A level Sociology is a diverse and interesting subject to study and given the range of options that it offers for both teachers and students, it can seem a little overwhelming to teach at first. This section breaks down the three compulsory topics (Education, Crime and Theory and Methods) and give some insight into pros and cons of each of the optional modules that can be taught on the AQA specification for A level Sociology.

Education: A core module on the specification, which is usually taught in the first half of year 1 of A level by myself (although others may disagree). Starting with education enables A level students to relate to some of the ideas in sociology early in their studies. Concepts such as labelling, setting and streaming, Nike identities and feminist concepts around the male gaze, socialisation and subject really get students talking and discussing their own experiences very early on in the course. Of course, blaming teachers for student outcomes is a favourite with students (and governments, parents and Senior Management Teams!) but I find this helps get students interested in the subject. It shows sociology is a subject that considers them and improves engagement. The alternative of beginning with family or culture and identity is a rational one, but for me it’s Education! Education! Education! (to quote a rather discredited former Prime Minister). It also really helps to set the building block for the next section.

Theory and Methods: Another core module that spans the entire course. Most teachers I know split this section into two halves: Research Methods and Theory. Research Methods can be taught anywhere in year 1 really, but I find it most logical to teach between Education and the first year optional topic, mainly because of the one question that gives nightmares to students and teachers alike – THE METHODS IN CONTEXT QUESTION (MiC).

Having taught on both the older specification (SCLY2) and the new specification, this one question causes all sorts of problems for students. My simple advice when tackling this question is:

THINK LIKE A SOCIOLOGIST!

As a consequence, teaching research methods and applying it to the context of education allows teachers and students to see sociology come to life. When teaching research methods, there is a habit of some teachers to go to ‘death by powerpoint’ mode, when actually, this should be the most interactive part of the course. Let students conduct their own research projects. Guide them through the process. Of course, some background information is vital (Practical, Ethical, Theoretical issues). This has become more important with the tendency of the exam board to ask questions such as:

Outline and explain two PRACTICAL disadvantages of using personal documents (10).

Knowing the difference between practical, ethical and theoretical has never been so important, but this can be reinforced throughout student projects into researching education. It’s also good practice to use existing research before students embark on a research project as many of the MiC questions are based on actual research that has taken place. A few to highlight here:

Rosenthal and Jacobsen – field experiments

Gerwitz et al – secondary sources and interviews

Becker – unstructured interviews

League Tables – official statistics

Look around the specification, use real examples and get the students to engage in sociology. It may be seem difficult to motivate students to do research and you may get some left-field projects (I had one do a group interview on whether Ryan Gosling was gay!) – but it looks good if the students are showing initiative and discovering society for themselves with you as a guide.

The Theory section is certainly Year 2 material. Whilst some may start their early lessons with Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism, some of the other key debates in this section may scare a few of the less confident students. Discussing Popper and Kuhn and whether Sociology should be a science requires a little more nuance and understanding of the subject, plus covering debates such as ‘should sociology inform social policy?’ is a great way to get a bit of staged repetition or spaced practice into your lessons and preps students for the big exams. This is why I tend to leave this to the end of second year rather than as a two week filler at the end of year 1.

Crime and Deviance: This is the grand-daddy of topics and opinion is split on when it should be delivered. Personally, I go with this as a starter in second year. It builds momentum in what is the long haul to Christmas and giving the students a paper 3 as a mock is a real tester. I also do staged repetition lessons in the run up to the exams, and find that of all of the topics, Crime is the one that students need a second go over. Application is key in this module, as many theories can be applied again and again to different social groups and situations. The big ones I emphasise:

Strain Theory

Status Frustration

Criminogenic Capitalism

Neo-Marxist Approaches

Folk Devils and Moral Panics

Labelling Theory

The Realist Theories

Each of these theories also allows students to show synoptic links to education, family, media, stratification, work, poverty and welfare and as such really can be used to enhance their understanding of year 1 work.

The toughest section – globalisation and crime. Globalisation has been threaded throughout the specification and I often teach globalisation as a distinct unit on it’s own to show the impacts. In terms of contemporary applications – globalisation is the biggest thing to happen to society since the rise of feminism and should be treated as such. Spend time on this topic. Last year I produced a short video tutorial on how to answer a globalisation and crime question and the link is below. This for me is a must know for students, particularly given the emphasis AQA put onto adding globalisation to the specification.

Optional Modules

Year 1:

Families and Households

The old favourite… perhaps too old. I teach this myself and find it the dullest of all topics on the sociology specification. The positives tend to outweigh the negatives with this module. There is a wealth of resources, not least the Webb and Trobe textbook which appears to be the new bible of AQA Sociology, but the contemporary changes for the new specification seem a bit forced. Personal Life Perspective is almost a nod to contemporary research and the impacts of globalisation on the family is confusing for most students. Whilst still the teacher’s favourite due to the relatability of the content, if you want more discussion and contemporary application, steer clear of families and households.

Culture and Identity:

The New Kid on the Block (even that reference is dated!). Lots of contemporary applications. Lots of synoptic applications, particularly if Nike Identity is your thing. There is a growing bank of resources from some of the usual sources, but still plays second fiddle to Families and Households. Less content and more higher order skills on this part of the specification if that’s how you teach and growing in popularity. Not quite the niche subject it used to be, and if you are a one person department or have had poor results on Paper 2, well worth a look at. Greater student engagement on this one than the historical elements of Families and Households.

Health:

Never popular. I recall marking n SCLY2 and less than 5% of responses were Health. Useful if you have students doing Health and Social Care level 3, but the scarcity of resources for the new specification mean I would only attempt to teach this module if you are a BTEC Health and Social Care teacher.

Work, Poverty and Welfare:

This is a module that should have more prominence on the specification given its contemporary applications, but unfortunately does not. A growing bank of resources from the likes of Tutor2U might sway that in coming years. Accounts for a very small percentage of centres according to AQA, but for brave teachers who want to engage with students this is a lovely module to teach and very contemporary. It also is niche enough to get the big marks as students have a real ability to show off contemporary knowledge.

Year 2:

Belief in Society: Centres are undergoing their own ‘secularisation’ of this module. Whilst it remains the dominant module, the confused contemporary applications and diversity of questions on recent examinations have seen many experienced teachers drop this module like it’s hot (Contemporary reference for the kids there!). Too expansive and the applications to contemporary society are thin to get into the A* band. In both 2017 and 2018 students scored lower on this section of paper than others. Avoid at all costs.

Media: The new darling of the specification. Lots of contemporary application, lots of cross-over into crime and therefore synoptic links. I have even heard some teachers complain that students who studied media were at an advantage in 2018 when the question was on media and crime. An interesting module that has so much scope for interactive learning and developing employability skills, that I even changed from Global Development to Media to engage more students. Ken Brown and Haralamobos texts are a must for this module as Webb et al ignore this module.

Global Development: If you have a large cohort of geography students, pick this! If you don’t, well it’s a marmite subject. Some students love this more than crime, studying global inequality and uncovering the crimes of the Transnational Classes. Others get bogged down by cultural differences between the developing world and the West. It’s a shame because this is a fantastic module that should be compulsory study in order to give students a broader world view. Increasingly popular and some good resources available from tutor 2 U (Whose Head is a Global devotee BTW) and the Ken Brown textbook. Has increased in popularity from 7 centres in 2010 to 163 in 2018.

Stratification: The third way, if you like… the least popular of the ‘other’ options, but an interesting option all the same. It has synoptic links throughout the course – crime, education, family etc. Again, a growing bank of resources, but unless you are a specialist in Stratification, steer clear…for the time being