Assess the strengths and limitations of using official statistics to investigate social class differences in top comprehensive schools Item A says that official statistics are used to research social class differences in the top 200 comprehensive schools by using the GCSE school performance tables, free school meal (FSM) data files and the schools census showing a list of pupils in UK schools. Using official statistics is easier than using other research methods such as questionnaires or interviews etc. as it is cheaper and less time consuming to collect the data, however, official statistics is a secondary data source meaning the researcher doesn’t collect the information themselves; this could therefore be unreliable if the statistics are soft statistics. Soft statistics means that the data could have been altered, this could include crime statistics or unemployment rates whereas hard statistics are more reliable as they cannot easily be changed, this includes birth rates and death rates etc. In this case, the statistics would most likely be hard statistics. Official statistics would be used by positivists as this is qualitative data, but official statistics don’t give the reasons behind the numbers. Although, an advantage to this would be that because the government collects data regularly including school statistics, changes can be spotted over time, this would be helpful in this case as the number of FSM at schools and the GCSE results would vary and a correlation may be spotted. The official statistics would show the social classes of students going to comprehensive schools, grammar schools and private schools although there would be no suggestion as to why the social classes vary, interpretivists would be able to research into this as it is qualitative data, this would be carried out using interviews or questionnaires. Interpretivists would criticize official statistics as it is qualitative data.
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