Part 3: Research Methods for Public Sociology
Part 3: Research Methods for Public Sociology

Part 3: Research Methods for Public Sociology

Ultimately, any student enrolled in a postgraduate course of study has to undertake some sort of research writing. As such, it is imperative that research writers are aware of the various methods and methodologies that can be used when writing their papers or theses. In this article, we will continue on The Sociologist’s Journey, as I take you into one of my classes which focused mainly on research. This Research Methods for Public Sociology course, taught by two of my lecturers, provided an in-depth look at some traditional and modern quantitative and qualitative research methods. Additionally, we were introduced to the SPSS software, a graphical user interface, which allows users to automate and manipulate statistical data when writing research reports (Levesque 2007). Below I will share with you a report I submitted in partial fulfillment of my course, produced based on data collected using SPSS. The Sociologist’s Journey continues...

A quantitative and qualitative analysis of the British Education System 


According to the World Population Review of 2020, “Education is considered to be a human right and plays a key role in human, social, and economic development. Education promotes gender equality, promotes peace, and increases a person’s chances of having more opportunities in life”. The review also states that the United Kingdom has the best education system in the world (Education Rankings By Country). This analysis aims to examine the responses of the British people in regards to their views on the country’s education system from the 2016 BSA dataset, and how they might differ from that of the world population review. The independent quantitative and qualitative analyses will be done first, followed by a use of existing literature to compare and contrast the findings. The main areas of discourse will be on post-16 education with regards to further study and further work, school responsibilities and confidence in the British school system, with a concentration on whether views on post-16 education directly contribute to the confidence level in the school system.

Presentation of Analysis

A bivariate analysis of employees and self-employed persons and their corresponding views of how they believe higher-level examinations prepare young people for further work revealed the following: for GCSEs, 45.9% employees and 42.4% self-employed persons responded not very well, and 4.3% employees and 9.6% self-employed responded very well; while for A-Levels, 41.9% employees and 42.6% self-employed saying not very well and 7.8% employees and 10.4% self-employed saying very well.


Using the values of respondents with varying qualification levels, when asked how the same examinations effectively prepare young people for further study, regarding GCSEs the highest and lowest responses came from those with foreign or other qualifications, with 69.2% (quite well) and 1.2% (not at all well) respectively, while for A-Levels it showed the same foreign or other respondents with highest and lowest responses, 64.0% (quite well) and .0% (not at all well) respectively. The chi-square test shows statistical significance of .002 for GCSEs, and .001 for A-Levels.


Overall, more respondents are confident that both qualifications prepare young people for further study, than those that think the qualifications prepare young people for work. This concern even gets more specific, as we will see next.

Respondents of different age ranges have different advice regarding post-16 education. More respondents suggest that young persons aged 16 should stay in full time education to get their GCSEs or A-Levels (30% and over) than those who suggest it varies or depends on the person (20% and over), or that 16 year olds should study full time to get vocational qualifications or leave school and get training through a job (under 20%). The highest set of respondents of 50% and over were from those aged 18-24, suggesting that 16 year olds should stay in full time education to get their higher level examinations (chi-square test is statistically significant at .000).


It appears to follow on from the previous idea that further study is recommended more for post-16 education than further work. Let us now consider some factors that seemingly contribute to further work not being the preferred choice.

In relation to job gain and job search, the following tables show the percentage of factors (most important, second most important and third most important), (i) that makes it hard for young people to gain a job, and (ii) that help young people during job search.

A higher percentage of respondents believe that high level of competition (37.6%) is the most important factor that inhibits job gain, while good basic skills (24.5%) emerged as the most important factor that helps young people with job search. It should also be noted that not enough relevant work experience and lack of necessary qualifications, received high responses as common factors that make it hard for young people to get a job; whereas necessary qualifications, work experience and own personal qualities received a high number of responses as common factors that help young people find a job. It might be beneficial to conclude that there is a link between the factors that help with job search and those that prevent job gain. If there is a greater focus on qualifications and work experience, young people will be able to find and secure a job successfully.

It is no surprise that 100% of the survey respondents who are still in school, indicated that they think it is neither easy or difficult for young people to get a job now than when they completed their full-time education.

