think about it, how can we teach about today’s society without looking at the impact of digital technology? This is our world, and it is definitely the students’ world too – I have learned so much from them whilst teaching this relevant topic. Interestingly, some of my students have struggled with it a bit. The digital and online world are so familiar to them, and they have no experience of the world before social media, so they find it hard to properly evaluate its impact.
This is all the more reason why they should study this topic. It helps develop the sociological imagination, but also puts their current experience in context and allows them to understand the impact of something they just take from granted. One activity I do is to get them to go ‘cold turkey’ for a weekend and not use social media at all – they hate it! But they report back some really interesting insights and become a lot more self-aware about their own social media use.
There is an amazing piece of research led by UCL called ‘Why We Post’, which studies the use of and impacts of social media across the world. The Why We Post website has loads of brilliant resources, including video clips and e-books (all free to use) and it is a chance to link to research methods and see how research actually works. It even inspired some of my students to look at social anthropology courses at university.
I also teach Youth subcultures as an option for unit 1. My students enjoy it very much, and for many it is their favourite topic. It gives a great opportunity to see how youth culture has changed since the 1960s and to understand their experiences of youth culture today, with great links to postmodernism. I spend an entertaining lesson showing them clips of bands from the last five decades to illustrate the music and styles of mods, punks, new romantics and so on.
Another great thing about the OCR spec from my perspective (and many of my students say the same) is that there are links between topics throughout the course and it feels really holistic and synoptic. All the topics link with each other, and many studies and concepts can be repurposed across several topics. I always teach the Understanding social inequalities topic right at the end – it’s a great opportunity to review the content of the other topics to glean evidence for inequalities.
The whole idea of 40-mark essays does fill some students with dread, but an essay is an essay, and I think the level of detail required for these is very similar to extended essays in other specifications. The way they are marked is very clear and all students can do well if they take a structured approach.
The OCR essays are often focused on a specific theory or view. The specification lists the ones they need and is very clear, and there is a suggested study list too, so this offers great opportunities for students to develop their evaluation skills. I always tell my students that 40 is just a number!
The different styles of question required in the different units can also be a bit of a minefield, but I produce a clear guide for my students showing them what they need to do for each question and what the different command words mean, so they don’t seem to find it that bad. The recent mark schemes and examiners’ reports on the website (Interchange login required) are also really useful in getting guidance relating to question technique. There is even a Guide to assessment that walks you through each question type, explains what students should do, and gives top tips for success and the errors and misconceptions to avoid. All of these are shown with candidate exemplars and examiner commentary.
As well as the endorsed textbooks for OCR, there are also the recently updated student guides that I worked on with the sociology author Steve Chapman. These are published by Hodder and are listed in the updated support highlights.
One brilliant thing about the OCR specification is the range of free to use materials on the website. All option topics are covered in the example schemes of work and delivery guides and there are some great teaching ideas and other links to help your planning and teaching.
So if you do decide to switch, there will be a lot of support and you won’t feel like you are starting from scratch! For example, you can call or email the Sociology Subject Advisor, Lucy Carey, to ask for help on any question about sociology. You can even download the free CPD event materials, Everything you need to know to get started with A Level Sociology, so you are well-prepared and have everything to begin teaching with confidence.
Join the conversation by sharing your ideas and experiences of teaching or switching to OCR Sociology in the comment box below.
If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org , 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.
Kath has been teaching A Level Sociology in various schools and colleges for over 25 years. She is also an author, trainer and senior examiner. Kath lives in North Wales and enjoys spending as much time as she can exploring the amazing countryside around her home with her dog.