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“ Fish swim, birds fly and educational standards fall”. Did social background influence GCSE attainment in the 1990s? An exploration of data from the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales Professor Vernon Gayle (University of Stirling / ISER Essex University) 23 rd April 2009, Lancaster.

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Fish swim, birds fly and educational standards fall”. Did social background influence GCSE attainment in the 1990s?

An exploration of data from the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales

Professor Vernon Gayle

(University of Stirling / ISER Essex University)

23rd April 2009, Lancaster


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BEWARE!

WORK IN PROGRESS


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Structure of Talk

  • The sociology of education

    • Introduction to GCSEs

  • The national data

  • Youth Cohort Study of England & Wales

  • Descriptive results

    • GCSE attainment measures

    • Social background measures

  • Modelling Results

  • Conclusions

  • Further work (if time)


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The Sociology of Education

  • A long running empirical research theme within the sociology of education and the sociology of youth has been the relationship between social background and educational attainment

  • Historically the weight of evidence has indicated that attainment is stratified

  • Typically, those from more advantaged social backgrounds generally achieve higher levels of attainment than their counterparts from less advantaged backgrounds


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General Certificate of Education

  • General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) introduced in the late 1980s

  • The standard qualification for pupils in England and Wales 15/16

  • Usually a mixture of assessed coursework and examinations

  • Generally each subject is assessed separately and a subject specific GCSE awarded

  • It is usual for pupils to study for about nine subjects, which will include core subjects (e.g. English, Maths and Science) and non-core subjects

  • GCSEs are graded in discrete ordered categories

  • The highest being A*, followed by grades A through to G (A* from 1994)

  • Arran Fernandez gained A* in Maths at age 8 !


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General Certificate of Education

  • Newsworthy item from the beginning

  • Apart from 16 year olds, their parents and teachers nobody was aware of O’ Level & CSE results day

  • School league tables introduced

  • “Fish swim, birds fly and educational standards fall”, Exam Board Statistician in a pub

  • “If 50% of pupils could swim a length one year and 65% could a year later, nobody would suggest the school pool had got shorter!” Sound bite from an educational sociologist


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General Certificate of Education

Have standards fallen, risen or stayed the same?

  • My view, this is sociologically unimportant

  • We could always test children under experimental conditions (as some people have) if we were really bothered

  • British obsession with telling younger people they are less clever (this includes academics in their 50s with a 2:1)

  • What is more important sociologically are patterns of stratification within GCSE attainment!


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The School Climate

  • The Education Reform Act 1988 led to rapid changes in the secondary school curriculum, and to the organisation, management and financing of schools

  • A major change for pupils was the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)

  • GCSEs differed from the qualifications that they replaced

    • A new grading scheme was established and all pupils were entered for a common set of examinations

    • There were also changes in the content and format of examinations and assessment by coursework was introduced


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Why explore GCSE attainment?

  • GCSEs are public examinations and mark the first major branching point in a young person’s educational career

  • Poor GCSE attainment is a considerable obstacle which precludes young people from pursuing more advanced educational courses

  • Young people with low levels of GCSE attainment are usually more likely to leave education at the minimum school leaving age and their qualification level frequently disadvantages them in the labour market

  • Low levels of qualifications are also likely to have a longer term impact on experiences in the adult labour market

  • Therefore, I argue that gaps in GCSE attainment are sociologically important


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Why explore the 1990s?

  • It is conceivable therefore that in the 1990s the reorganisation of schools, changes in the system of examinations and qualifications could have altered previously observed relationships between social background and educational attainment


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National Data

5+ GCSEs grades A*-C

  • Recognised official bench mark

  • Frequently used outcome measure in research

  • School league table measure

  • This measure is still published annually by The Department for Children, Schools and Families

    • see http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/performancetables/


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National Figures, % of pupils gaining

5+ GCSEs (grades A*-C)

Percentage aged 15 on roll in all English schools

Figures 1998 onwards are for GCSE & GNVQ equivalent

Data Sources DfE&E; DfES; DfCSF

Table 1 http://www.bstubbs.co.uk/5a-c.htm#table1


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1997 School Performance Tables Lancaster Area Schools

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/performancetables/archives/schools_97.shtml



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DATA School Type


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Youth Cohort Study of School TypeEngland & Wales (YCS)

  • Major Longitudinal Study

  • Began in the Mid 1980s

  • Designed to monitor behaviour of young people as they reach the minimum school leaving age and either stay on in education of enter the labour market


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Experiences of Education (qualifications) School Type

Employment

Training

Aspirations

Family

Personal characteristic & circumstances

YCS Collects Information on


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Nationally representative School Type

Large sample size

Detailed measures (e.g. qualifications)

Panel data (albeit short)

Possible to compare cohorts (trends over time)

YCS Strengths


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Growing up in the 1990s School Type

Partly fills the gap left by the missing 198(2) birth cohort

YCS Strengths


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YCS Structure School Type

Study contacts a sample from an academic year group (cohort) in the spring following completion of compulsory education

The sample is designed to be representative of all Year 11 pupils in England & Wales

Sample are tracked for 3 (sometimes 4) waves (called Sweeps) of data collection


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YCS Data Available – UK Data Archive School Type

SN 5765 Title: Youth Cohort Time Series for England, Wales and Scotland, 1984-2002

Depositor(s): Croxford, L., University of Edinburgh. Centre for Educational Sociology

Principal Investigator(s): Croxford, L., University of Edinburgh. Centre for Educational SociologyIannelli, C., University of Edinburgh. Centre for Educational SociologyShapira, M., University of Edinburgh. Centre for Educational Sociology

