Belfast Telegraph

Pupils want wider range of GCSE subjects: Study

By Rebecca Black

Students in Northern Ireland want more choice when it comes to picking their GCSE subjects, and also feel pressured to take on the more academic courses, new research has found.

The study, undertaken by the Queen's University Belfast, draws on data from 38 schools - 20 in Northern Ireland and 18 in Wales.

Some 1,600 students took part by completing a questionnaire and taking part in focus group sessions.

Schools in Northern Ireland had a range of 48 subjects to pick from at GCSE from exams body CCEA in 2017.

They include the core subjects as well as those which are more vocational, including manufacturing, journalism, engineering and child development. However, most schools do not have the resources to offer this full choice.

The findings of the study 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 University College London Institute of Education.

GCSEs are the main school-leaving examinations taken by 16-year-olds in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

Professor Jannette Elwood from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's and co-author of the paper, said they found that students felt their options at GCSE were restricted and they raised concerns that they were not consulted about subject option choices and GCSE specifications.

"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," she said.

The Department of Education defended the choice at GCSE.

"The curriculum requirements at Key Stage 4 give pupils choice and flexibility with the focus, via implementation of the Entitlement Framework, on increasing the range and nature of courses available to young people rather than on requiring the study of specific subjects," it said.

"Post-primary schools are expected to offer all pupils the opportunity to follow a GCSE or equivalent level 2 course in English or Gaeilge and in mathematics.

"Religious education, physical education and learning for life and work (excluding home economics) are the only subjects that are compulsory at Key Stage 4.

"The QUB research paper focuses on GCSEs, however there is a wide range of level 1 and level 2 qualifications available for use by schools.

"The range of courses a school is able to offer at GCSE or equivalent qualification will be influenced by a number of factors including its resources, timetabling, pupil numbers and the opportunity to collaborate with other schools, further education colleges or other providers."

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