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I recently attended a crime themed OCR event, held as part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science 2016. As a teacher of sociology, this was a rare and refreshing opportunity to think about how research into crime spans across a range of social science subjects – it was great to discuss ideas that spanned across Geography, Law, Citizenship, Psychology and Sociology – and as you can probably tell from what I go on to write next, there was lots packed into a day!
If you’re like me, I immediately associate maps with geography, and certainly GIS features on the OCR GCSE and A Level Geography specifications. But crime mapping is something I will now be applying to some positivist analysis in my sociology classes to kick start the A Level Sociology Research Methods content with my first years.
GIS crime mapping is a way of sharing and analysing data where students can see maps of crime along with census data to look at patterns of crime and deviance. There are various overlays that can be used to look at the data including density of crime, drug crime, violent crime and also (and most interesting to me) multiple deprivation data where we can look at correlations between deprived areas and occurrences of crime.
There are many amazing things students (and teachers) can do with this technology and it’s the same technology the police are using to map crime. Whilst I inevitably look at this from a sociological standpoint and will use these maps to look at crime in my area and compare this with more affluent areas, the technology will be undoubtedly useful across the curriculum and I really urge you to check it out.
I have to admit, I felt a little star struck in the second session with a talk from Professor David Wilson on studying media representations of serial murderers. The recent ITV drama series ‘Dark Angel’ was a media representation of his work on Mary-Ann Cotton, England’s first serial killer who preceded Jack the Ripper but is much less well-known. A reason for this, according to Wilson is the lack of media representation at the time which is indicative of gender roles of women being weak, passive and controllable (not the typical view of a murderer). The murders were all committed through arsenic poisoning and could be ‘explained away’. As I was listening my brain was making some nice links to chivalry thesis which I will be discussing as part of the OCR A Level Sociology crime and deviance option.
In relation to the drama series, Wilson discussed the nature of media representations of serial murder and how this is often not a true representation of the ‘typical’. He expressed how media constructs drive the narratives that are not always the truth. For Wilson, the first representations of Cotton in the drama were not dark enough to show her nature, yet the media felt that it was too dark for mass consumption.
It was a real insight to hear first-hand experiences of being a Programmes Treatment Manager in a UK prison. The crime statistics Michelle Dunnings shared were really interesting. For example the national average of those re-offending who serve a 12 month or shorter sentence is 60%, for those serving a 12 month or longer sentence this is 45-49%. This led into a discussion on reducing re-offending rates and restorative justice.
As well as sociological links, it made me think about the pastoral courses we hold at our sixth form college and the work we do with students around thinking skills, alcohol awareness, health and wellbeing, and links to crime. Many young people in prison miss this vital support in schools and colleges as they have higher drop out and lower attendance rates (85% of young offenders are NEETs**). This is also a good link to youth deviance and you’ll find criminal subcultures within the OCR A Level Sociology Youth subcultures option. It also links to the values of education and anti-school subcultures.
This is what Dr Simon Edwards set up with his wife, and over a five year period helped very disparate youth in Worthing. The young people were often high on illegal substances and in and out of prison but the mini-bus offered a place where they could talk, get help on jobs, and raise money for positive activities.
Dr Simon Edwards discussed the language used by some educators and adults with young people and the negative impact this can have on achievement when they cannot access such language. This got me thinking about middle class values of education and the links to the A Level Sociology Education option. There were also some good links to social marginalisation - young boys being labelled and criminalised, and the benefit of not always focusing on how they’ve messed up but highlighting when they've made a positive impact.
The final speaker of the day considered the question, is crime changing? Chief Inspector James Sutherland of South Cambridgeshire Police Force concluded that crime is not changing but evolving with the emergence of new technology.
Criminals tend to make a risk-reward analysis. It used to be lucrative to rob a red telephone box (if students can even remember these) but now, they tend to have hardly any money in and so the risk of being caught wouldn’t be worth it. However, cybercrime and hacking can wield huge rewards. The scam emails we are all familiar with can be sent to billions of people at once.
Whilst we can now think about this example and be confident we would never fall for this, Chief Inspector James Sutherland pointed out that there is actually a scam for everyone, and all they need to do is find what appeals to the individual to make them fall for it. He referred to the persuasion of fraud with elements including;
This I will also be using in my pastoral role to educate young people on the power of persuasion and the dangers of fraud and the dark net.
Armed with new, up to date and specific information I can confidently apply this to my A Level lessons so my students can also benefit. It really was a wonderful opportunity to speak and share ideas with fellow teachers and social scientists, and a real reminder as to how crucial and relevant social science research is to us understanding how society works.
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Ruth Shaw - Teacher at Nelson and Colne College and Curriculum Leader for Social Sciences
Ruth Shaw is a teacher of OCR’s A Level Sociology specification at Nelson and Colne College and Curriculum Leader for Social Sciences. She is currently enjoying teaching ethnic inequality and identity. She has drawn upon her experiences of travelling around India which makes for interesting discussions with students. Besides teaching, she enjoys travelling and is aiming to visit every country in Europe having spent many years travelling across the USA. Ruth has also been an OCR Sociology examiner.
The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and ran from 5-12 November 2016. There were more than 250 free events nationwide providing an opportunity to meet with some of the country’s leading social scientists and discover, discuss and debate the role that research plays in everyday life. #esrcfestival
*GIS stands for Geographical Information Systems
** NEET are young people aged 16-24 who are Not in Education, Employment or Training.