Those respondents might not have any need for a job whilst completing their secondary education, but might have an expectation that the school will adequately prepare them for the world of work. We shall now examine (i) who should be responsible for such preparation, and (ii) some other responsibilities that should be undertaken by the school.

Regarding who should undertake the personal and social development of children, the majority (70% and over) of respondents aged 18 and older believe that schools should share responsibility equally with parents/carers, while the minority responses (less than 10%) belong to those who can’t choose. The following table then highlights the percentage of responsibilities that respondents believe the schools currently undertake.

The most responses show that respondents believe that secondary schools either carry out the listed responsibilities quite well or not very well, while the least responses show that the schools carry out the responsibilities very well or not at all, except for the teaching of basic skills. With the very well category not basting the majority responses, it is safe to say, as we shall see next, that the overall confidence that the people have in the school system appears to not be high.

There were more respondents (48% and over) who say that they only have some confidence in the British school system, while the minority responses (less than 5%) stated that they had no confidence at all.  It should also be noted that those who have complete confidence fall 6% and under. The table below shows that the age of the respondents correlate with their confidence level.

It might be that the confidence of the British people in the school system is in direct relation to their view that the school curriculum does not prepare students for further work.

For the qualitative aspect of the study, an interview was conducted, following the ethical guidelines of the 2017 BSA Statement of Ethical Practice, using an increasingly popular data collection method - telephone interview (Burke and Miller 2001). The interview was conducted only after researcher, supervisor and participant signed off on the ethics form. The participant was a 24-year-old resident of the United Kingdom who has undergone the various levels of the education system from nursery to postgraduate level. At the secondary level, she sat both GCSE and A-Level examinations, and asserts that whilst the subjects prepared her for further study, she does not believe they adequately prepared her for further work, commenting that “Well, I first did sociology at GCSE level. So I started doing sociology when I was 14. And then I did sociology for my As level and for my A level, so yeah, I've been doing sociology for like 10 years now. Yeah, it definitely prepared me for this degree and it's always been my favorite subject”.

She also believes that her experience is similar for other persons who have completed post-16 education, stating that the subjects prepare young people for further study more than further work, as not all subjects with the curriculum are considered ‘employable’. She attributes her work experience to be a primary factor in her being able to gain employment, and her education being ‘secondary’ to that prospect. She posits that “I think that my education is kind of secondary to like my work experience, and I knew that I would need to basically like bolster my CV and have loads of work experience because the subjects that I took were like kind of humanities things, nothing was very vocational whereas some people who take like engineering or woodwork or whatever go on to do those trades and it seems more obvious what the link would be to employability afterwards”.

In terms of her confidence in the British school system, the participant rates her confidence level at “two out of ten”, inciting that the education system is too focused on the performance of students in exams, and as such the “system alienates a large number of people”, who might not be able to perform well with such standardized methods of testing performance. She also gave an example of her sibling who is ten years younger, who is currently doing a subject that she did ten years ago, and the curriculum, module, theorists, examples and case studies are exactly the same. She retorts that “society has changed so much that you can’t be teaching sociology that stays the same for ten years. Doesn’t make sense”. She considers that it is disheartening that the education system is removing the allocated funding for the arts, culture and humanities subjects and focusing its attention more on Mathematics, English and Science – the “more employable subjects”. In her opinion those core subjects are “boxing people in one tiny little standard box”. As such in terms of her advice to 16-year-old students regarding post-secondary education, she suggests that they should first try to determine their academic trajectory and look at the existing options, then make an informed decision whether to pursue the further work or further study route. One way in which the students can do this, she suggests, is by making use of the employability services that are located within the schools, whilst also noting that the schools need to play a bigger role in informing the students of the options that are available to them as well.

Synthesis of Analysis

There is a link that can be seen with the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the studies conducted, with the overall secondary school experience appearing to prepare students for further study than for further work. This view is also held by those who have responsibility to review the suitability of A-Levels for employment or higher education (Higton et al 2012). They contend that those subjects prepare most students who wish to pursue further education at the undergraduate level, and usually employers use those qualifications as a determining factor during job recruitment. It should be noted however that with both examination qualifications, the employment level is lower than the further education level. This could be as a result of factors such as the curriculum not having employability elements embedded within, or the lack of information provided to the students regarding their options post-secondary education. GCSEs HND (2013) suggests that to curtail this problem, schools through their guidance counselling systems could either train their staff, or recruit external specialists, to administer career guidance to students. As Elliott (2017) asserts “learning is or should be instrumental in preparation for work”. It should therefore be the focus of the decision makers in the education system to put resources in place to train students to become more employable (Andersen and Van de Werfhorst 2010), after completing secondary education. Failing this intervention, the populace will continue to have a less than noteworthy level of confidence in the British education system, not sharing the sentiments of the world population review. Interestingly enough, Saunders (2017) compiled a research brief which reported similar findings from the 2016 dataset.

