Between the NEET and the tidy – Exploring ‘middle’ outcomes in Scottish school qualifications

Gayle, V., Playford, C., Connelly, R. & Murray, S. (2016) CPC Working Papers, 76, 1 March 2016. ISSN: 2042-4116 [SLS]

Other information:

Despite changes in the education system the qualifications that are gained at school remain important for young people’s pathways and trajectories. This paper is an element of a wider on-going programme of theoretically informed empirical analyses, which examine young people’s educational outcomes. The empirical work is situated within an overarching theoretical sociological framework which focuses on the outcomes of ‘ordinary’ young people who are neither educationally unengaged, nor part of an educational elite. In this phase of the work we focus on outcomes in Scottish school-level qualifications.

This research is original in that it uses administrative data from the Scottish Qualifications Authority that is held as part of the Scottish Longitudinal Study. We begin by reconsidering challenging issues associated with measuring school -level qualifications. To address these challenges we undertake analyses of pupil’s subject-area outcomes using a latent variable modelling approach. A novel aspect of the work is that we undertake a sensitivity analysis to compare a standard technique for latent group assignment (modal assignment) with a recently proposed alternative (proportional assignment).

The overall message is dispiriting because after half a century of comprehensive education in Scotland, school outcomes remain stratified both by gender and by a pupil’s social background. The analyses uncovered four main latent educational groups. One group had very positive outcomes and pupils in this group were generally more socially advantaged. By contrast another group had very poor outcomes and pupils in this group were generally more socially disadvantaged. There were two ‘middle’ groups, which both had moderate overall school Standard Grade outcomes. These two ‘middle’ groups were similar in their overall outcomes, but at the subject area-level their outcomes were notably different. One group were more likely to gain a Credit pass in English, but were relatively less likely to gain Credit passes in Mathematics and Sciences. The other group were unlikely to gain Credit passes in English and Mathematics, but were more likely to gain Credit passes in Sciences. These pupils with ‘middle’ or ‘moderate’ outcomes in school Standard Grades are a sociologically important group that should not be overlooked.

The latent variable approach offers an informative set of typologies that are likely to be impactful because they can be used to better understand patterns of educational outcomes. These typologies are important because they can directly inform current debates on raising standards in Scottish schools.

Available online: CPC Working Papers,
Download output document: Full paper (PDF 2MB)
Output from project: 2014_005


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