Applying material from Item B and your own knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school. (20 Marks)
Sociologists draw a close correlation between unauthorized absences and the underachievement in school work. Pupils who are not successful in their subjects are more likely to truant. Students may also not attend school due to caring responsibilities or the dislike of school in itself.
Sociologists such as positivists may choose to use self-completion written questionnaires to study unauthorised absences as it illustrates itself in the form of quantitative data.
This method of research can be distributed easily and inexpensively to a large number of pupils in a short space of time. However, response rates are often very low, especially when dealing with sensitive topics. Children who are bullied are less likely to attend school, this leads to them missing important lessons and inevitably underachieving in their academic subjects. Furthermore, if the sociologist is investigating unauthorized absences, they must acquire a way of distributing the questionnaires.
If the child is not attending school, then they will not receive the questionnaire.
In order to obtain a bigger picture, the sociologist might also choose to send questionnaires to the parent and/or teacher. This way, responses can be further validated by their elders. Some parents may show little interest in their child’s school performance and thus it would be just as difficult to get a response back. It is easier to hand questionnaires over to teachers, you are also more likely to get a response if they see the research fit.
Teachers can be biased to their own pupils, and may not accurately fill in registers, and therefore under emphasizing the number of unauthorised absences in a class.
Self-completion written questionnaires are quantitative, and this means they are able to establish patterns and trends between unauthorised absences and underachievement in schools. Ethical issues arise when questionnaires pose sensitive questions about bullying or even caring responsibilities within the home, meaning vulnerable children are less likely to give an honest response, lowering validity. A questionnaire also has limitations by hindering the answers a child, teacher or parent can give to the sociologist.
Self-completion written questionnaires are an inexpensive and easy to way to obtain quantitative data over a large amount of people. It allows for positivists to discover trends between unauthorized absences and failure in school without having to directly ask a pupil. This lowers the chances of raising further ethical problems such as upsetting the pupil who might not be aware they are underachieving. However, interpretivists might argue that this method lacks validity for children are often dishonest about external situations to the school. A sociologist may only obtain reliable patterns if they explore beyond school life. In many cases, sociologists do not even receive questionnaires back, especially if it touches base on difficult topics.