Roberts (2019) suggests that young people who are seeking jobs often “take one of the jobs that are offered”, and most of the new jobs that are in the labour market are at the base. As is shown with the statistics above, some of the higher responses regarding factors that hinder job gain and job search, are linked to the jobs types that exist in the market. To alleviate this, some ways in which young people can be prepared for the labour market can be through “firm-based apprenticeships, full-time vocational schooling, and on-the-job learning”, as suggested by Parey (2016) with the underlying notion that education is a sure way of ensuring reform (Sheridan 1756). Career guidance remains essential, as those who usually are not guided in this area are more likely to have gaps in employment and education. When young people receive career guidance, they can make suitable selections regarding education and employment (Ofsted, 2015).

Whilst the populace considers a dual responsibility in both school and carer being in charge of the personal and social development of the child, it still shows an expectation that the school system should solely carry out certain responsibilities. These views are also held by the Labour government (Arthur 2005 ) as well as the interviewee, who asserts that the onus is on the schools, through their employability services, to adequately inform students of the options they have, teach them and develop their employability skills while focusing on their basic skills, providing them with work experience opportunities and ensuring that they are prepared to become employable. Certainly, if the schools heed to the recommendations given, there will be an increase in the confidence level of British citizens.

Word count: 2200


Andersen, R. and Van de Werfhorst, H.G., 2010. Education and occupational status in 14 countries: The role of educational institutions and labour market coordination. Wiley Online Library.

Arthur, J., 2005. The re‐emergence of character education in British education policy. Wiley Online Library.

BSA, 2017. British Social Attitudes Survey, 2016. Available at: [Accessed 11 February 2020].

BSA, 2017. Statement of Ethical Practice. Available at: [Accessed 17 February 2020].

Burke, L.A. and Miller, M.K., 2001. Phone interviewing as a means of data collection: Lessons learned and practical recommendations. In: Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research.

Elliott, G., 2017. Introduction to the special issue on ‘Learning for Work’. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 22(1), pp.1-6.

GCSEs HNDs, 2013. Managing guidance in Further Education. Routledge.

Higton, J., et al., 2012. Fit for purpose?: the view of the higher education sector, teachers and employers on the suitability of A levels. Citeseer.

Ofsted, 2015. Careers Guidance and Inspiration in Schools: Statutory Guidance for Governing Bodies, School Leavers and School Staff.

Levesque, R., 2007. SPSS programming and data management. A guide for SPSS and SAS Users.

Parey, M., 2016. Vocational Schooling versus Apprenticeship Training. Evidence from Vacancy Data. Kiel und Hamburg: ZBW-Deutsche Zentralbibliothek für.

Roberts, K., 2019. European Journal of Educational Management. European Journal of Educational Management, 2(1), pp.1-11.

Saunders, C., 2017. Attitudes to education and children’s services: the British Social Attitudes survey 2016. Department for Education.

Sheridan, T., 1756. British Education, etc. George Faulkner.

World Population Review, 2020. Education Rankings By Country 2020. Available at: [Accessed 06 April 2020].

Published By
Davene Harris (MA, BSc, Dip, Cert)
Davene Harris, is a life-long learner and educator, who has over 15 years of teaching, counselling and administrative experience in the education industry. Her work experience has allowed her the opportunity to serve students and staff in early childhood, secondary and post-secondary institutions in several countries. Her range of qualifications vary from a Certificate in Supervisory Management, a Diploma in Secondary Education, a Bachelors in Information Technology, to a Masters in Sociology. Davene has a passion for working with young people, and is on a course to secure her provincial counselling licensure, so that she can continue to fulfill her life-long passion of impacting youths to be the best versions of themselves.... Show more