Queen’s finds that students want more say over GCSEs

Queen’s University Belfast has published research into the experiences of GCSE students in Northern Ireland and Wales.

‘Inequalities and the curriculum: young people’s views on choice and fairness through their experiences of curriculum as examination specifications at GCSE’ is co-authored by Professor Jannette Elwood from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University Belfast, and Dr Rhian Barrance from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods at Cardiff University. It indicates that students in these countries want more choice and fairness with respect to their GCSE experiences. In particular, they want more involvement in the subject selection process.

The study draws on data from 38 schools, 20 in Northern Ireland and 18 in Wales, in which 1,600 students took part by completing a questionnaire and taking part in focus group sessions. The findings have been published as one of several working papers on the theme of inequalities and the curriculum by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education.

GCSEs are the main school-leaving examinations taken by 16 year olds in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. For many students in these jurisdictions, the curriculum they experience between 14-16 years is effectively made up of GCSE syllabuses across a number of subjects that they have chosen to study.

Professor Elwood said: “The data collected in the study focused on issues around choice and fairness in relation to the inequalities experienced by students through their GCSE programmes.

“Overall, we found that students felt their options at GCSE were restricted and they raised concerns that subject option choices and GCSE specifications were things that they were never consulted about. The students felt they could and should be consulted more about the higher- level policy matters such as the curriculum they follow, the subjects they are able to choose at GCSE and how they are assessed.”

The study also found that while GCSEs are labelled as the same examination and students are obtaining the same qualification in the UK, they actually reflect very different curriculum and assessment systems across Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

Dr Barrance added: “These issues are increasingly relevant in the context of recent reforms to GCSEs that have resulted in the difference between the ways that GCSEs are assessed across the UK. GCSEs, while labelled as the same examination, are now very different entities across the jurisdictions of the UK; students will be obtaining the same qualification even though they reflect different curriculum and assessment systems.”

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