Boys and girls may be treated differently even nowadays, which means we condition them to behave a certain way…In Sweden, teachers behave differently…learn more about how they treat the children and why it is important.
A-level results will soon be out, with more than 300,000 students eagerly waiting to find out if they’ve made the grade. Then come GCSE results, with even more students keen to find out how they’ve done.
Whether students are heading to university, into an apprenticeship or straight into employment, chances are they will all be wishing and hoping and dreaming and praying of a set of grades that will reflect their level of academic accomplishment.
For would-be university applicants, there is often a requirement that students take a particular set of subjects at A-level – and achieve a certain grade – to be in with a chance of getting a place on a degree course. To study medicine, for example it’s often required that an applicant has taken chemistry and biology at A-level.
In this way, the subjects a student chooses to study at school can have long term consequences. In England, young people start making decisions on subject choice at the age of 14 when they pick GCSE options. For many pupils this may seem far too early to be thinking about what they want to do with the rest of their life. So given the fact that many students may not have decided what career path they want to take, are there subjects that are “better” to study than others?
The current advice
The Russell Group – which is made up of 24 leading UK universities – publishes an annual guide to A-level subject choice for 16-year-olds known as “informed choices”. This suggests A-levels in science, maths, languages, history and geography are good choices for students to take if they want to keep their options open.
This is also in part why the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – which aims to give students a wide background in a variety of subjects at GCSE level – was introduced in 2010. According to the schools minister, Nick Gibb, it includes subjects the Russell Group identifies as “key for university study”. To count towards the EBacc, a pupil must achieve GCSE grade C or above in English, maths, history or geography, two sciences and a language.
We looked at the subjects chosen by young people at the age of 14 and 16 and found that pupils who study the full set of EBacc subjects are slightly more likely to go to university than those who don’t.
Our research also revealed that studying certain A-level subjects often leads to a place at a better ranked university. So a student who studies some combination of science, maths, languages, history and geography is more likely to attend a higher ranked university, than a student who chooses A-levels outside of these subjects.
Vocational vs traditional
Our research also revealed that studying more vocational subjects at both GCSE and A-level may be less helpful in terms of getting into a higher ranked university. We found that those who studied applied GCSE subjects (which are more vocational) were less likely to attend university.
These vocational style GCSEs were introduced in 2002 and include subjects such as applied business and applied home economics. But their introduction has since been criticised, as many of the qualifications have been downgraded in performance tables.
There was found to be a similar picture at A-level. Students who studied the more vocational study subjects – such as accounting or business – were more likely to go to a lower ranked university.
The most striking results were in law. Consistent with anecdotal evidence that higher ranking universities “don’t like” law A-level, our research shows that studying law at A-level is associated with attending a lower ranked university. So although a 16-year-old who aspires to have a career in law, accounting or business might think that an A-level directly related to the profession would help them take their chosen path, this may not actually be the case. But whether this is because law A-level is perceived by universities to be an easier A-level, or because those with law A-level are applying to lower ranked universities is unclear.
Either way, what all this shows is that while the subjects young people study in school are important for next steps in education, there are some subjects that can be more important than others in helping to further horizons.
Although that said, it’s important to emphasise that the differences are not large. Ultimately, it’s far more important to perform well in whatever subject studied. But still, when it comes to students deciding what subjects to choose at A-level or GCSE, it might be worth them trying to keep their options open, where possible.
Teachers should be offered subsidised housing as a reward for working in deprived areas in order to tackle geographical disparities between England’s schools, a cross-party commission has recommended. The Social Market Foundation’s commission on inequality in education, headed by former deputy prime minister and MP Nick Clegg, said the government should experiment with subsidised housing to raise the quality of teaching in worse-off areas.
The group, which also includes the Conservative MP Suella Fernandes and Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, also recommended that aspiring headteachers be required to spend time in senior positions in struggling schools before they qualify for promotion.
The commission’s analysis found that schools in deprived areas were much less likely to have specialist teachers and were more likely to employ less experienced staff.
“Despite all the changes in education policy over the years – under governments of all persuasions – inequality in our school system has sadly remained a constant,” Clegg said before the report’s launch. “It is simply unacceptable that poorer children are generally taught by less experienced teachers and that their life chances are shaped by the postcode in which they live.
“In the end, this report confirms something that everybody intuitively knows already: the best education relies on good-quality teachers and supportive parents.”
The commission found that geographical differences that were absent in children born nearly 50 years ago now rank alongside wealth and ethnic background as a major factor in explaining pupil outcomes.
“For two children of similar income and ethnicity born in 1970, it did not matter significantly if one went to school in London and the other in Yorkshire,” the report said. But it found that for children born in 2000 – currently sitting GCSE and A-levels – the attainments of those in the capital now outstrip those in Yorkshire.
While geography has become an increasingly significant factor in the past few decades, the gaps in performance between the richest and the poorest children have persistently remained large since the mid-1980s.
The commission also called for parents and teachers to sign annual “homework contracts”, whereby teachers pledge to set pupils “high-quality homework” and parents agree to support their children’s efforts to complete it.
Rebecca Allen, a member of the commission who heads the Education Datalab research unit, said evidence suggested that homework given to primary school children was often ineffective. “Rather than see primary school distribute homework that is rather tangential to learning, we’d like to see schools take the best evidence about how to practise important skills such as reading, arithmetic, handwriting and spelling, and ask them to carefully teach parents how to support their children so that time on homework is not wasted,” Allen said.
Another recommendation called for schools with a high proportion of deprived pupils to get funding for parenting classes, so that schools could run after-school classes in “family literacy”.
David Blunkett, the former Labour education secretary, described the report as “a stark reminder” of failures to spread best practice among schools. “For so many children, the fight against inequality begins at birth. We have an obligation as a nation to provide them with the means to win that battle,” he said.
James Kirkup, the SMF’s director, said the report showed “how sensible politicians can come together to make a difference”. “The general election result showed no party has the complete confidence of the voters, so all parties should learn from this commission and find ways to work together in the national interest,” he said.