Boys go further on vocational courses

Applied subjects appear to have created a gender divide, prospects-wise, a report claims
Applied subjects appear to have created a gender divide, prospects-wise, a report claims

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

A new survey concludes that girls who study an “applied” subject, such as health and social care, had a “significantly lower” chance of taking A-levels.

The findings come in the week that Wigan teenagers 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 English youngsters born in 1989/90 and the National Pupil Database to compare the GCSEs they took in 2007/08 and what they went on to do next.

A suite of eight “applied” vocational subjects was introduced in England in 2002, including engineering, health and social care, leisure and tourism and science. Applied GCSEs are now being phased out.

The study found that taking “applied” subjects reduced the chances of girls going on to do A-levels than it did 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.”

The EBacc (English Baccalaureate), introduced in 2010, is a measure that recognises pupils who take a group of academic subjects - English, maths, science, history or geography and a language, while “facilitating” subjects are A-levels often favoured by leading universities, such as maths, science and humanities subjects.

“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: “What you see is predominantly working class girls taking subjects such as health and social care, which do not necessarily enhance their future prospects.”