Hard and soft choices? ‘A’ level subject selection by schools and students

1st November 2021 : 12:45 - 13:45

Category: Seminar

Research Group: Quantitative Methods Hub

Speaker: Peter Davies and Marco Ercolani (University of Birmingham)

Location: Mary O’Brien Room, Lady Margaret Hall (LMH)

Convener: Steve Strand

Audience: Department Staff and Students

We present an analysis of A-level subject choices at around age 16 for a cohort of students in English schools who completed their studies in 2014. We examined both the National Pupil Database and a unique rich dataset on the subject preferences and subsequent choices between the ages of 16 and 18 (i.e. GCSE and A-level). We found substantive differences between students’ preferences and actual choices of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ post-16 subjects (i.e. A-level). These differences were strongly associated with falsification of students’ expectations of examination grades taken at age 16 (i.e. GCSE) in the core subjects of English and mathematics. The sizes of these falsification effects were much larger than other significant associations such as gender, ethnicity, and social class. This suggests that subject choices are not rigidly framed by stable individual preferences and they are therefore open to influence from new information, persuasion, and opportunities.