Sociology Coursework: Labelling: Fact or Fiction?

For my research topic, I have chosen to examine the cause and effect of labelling in schools in the 21st century. I have decided to choose this topic for two main reasons. Firstly, the subject of academic achievement, and the reasons why some students appear to do well or poorly based on gender or ethnicity is very topical, and widely discussed in modern day Britain. Secondly, there is debate in sociology over how much labelling can affect students, or if it has any relevance at all. Indeed, labelling theorists strongly believe labelling is a social fact, even though they are opposed to them.

One study in particular that relates to this is Margaret Fuller’s 1984 study on a number of black girls in a London comprehensive school. Fuller concluded that the girls resented their negative stereotype of being both female and black, and felt many of their teachers expected them to fail, despite the fact the girls worked seemed to disprove this. Even though this study was done nearly two decades ago, it is still very relevant to England today, where almost all comprehensive schools in London have a large influx of pupils from ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, my own school has a large majority of both Black and Asian students, and it’d be an indicator of how much has changed, and how labelling affects students in 2003 in my research.

However Bird’s study, just four years earlier in 1980 discovered that some labels are more readily accepted than others. Pupils were more likely to accept and academic labels, as opposed to ones relating to behaviour and discipline. In large secondary schools she notes, similar to mine, students have a greater likelihood of having a varied selection of teachers for different subjects, and therefore the chance that both the student will behave in the same way for all lessons, and that the teacher will give the same labels is unlikely. This too is an important study as it shows that labels are both complex and come in different forms.

When doing my research, I aim to try and discover three main things. How students feel they are labelled, how much they accept and agree with the labels they are given, and how labels vary from subject to subject. This will allow me to understand the extent to which labelling happens in the opinion of students, and how much of effect it can have on them. My hypothesis is that most students feel they are labelled, but as these labels are likely to be different for every lesson, they will only take on board the labels they more readily agree with, such as labels which may be reflected in their family or peers, or those from teachers and subjects who they value the most.

My research method will be a questionnaire, which is a distinctly positivist approach to my research, and one that will generate quantitative data. My sample will include 20 males, and 20 females from Year 13, which will not only be controllable and easy to regulate, but it should produce clear and reliable results.

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