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Many children make post-GCSE choices by age of 11, study suggests


What young people say at the age of 11 about their intentions to stay at school post-16 is a good predictor of whether or not they will actually stay in post-compulsory education, according to a major study at the University of Reading.

Research conducted by Professor Paul Croll, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), looked at the intentions of young people expressed through their years in secondary school and compared these with their behaviour at the end of compulsory schooling.

The research analysed the responses of 11-year-old children, in their first term of secondary education, to a question about whether or not they planned to stay in education after they were 16. Some 11% said they would definitely leave, and 67% said they would stay on. The remainder were not sure. These results were then compared with the actual outcomes for the same young people.

Of those who said they would leave, two thirds actually did so. While of those who said they would stay on, almost four-fifths actually did so. Girls were more likely to stay on than boys, and young people from families in middle class occupations were more likely to stay on than other young people. Both these differences were also apparent in the earlier expressions of intentions.

The study involved a secondary analysis of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), an ESRC funded research resource in which the same sample of adults and teenage children in their households have been interviewed annually since 1991. The annual expressions of intentions to stay at school showed that young people have much firmer intentions about staying on than leaving. Of those asked the question on at least four occasions, more than 50% always said they would stay on, while only 2% always said they would leave.

Professor Croll said: “These results show that young people’s orientations towards education and schooling are relatively firmly fixed by the time they leave primary school. It is very striking that intentions about staying on or not are actually realised in such a high proportion of cases.

“However, it should also be noted that most of those who saw they will leave waver in their intentions through the years of secondary school and, at least at some points they become unsure about their intentions. The results also show the value of this kind of longitudinal analysis and of longitudinal research resources like BHPS.”

BHPS interviews about 770 young people annually. The results on the predictive power of early intentions are based on 237 young people who were in their first year of secondary schooling in 1994 or 1995.

More details are given in the final report to ESRC, Project No R000239963, ’The Formation and Transmission of Educational Values and Orientations’.

Craig Hillsley | alfa
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