Best evidence: Does background influence students’ subject choice?

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time it was this study that caught my attention:

A Centre for Longitudinal Studies working paperfrom the UK examined the roles of social class, parental education, income, gender, and ethnicity on students’ subject choice at GCSE. GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) are high-stakes exams taken in a range of subjects by secondary students in England. Students choose their GCSE subjects in Year 9 (Grade 8) and normally take their exams in Year 11 (Grade 10). 

Morag Henderson and colleagues examined information from more than 11,700 young people taking part in Next Steps (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England), who were born in 1989-90 and attended state schools in England. They found that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were less likely than their peers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds to choose GCSE subjects that would enable them to go on to college – regardless of whether or not they were academically able.

Students whose parents only had GCSE-level education were also less likely than those with more-educated parents to study three or more “facilitating” subjects from the Russell Group’s Informed Choices guide. They were also less likely to take three or more academically “selective”‘ subjects, such as German and math and statistics, and more likely to choose applied GCSEs, such as leisure and tourism or applied manufacturing and engineering. As the highest level of parental education decreases, the odds of the students studying applied GCSEs increases.

For students from lower-income backgrounds, the findings were similar. Poorer students were less likely to choose selective and facilitating subjects and more likely to take applied GCSEs than their wealthier peers. Additionally, girls were more likely than boys to study applied GCSEs, as were those with special education needs.

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