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May 1, 2018 / C H Thompson

Methods in context – answer

Assess the strengths and limitations of one of the following methods for investigating the effects of streaming – the chosen method is unstructured interviews.

Conducting unstructured interviews is useful because the sociologist can go into greater depth as the interview is more like a free-flowing conversation. This is type of method is particularly useful in a school because if you were interviewing a year 7 student many children this age are very talkative and less inhibited especially if they were in a top sets eg Maths and Science. The student might be very proud of their status and would be more than happy to tell you the positive effects it’s had on them.

However, if the year 7 student being interviewed is in a number of bottom sets they might be embarrassed and less likely to talk. Because of this you might not get very much information or if you had the time you might have to spend a long time gaining their trust so they’d open-up and talk. If there were several students who were too embarrassed about what ‘set’ they were in to the extent you got no useful data the findings might not be representative enough to have any validity.

Unstructured interviews with a number of year 7 students, a group interview, might prove useful because the group dynamics could mean they feed-off each other and so even those students who felt embarrassed might eventually decide to talk because they see others in the same situation opening-up. Having so much reach data being produced would make the findings more representative and so make any findings more valid.

However, the trouble is in a school there is a good chance the school bullies are in a group being interviewed. They might start dominating the interviews and intimidate other students to the extent they no longer tell the truth out of fear of any repercussions, such fears are common between school children. This might mean there’s not much said or they lied to protect themselves and so the sociologists gets no useful data. Alternatively, the group says so much, the sociologists has too much recorded data and has to spend ages playing it all back and transcribing it.

Another advantage is in a school you could easily organise one-to-one interviews in order to overcome any intimidation. Schools are unique places because have a captive audience that’s not supposed to leave the premises. In addition schools are unique as have lots of classrooms where interviews can be conducted. As well as this most schools have communication systems as well as timetabled records where specific ‘setted’ students are, making it easy to get hold of respondents.

The problem is, though schools have lots of rooms they tend to be used for teaching so it might be hard to find an empty one. Also, teachers teach and so they might not see the email request for a particular student for ages which would waste time and money. Also ethical considerations have to be taken into consideration when researching in a school, so with a one-to-one interview a student would need a chaperone which might defeat the whole object of the interview because the student won’t open up in front of a third-party.


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