Posted in General Sociology, Uncategorized

Worth a watch: The Divide

A new film titled The Divide is definitely a film worth watching for Sociology students. It is based on The Spirit Level, a highly influential piece of research by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett which argued that the greater societal inequality, the greater the social problems. Countries such as the USA  and the UK have some of the highest inequality in the world and consequently Wilkinson and Pickett argue they have some of the worst social indicators in the world.

Keep an eye out for the film:

The Spirit Level:




Posted in Uncategorized

AS Sociology: Children – BORN TO FAIL?

Forty years ago, the National Children’s Bureau’s report, ‘Born to Fail’ highlighted the huge inequalities in society and the sad truth that one’s future economic success was largely decided at birth.

However their most recent report shows just how little progress has been made in closing the gap between children from poor and affluent backgrounds over the past 40 years. Many sociologists point to the failure or absence of policies to help address the most vulnerable parents and children.

The report finds that:

■ A child from a disadvantaged background is still far less likely to achieve a good level of development at four than a child from a more privileged home.

Children living in deprived areas are much more likely to be the victim of an unintentional injury or accident in the home.

■ Children from the poorest areas are nine times less likely than those living in affluent areas to have access to green space, places to play and to live in environments with better air quality.

■ Boys living in deprived areas are three times more likely to be obese than boys growing up in affluent areas, and girls are twice as likely.

“Our analysis shows that, despite some improvements, the inequality and disadvantage suffered by poorer children 50 years ago still persists today,” said Dr Hilary Emery, the bureau’s chief executive.

“There is a real risk that our society is sleepwalking into a world where children grow up in a state of social apartheid, with poor children destined to experience hardship and disadvantage just by accident of birth, and their more affluent peers unaware of their existence.”

Some policies such as ‘The Family Nurse Partnership’ have been applauded. Currently around 11,000 families are benefitting from personalised support from a nurse. This policy is to be rolled out to 16,000 more families. Research indicates that schemes such as these are successful in helping vulnerable mothers become more stable parents:

Sure Start was introduced by New Labour in 1998 to try improve “childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development. n the 2004 Comprehensive Spending Review, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that the Government would provide funding for 2,500 Children’s Centres by 2008”.

Children’s Centres are expected to provide:

  • In centres in the 30% most disadvantaged areas: integrated early learning and childcare (early years provision) for a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, 48 weeks a year; and support for a childminder network
  • In centres in the 70% least disadvantaged areas, which do not elect to offer early years provision: drop-in activity sessions for children, such as stay and play sessions
  • Family Support, including support and advice on parenting, information about services available in the area and access to specialist, targeted services; and Parental Outreach
  • Child and Family Health Services, such as antenatal and postnatal support, information and guidance on breastfeeding, health and nutrition, smoking cessation support, and speech and language therapy and other specialist support
  • Links with Jobcentre Plus to encourage and support parents and carers who wish to consider training and employment
  • Quick and easy access to wider services

Many centres have been cut by the Conservative government though.

Also it has not been considered an outright success. In 2007 a report by the Universities of Oxford and Wales “examined 153 parents from socially deprived areas and showed that a course teaching improved parenting skills had great benefits in reducing problem behaviour in young children. Parents were taught to:

  • Increase positive child behaviour through praise and incentives
  • Improve parent-child interaction: relationship building
  • Set clear expectations: limit setting and non-aversive management strategies for non-compliance
  • Apply consistent gentle consequences for problem behaviour

However, a University of Durham study has suggested hat Sure Start was ineffective at improving results in early schooling.

In 2010, research conducted by NESS demonstrated significant effects of SSLPs on eight of 21 outcomes: two positive outcomes for children (lower BMIs and better physical health), four positive outcomes for mothers and families (more stimulating and less chaotic home environments, less harsh discipline, and greater life satisfaction), and two negative outcomes (more depressive symptoms reported by mothers, and parents less likely to visit schools for planned meetings)

Posted in A2 Sociology: Crime and Deviance, AS Sociology: Education

Inequality breeds contempt?

Melissa Benn new book, School Wars: The Battle for Britain´s Education is the latest in a long line of academic research which highlights the incredible gulf between Britain’s social classes. She writes:

“21st-century Britain remains a staggeringly unequal society in terms of education provision. Researching my latest book, School Wars: the Battle for Britain’s Education, I visited the country’s richest and poorest schools. Schools such as Wellington College, set in 400 acres of lush Berkshire countryside. With annual fees approaching £30,000, a year at Wellington costs more than the salary (around £25,000) of the average UK citizen”

It is clear that Benn writes from a liberal perspective and appears to very much support the comprehensive ideal, yet despite this apparent bias, a lot of her arguments are compelling. For example, she (like many others) attacks the governments adherence to the academies programme. Firstly, she argues that “academy results cannot always be trusted, with evidence in recent years of “gaming” – vocational qualifications being used used to artificially boost school league tables.” Furthermore, she quotes Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kid’s Company, who wrote of the shiny academies which, quietly rid themselves of the most disturbed kids. Lastly, she criticises the new policy as it is cutting funding to the more traditional comprehensive school. According to former headteacher and Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Downes, a fierce critic of the coalition’s education policy, “This is directing resources to the most privileged. In this way, life gets harder for schools at the bottom of the heap.”

Relating to the recent riots, Benn clearly finds the media´s knee jerk reactions simplistic and counter productive, she asks for ” less panic, and hyperbolic talk of punishment.” Rather, we should fight for a “fairer school system, the creation of strong, mixed schools in every community.”  

Bridge Academy by BDP Architects, United KingdomBenn´s book reminds me of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett´s research, ´The Spirit Level´ (2009) which claims that the greater inequality a society has, the greater the social problems. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the UK sits at the top of many of their inequality charts and accordingly our high levels of social problems reflect this inequality. Of course it is tempting to create a causal link between unequal education and the social unrest of the past week. Perhaps, if we enjoyed a greater amount of educational equality, young people would not feel quite so resentful and pessimistic about their future.

Yet, like all research, The Spirit Level (and I am sure, Benn’s book) is subject to fierce criticism…thus the debate goes on…