Book Review: Contemporary Debates in the Sociology of Education

book review, Education

Within this volume, Brooks, McCormack and Bhopal set out show how the sociology of education can cast a critical eye across the global issues in education from schooling through to university in the mainstream and to the margins. Opening with an outline of the theoretical, political and institutional contexts of the sociology of education, the book gets the reader up to speed with the state of the field before taking them on an editorial journey through the various stages of education by way of an interesting and thought provoking range of chapters based on cutting edge empirical research.

There are a number of chapters on compulsory age schooling examining issues of international comparisons in assessment, citizenship education, academic selection, masculinities, race and gender issues in schools. The most poignant chapter on schooling comes from Carolyn Jackson who explores the issue of fear and anxiety in schools. This is one of the few chapters that focuses on teachers as well as students, an area that on the whole the collection glosses over.  Recent debates surrounding increasing pressure from inspection and policy change on education professionals would suggest that this is an area central to contemporary debates. This however, is a comment as much on the speed of change and the current state of research in the sociology of education as much as it is the book.

The most interesting chapters are those that take the reader those beyond the scope of other texts. Firstly, Kagendo Mutua and Sandra Cooley Nichols chapter on special education in the USA and how gendered identities are constructed within it during adolescence which takes a very different stance on exploring special education provision beyond outcomes and process to explore how individuals develop a sense of identity. There is also an excellent chapter by Steve Roberts focusing on the lifelong educational opportunities of retail workers where he explores the tensions of between an instrumental credentialisation of skills and learning that is useful for life. This chapter is an important contribution as workplace learning is often omitted from debates in the field.

That said, no volume on contemporary debates would be complete without the obligatory chapter on working-class students and university. Wolfgang Lehmann provides this from a Canadian perspective and this highlights another key strength of the volume that in drawing from global perspectives, it helps the reader create a comparison of similarities with more local debates. This is complemented further by Heather Mendick’s exploring issues of the gendered nature of subject selection in Mathematics. Understanding these processes is key if issues of equal access based on gender are to be addressed within STEM subjects.

The final chapter by Keri Facer and Neil Selwyn is a provocation highlighting issues of technology and the importance for sociologists of education to be ready to explore these. They argue that given the ubiquity of technology within all areas of education, that there is sizeable gap in the research literature. In ending on this note, the volume challenges the reader to consider how they can fill this gap and hopefully will act as a stimulus for much needed work in the sociology of educational technology.

This collection serves its purpose of stimulating thought on the contemporary debates of the sociology of education and as such would provide an excellent starting point for those new to the field or who are currently engaged within education but would like to explore a more sociological analysis of some of the issues and challenges they face.


Brooks, R., McCormack, M., Bhopal, K. (2013). Contemporary Debates in the Sociology of Education, Basingstoke; Palgrave macmillan


003.1416 – License to Teach


Tristram Hunt MP, the Labour shadow education secretary has today released details of his proposals for a system of regular re-licensing in a way that he envisions will improve professionalism to bring it in line with other professions such as Medicine and Law. Done with care, funding and well thought out systems this has the potential to be very beneficial but I want to examine why it may not be as useful as it appears to be on paper.

Much of the current Continual Professional Development (CPD) within teaching is delivered as a tack on at the end of a day to already exhausted teachers after a full day of contact time with young people, often by other teachers who are equally as worn out. It is quite often planned with minimal time and resources allocated to it, more often than not to meet a statutory requirement (such as in the case of Safeguarding) or to ensure that the school can tick a box to say staff have been trained on how to deal with a particular learner group, initiative etc. This isn’t because schools don’t want to provide good training but the reality is there isn’t the time, or the budgets to do so. With external courses often running into hundreds of pounds a day for attendance, alongside the cost of a supply teacher for the day, the costs become prohibitive and mean that internal, staff delivered training is often the only option.

In a time when budgets are being squeezed, this formalised CPD requirement is going to do little more than create another box ticking exercise that will create paperwork trails and requirements that will do little more to benefit teachers than the way things currently operate in many schools. If, however, he is proposing to fund every teacher to the tune of £1000+ per academic year to ensure they can attend quality, external training, then that would be a good thing, however I doubt in an age of austerity, this is a viable pledge.

The other part of the plans involve assessment of an individuals teaching by other teachers, something that happens as part of performance management already, so really nothing new. The issue, however, is that there is the potential for adding another layer of paperwork to an already stretched workforce to ensure this is reported to the proposed Teaching college, again for very little benefit over the current scenario.

However, what for me is the most worrying part is the repetition of the Govian rhetoric that teaching is something that is currently unprofessional and broken. Actually when it is pulled apart, what Hunt is proposing already happens to a great extent, just not with the level of bureaucracy he intends. Maybe before MP’s make sweeping statements and generalisations they need to start to re-assess the realities of life in teaching and how things really work before attempting to propose more reform.


