Social Class Inequalities in School Qualifications

Gayle, V., Playford, C., Connelly, R. (2020) Regional Studies Association 30 September 2020. [SLS]

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The qualifications that British children gain at school are strong determinants of their futures in both education and the labour market. Studies of the relationship between parental social class and children’s outcomes in school qualifications report the general finding that pupils from families in less advantaged social classes on average have poorer outcomes. This paper investigates social class inequalities in Scottish school qualifications. Scottish data provide an interesting case study because Scotland has its own set of school qualifications and has a widespread system of comprehensive secondary schools that do not select children through academic testing. This paper is innovative because it analyses new linked administrative data on individual pupils from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) with parental information from the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS). Standard Grades were the main qualifications undertaken by Scottish pupils at the end of compulsory schooling. We present multivariate analysis of pupils’ overall school Standard Grade scores. We find an overall negative relationship between parental social class and children’s outcomes in Scottish school qualifications. Pupils from families in less advantaged social classes, on average, have lower overall Standard Grade scores. A more nuanced finding that emerges from the analyses is that there is a cleft between the Standard Grade scores of children from families in the white and the blue collar classes. We conjecture that the complexity of parents jobs, especially in the more advantaged social classes, fosters forms of family and home life that are conducive to children having more favourable outcomes in school qualifications. Standard Grades have been replaced by the ‘National’ qualifications framework. Changes in the structure and content of the curriculum and assessment could affect the pattern of parental social class inequalities. Further detailed empirical analyses of social class inequalities in outcomes in Scottish school qualifications is therefore imperative.

Available online: Regional Studies Association
Output from project: 2014_005


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