Girls taking more vocational GCSEs 'have much lower chance of doing A levels'

Research suggests that teenagers who study an 'applied subject' could be putting themselves at a disadvantage

Tes Reporter

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Teenage girls who study vocational GCSEs instead of traditional academic courses may be putting themselves at a disadvantage, research suggests.

A new survey concludes that young girls who study an "applied" subject, such as health and social care, had a "significantly lower" chance of studying A levels.

The findings come in the week that teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their GCSE results.

Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies and UCL's Institute of Education used data from the Next Steps study of 16,000 youngsters born in England in 1989-90 and the National Pupil Database.

They compared the GCSEs taken by these pupils in 2007-08 with what they went on to do next.

Eight "applied" vocational subjects were introduced in England in 2002, including engineering, health and social care, leisure and tourism and science. Most applied GCSEs are now being phased out as more emphasis is being placed on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc).

Introduced in 2010, the EBacc is a measure that recognises pupils who take a group of academic subjects – English, maths, science, history or geography and a language. "Facilitating" subjects are A levels often favoured by leading universities, such as maths, science and humanities subjects.

The study found that taking "applied" subjects was more likely to reduce the chances of girls going on to do A levels than was the case for boys.

"For girls, the advantage of following an EBacc-eligible curriculum seems to be greatest in promoting facilitating A-level subjects, which may increase their chances of gaining access to higher education and in particular the Russell Group and higher ranked universities," the paper says.

"This may be driven by the fact that girls who did not study an EBacc-eligible curriculum were particularly unlikely to take science A levels."



"On average, both boys and girls had a greater chance of studying A levels if they had previously pursued an EBacc-eligible curriculum," researchers said.

"Unlike boys, however, if girls studied an applied subject they had a significantly lower probability of studying A levels at age 16."

Lead author Vanessa Moulton, said: "Applied subjects are particularly strongly gendered, with girls and boys taking completely different subjects.

"Essentially what you see is predominantly working class girls taking subjects such as health and social care, which do not necessarily enhance their future prospects."

Last year, the number of entries for health and social care, which will not be available from September, rose by 8.1 per cent. There were 21,469 entries last year, compared to 19,869 entries in 2015.

Meanwhile, the number of entries for engineering – which is not being phased out – also increased by 11.6 per cent last year. There were 7,714 entries compared to 6,909 in 2015. 

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The government is phasing out applied GCSEs in favour of more academic GCSEs as part of our reforms to make the system more robust and rigorous, to match the best education systems in the world and to keep pace with universities' and employers' demands."

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