The experiences that children have in school can affect them for the rest of their lives. One way that this is both made visible and actualised is through the GCSE examination system. The grades that a child achieves at GCSE allow us to see how well they were able to achieve at a standardised assessment and compare them to others in their cohort, and at a higher level, from one cohort to another. Those same grades are then used to determine what type of education and work opportunities that child will be able to access in the future. This entanglement of measurement and creation or closure of possibilities creates a great difficulty in determining cause and effect in educational research.
How can we have an idea of which educational policies are most likely to improve the lives of people who grow up in Wales: in particular for vulnerable groups such as disabled students and those living in deprivation?
One method that has been suggested is to use machine learning to develop predictions for GCSE grades based on medical records.
I am interested in critically appraising the functions and limitations of machine learning in social research. I would like to examine the applicability of classic labelling theory (Becker 1963; Cohen 1972; Matsueda 1992) to understanding the role and usage of technologies such as neural networks that can be used to apply labels to information. I am also interested in the role of technology in the legitimation of research outcomes, the nature of computational replicability, and the role of technological affordances in societal rationalisation.
In my MSc, I plan to examine the ability of labelling theory to explain the way that adults in South West Wales with unlabelled disabilities relate their school experiences to their opinions on changes to Welsh educational policy. Through this, I would like to explore and develop methods to enable the inclusion of hard-to-reach groups in social research and educational policy development while respecting their privacy, autonomy, and right to informed consent.
Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. Free Press Glencoe.
Cohen S. (1972). Folk devils and moral panics: the creation of the mods and rockers. MacGibbon and Kee.
Matsueda, R. L. (1992). Reflected appraisals, parental labeling, and delinquency: Specifying a symbolic interactionist theory. American Journal of Sociology, 97(6), 1577–1611. https://doi.org/10.1086/229940.