Economic and Social Research Council Grant Number: R000239852



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Working with the YCS School Type

  • Documentation is very poor especially in the older cohorts – usually handwritten annotation on questionnaires (pdf)

    (Compare this with the BHPS for example)

  • Changes in qualifications, educational policy

    etc adds data complications

  • Changes is questions, measures, coding,

    timing etc, all add to the general confusion


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DESCRIPTIVE RESULTS School Type

  • Outcome measures


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National and YCS Surveys % of pupils gaining 5+ GCSEs (grades A*-C)

YCS Data Source: Dataset SN5765 (weighted data)


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Measures of Social Background (grades A*-C)

  • Gender

  • Ethnicity

  • Parental occupation (more later)

  • Year 11 school type

  • Housing (tenure)

  • Household type

  • Parental education


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Table 1 (brief overview) (grades A*-C)

  • General patter of improvement in GSCE attainment (5+ A*-C)

    • Females doing better than males

    • Pupils from more advantaged parental occupational backgrounds continue to perform better

    • Ethnicity patterns - mixed

    • School effects (as expected)

    • Housing tenure - renters

    • Household type – lone mum?

    • Parental education (as expected)


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Why parental occupation (grades A*-C)

  • Occupations is a key measure of social stratification

  • Maps onto wider sociological conception of social class

  • Why not income or wealth?

    • 16/17 year olds are being questioned

    • fluctuation in income and wealth

  • Occupation is a proxy

    • lifetime income

    • life chances (and opportunities)

    • life style & consumption patterns

    • (even correlates with health)


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Brief illustration of parental occupational measures (grades A*-C)

  • National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC)

    • Official classification

    • From 2001 used in all official statistics

    • Some Govt statisticians only speak NS-SEC

    • Various versions – below is 9 category

    • Not ordered categories !

      1.1 Large employers & higher professionals

      1.2 Higher Professionals

      2 Lower managerial & professional

      3 Intermediate occupations

      4 Small employers & own account

      5 Lower supervisory & technical

      6 Semi-routine occupations

      7 Routine occupations

      8 Unclassified


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Brief illustration of parental occupational measures (grades A*-C)

  • Registrar General’s Social Class (RGSC)

    • Official classification until 2001

    • Ordered categorical measure

      Professional (I)

      Intermediate (II)

      Skilled Non-Manual (IIIn)

      Skilled Manual (IIIm)

      Partly Skilled (IV)

      Unskilled (V)


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Brief illustration of parental occupational measures (grades A*-C)

  • CAMSIS: Social Interaction and Stratification Scale

    • www.camsis.stir.ac.uk/

    • Scale empirically derived from patterns of social interaction

      Continuous scale with mean=50 s.d.=15



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Brief illustration of parental occupational measures (grades A*-C)

  • RGSC & CAMSIS not in SN 5765

    • Derived from data using GEODE Resources

    • www.geode.stir.ac.uk

    • www.dames.org.uk/

  • Simple dominance method

    • common in stratification research

    • father or mother whichever is higher

      • nurse mum and consultant dad = dad

      • nurse mum and hospital porter dad = mum


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MODELLING RESULTS (grades A*-C)



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Table 2 (brief overview) (grades A*-C)

  • General pattern of improvement in GSCE attainment (5+ A*-C) across YCS Cohorts

  • Overall the picture is one of social stability

  • GCSE attainment looks like it is still highly stratified


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Table 2 (brief overview) (grades A*-C)

  • Gender gap increasing slightly

  • Pupils with parents in more advantaged occupations continue to perform better

  • Ethnicity patterns mixed – Indians & other Asians

  • School effects (as expected)

  • Housing tenure - renters

  • Household type – lone mum?

  • Parental education (as expected)


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Table 3 & 4 (brief overview) (grades A*-C)

  • Pupils with parents in more advantaged occupations continue to perform better

    • NS-SEC

    • RGSC

    • CAMSIS


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  • Logistic regression model (grades A*-C)

    • All 5 YCS Cohorts pooled

  • X vars gender, ethnicity, school type, housing, household type, parental education

  • RGSC * Cohort interaction

    • attempting to test for change

  • Plots of estimates with Firth’s QV comparison intervals


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Non-Manual RGSCs (grades A*-C)

Manual RGSCs


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Substantive Conclusions (grades A*-C)

So far…

  • GCSE attainment still stratified

    • Persistent inequality

    • Gender concerns a possible red herring

    • Parental occupation important (all measures)


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Substantive Conclusions (grades A*-C)

So far…

  • GCSE attainment still stratified

    • Ethnicity

      • Picture is not clear

      • Some good news

      • Some group still doing worse

      • Better ethnicity measures would help

    • School type?

    • Lone mothers?


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Next Steps… (grades A*-C)

  • Exploit the other GCSE attainment measures

    • Table 5 some preliminary descriptions

  • Model other cohort*x var interactions


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Item non-response (grades A*-C)

  • Parental occupation is a very important factor in attainment and progression…

  • Remember… young people aged 17 being asked about their parents

  • Registrar General S.C. between 12% and 14% missing data in 1990s cohorts

  • Promising results from a paper at RC33 Nobel et al. 2008reported an experiment with LSYPE cohort testing pupils with YCS question and interviewing their parents


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Item non-response (grades A*-C)

  • Over 60% of young people correctly reported their parents’ occupation at 4 digit OUG (disappointingly only approx. 74% get it at 1 digit level)

    • Major group 2 Professional occupations

    • Sub major group 21 Science and engineering professionals

    • Minor group 211Natural scientists

    • Unit group 2111Chemists

  • No significant social class pattern to the errors (using NS-SEC)!


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