My open letter to a parent – Why I have no choice but to strike today

Education, Uncategorized

Dear Parent,

I am truly sorry that I am unable to teach your child today but it would be unfair and hypocritical of me to do so. You see I base my teaching on some basic principles and it is important that I remain true to them. I truly love being in the classroom and helping young people to achieve their potential and I hope that I do this in a constructive way by praising what they do well and helping the to develop the areas they struggle in through modelling good behaviour and helping them develop the skills they need academically and for life.

I try to teach the young people in my classroom that they get out of life what they put in, that they need to work hard but equally that they need to balance that with their own passions and the things they love and that it is always important to stand up for what they believe in. Today I have had to take my own advice by joining the strike and standing up against Michael Gove and the changes that are eroding the quality of education your child receives and my ability to stick to my own principles.

You see, I try to teach them that you get out of life what you put in, yet over the past few years, teachers have seen a progressive erosion of their salary in real terms. I am being asked to pay more into a pension each month that will now be worth less and my colleagues that are joining the profession are now being asked to pay up to £9000 for the privilege of training as a teacher. Every fully qualified secondary teacher has spent at least 4 years at university and has a good degree, and a postgraduate qualification. That investment of time and energy into education surely deserves to be rewarded effectively otherwise how does this country have any hope of attracting good quality teachers? Careers aren’t chosen solely on monetary reward but with £36,000 of student loan debt just to cover fees (let alone living expenses), the next generation of entrants to the profession will have no choice but to consider if their chosen career pays enough to justify this debt

I also try to teach the young people I work with that it important to develop a range of interests and hobbies, that sport and exercise is good and that they need to work hard but also to have time for themselves. With some of the proposed reforms, it will be hard for teachers to practice what they preach. Teaching, despite what the media tells you is not a job that starts at 9am and finishes at 3pm. I am usually at my desk for 7:30am and Lucky to get out much before 5pm. I take work home most weekends, and not a day goes by where I’m not considering some aspect of my job but I don’t do this because I have to, I do it because I want to. In return though, there are also things I want to do, I want to run, I want to have tome with my family, I want to go to visit galleries. I can only do this by creating my own work-life balance. If school holidays are reduced, contact hours in the classroom are increased then that means there will be less time in the day to create this balance, something that is unhealthy. Once your child has left my classroom I still have to mark their work, plan for the lessons I will teach them next time, write reports, plan trips, organise resources, make phone calls, send emails and attend training sessions and meetings, and no, I can’t do it all in the 10% of timetabled planning preparation and assessment time on my timetable – no teacher can! Something then has to give, either less time has to be spend on these essential tasks or the work life balance is altered. One results in less effective teaching through lack of planning or quality feedback on progress, the other in increased stress and therefore also less effective teaching

So I am standing up for what I believe in by  striking to day in the knowledge that to do anything else would be hypocritical of me. I truly love being a teacher, I love those moments where a young person finally understands a concept, or begins to develop into a well rounded adult, or just simply smiles when they realise they have created something amazing themselves. The changes that are being made to education are, however, making the stresses of uncertainty outweigh the benefits and have ultimately contributed to my decision to leave the classroom. Just because I am leaving the profession at the end of the year doesn’t mean I have stopped caring, in fact I care more because ultimately it is the way that Gove and the current government have destroyed the profession I have enjoyed being a part of for several years that has forced me to make the difficult decision of leaving classroom teaching.

Breaking down disciplinary boundaries by not building them

Education, higher education, public sociology

This may seem a strange idea, especially given how well established many of the disciplines within Social Science are, but here me out.

I am currently working through John Brewers The public value of Social Sciences. Early on, he talks about how disciplinary silos or bunkers are bad places to lead changes in post-disciplinary collaboration from. This idea got me to thinking about how to break down those silos and thinking to the current GCSE > A-level > degree pathway.

I think it would be safe to say that for most students, they don’t encounter the Social Sciences (outside of Geography) before they undertake A-levels. There are in fact GCSE’s in some, but with relatively low uptakes. What then happens is students study 3 or 4 discreet disciplinary social sciences, picking from Sociology, Psychology, Politics and Economics in most cases. Box doing it in this way immediately tells the next generation of social scientists ‘look, psychology does this while Sociology does that’. In the real world, it is far messier and as Brewer rightly suggests, much of the public use of the Social Sciences comes from their collaborative voice, not from competing lone voices.

If this need for encouraging interdisciplinary or post-disciplinary work, then maybe it needs to take a grass roots approach. Instead of making students decide at 16 if Sociology is for them, create A-Levels in Crime or Environment, in Culture or Urban Studies. By showing the multi-faceted ways parts of Society can be envisioned from different angles by different disciplines then not only would it help students to develop a more holistic view of Society and how it is studied but it may actually provide them find resonance with areas of the social sciences that otherwise remain hidden from them by traditional disciplinary boundaries.


Brewer, J.D (2013) The public value of the social sciences, London, Bloomsbury