Implication of subject choice on university entry

The introduction of the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) performance measure for schools in England means that schools are incentivised to encourage pupils to study this set of subjects (to count towards the EBacc, a pupil must achieve GCSE grade C or above in a range of subjects including English, maths, history or geography, two sciences, and a language). But are some subjects “better” to study than others for getting to university?

A recent Centre for Longitudinal Studies Working Paper seeks to understand the implications of subject choices at age 14 (when pupils pick their GCSE options), and if these choices then play a part in whether pupils go to university and where they end up studying.

Using data collected from the longitudinal survey, Next Steps, Jake Anders and colleagues looked at the different probabilities of applying to university, entering university, and attending a high-status university for pupils who study the full set of subjects required for EBacc, compared to those who study other combinations of subjects. Using both regression modelling and propensity score matching to test the robustness of the results, they found that pupils who study the full set of EBacc subjects are slightly more likely to apply for and to attend university (a positive effect of 4 and 3 percentage points, respectively). However, the results from the regression model imply that pupils with a full set of EBacc subjects are less likely to get into a high-status university.

The researchers emphasise that the differences are not large, and ultimately it’s far more important to perform well in whatever subject is studied, so the likely implications of more pupils studying EBacc subjects should not be exaggerated.

Source: Incentivising specific combinations of subjects: does it make any difference to university access? (August 2017), CLS working paper 2017/11. Centre for Longitudinal Studies

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