In summer 2023, 45,730 students sat A-Level Sociology, this marked an almost 5% increase on the previous year and meant that Sociology is now the 5th most popular subject at A-Level and has overtaken History.
In the current context of wars, fuel and cost of living crises and the unfolding environmental emergency, it is reassuring that so many young people are engaging with sociological studies. These students represent the life blood of our discipline.
Sociology teachers in schools and colleges play a crucial role in shaping future generations. They not only inspire young minds but also facilitate the development of critical thinking. In these days of widespread misinformation, they are uniquely positioned to foster a thirst for empirically improved knowledge about key social issues.
The growth of the discipline in schools means that more sociology teachers are required. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the BSA to engage more with PGCE programmes that are training the next generation of sociology teachers and college tutors.
Of course, the BSA has long been aware of the need to engage with schools. Indeed, important work has already been done such as organising one day conferences for A-Level students on themes such as feminism, for example. The BSA also offers the Discover Sociology website which is full of useful resources aimed at school teachers and college tutors.
Nonetheless, despite all this good work, there seems to be a disconnection between the important, pathbreaking and timely research being done by sociologists and the A Level curriculum. Sociology teachers are encouraged to provide wider reading to their students but may be unaware of topics to introduce to their students or where to find the necessary resources. Across the BSA community, sociologists are undertaking cutting edge research and it is necessary to find better ways to forge connections with schools and colleges so that A-Level students, and their tutors, can learn directly about this research.
This raises the question of how can we engage more across the sectors? This is not simply about recruitment and open days to attract students to particular universities, but rather to engage school students with the research being done by practicing sociologists.
One way of doing this is to work directly with future sociology teachers on PGCE programmes.
In October this year, Nada Alsoodany (Social Science PGCE Tutor and A Level Teacher) took the rather unusual step of contacting the BSA office directly and asking if a sociologist would come to speak to the first Social Science PGCE cohort at Roehampton University. Staff at the Durham-based office, contacted Professor Louise Ryan – not least because she lived near the university but also because, as former Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Association and an active researcher, she is well placed to speak about the discipline and the wider sociological community.
In November, Louise went to speak to Nada’s class of trainee sociology teachers at Roehampton. The focus of Louise’s presentation was her current research on the Afghan Resettlement Scheme. Following the dramatic evacuation from Kabul Airport in August 2021, over 20,000 Afghans have been brought to the UK through the resettlement programme. Louise and her colleagues at London Metropolitan University have been conducting longitudinal research, in partnership with migrant organisations, Afghan peer researchers and local authorities, to track how the evacuees are embedding in their new contexts.
In her presentation, Louise engaged the students with current anti-immigration policies and debates and drew on sociological concepts like ‘moral panic’ and ‘scape-goating’ to explore how and why migrants are being vilified in British society. In the face of wider socio-economic crises, politicians use migration as a soft target and smoke screen to divert attention away from deeper social problems. The aim of the presentation was to inspire sociology teachers to connect the A-Level curriculum with everyday issues and so to bring sociological concepts to life for their students.
The students were very appreciative of this opportunity to hear directly from a practicing sociologist about current research.
Very insightful session, I really enjoyed learning about such a heightened, current and taboo subject in an educated way. It also encouraged me to do some further reading and educate myself on the topic of immigration in the UK. – Aman
I was gripped from start to finish of Louise’s talk, it was a privilege to hear from someone so well versed and active in the field of migration. The talk reminded me why I fell in love with sociology to begin with and I am sure if more schools invited in speakers it would start many students love story with the subject. – Maria
Sociology A-Level students and, the teachers who support and inspire them, are the future of our discipline. There is a valuable opportunity to bridge practicing sociologists with educational institutions, bringing the different constituencies together to share knowledge and insights from different angles and perspectives. Through this collaborative effort, we could collectively expand the understanding that students have of the world while encouraging the development of their sociological imaginations.
Nada Alsoodany is A level Sociology Subject Lead and PGCE Social Science tutor at University of Roehampton.
Louise Ryan is senior Professor of Sociology and Director of the Global Diversities and Inequalities research centre at London Metropolitan University, she is former chair of the board of the Trustees of the BSA. Her latest co-edited publication is entitled ‘Bodies at Borders‘ (2024). Louise is currently working on a Nuffield Foundation funded project on the Afghan Resettlement Scheme.