Over the last couple of years I have read a number of excellent books on teaching and learning. These include What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong, Make It Stick, What Every Teacher Needs To Know About Pyschology and What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?. All of the books cited here are utterly worthwhile reads. They are also centred – by and large – on insights from cognitive psychology. Moreover, they all seem to prescribe to the idea of ‘evidence based teaching’. I have no issue with any of this. However, as a teacher of sociology, I sometimes wonder whether we could do with a dose of ‘empirical evidence’ from sociology as much as psychology, especially when I read headlines around this time of year focused on GCSE results.
This morning The Guardian lead with ‘GCSEs: boys close gap on girls after exams overhaul”, The Daily Telegraph stated ‘New ‘tougher’ exams favour boys as gender gap narrowest in seven years’ and i News pointed out that ‘Girls beat boys in gaining ‘clean sweep’ of grade 9s’. This is all content that I can use with my A Level sociology classes over the next year, especially when we look at gender differences in education, which will include scrutinising and examining studies on primary socialisation, teacher-pupil interactions and gender role models on attainment between boys and girls and their subject choices at GCSE and A Level.
Moreover, the pupils will also examine other areas that recent headlines have focused on, including the effects of socio-economics and social stratification on education (‘State school pupils could be ‘shut out’ of top universities as private schools avoid new GCSEs, warns headteacher’ – The Independent), the influence of government policy on the exams they take (‘Our world-beating new GCSEs are tough but fair to students’ – The Daily Telegraph) and whether the new GCSEs are are a result of a moral panic (‘The Government is doing nothing to tackle GCSE grade inflation’ – The Spectator). Add to this analysis of the national curriculum’s relevance to the economy, the importance of parental engagement with their children’s education and even the questionable methodology used to produce the OEDC’s PISA league tables, my pupils will be pretty clued up as to why they attained the grades they did.
Furthermore, not only will my pupils study the theoretical and ideological underpinnings of people’s differing views on the role of education, but they will also be taught to evaluate and pull apart the methodologies used to formulate these views. In a similar vein to those pupils studying psychology, they will be equipped with the analytical skills and knowledge needed to unpick and critique the ‘debunked educational myths‘ of yesteryear as well as question – dare I say – some of the more ‘evidence based ideas’ in vogue today.
Therefore, I wonder whether we need to see more reference to the sociology of education in CPD, ITT and NQT programmes (in addition to more input from cognitive psychology). There are so many factors at play in our pupils educational development and many of these happen away from school – in society. Whether affected by material deprivation, cultural deprivation, linguistic deprivation, cultural capital or subcultures, sociological research offers a wealth of knowledge that could help teachers and educational leaders help pupils attain their potential.