The concealed middle? An exploration of ordinary young people and school GCSE subject area attainment

Chris Playford, Vernon Gayle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is the standard qualification undertaken by pupils in England and Wales at the end of year 11 (age 15–16). GCSEs continue to play an important and central role in young people's educational and employment pathways. Within the sociology of youth, there has been recent interest in documenting the lives and educational experiences of ‘ordinary’ young people. In this paper, we analyse school GCSE attainment at the subject area level. This is an innovative approach and our motivation is to explore substantively interesting patterns of attainment that might be concealed in analyses of overall attainment or attainment within individual subjects. We analyse data from the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales using a latent variable approach. The modelling process uncovered four distinctive latent educational groups. One latent group is characterised by high levels of overall attainment, whereas another latent group is characterised by poor GCSE performance. There are two latent groups with moderate or ‘middle’ levels of GCSE attainment. These two latent groups have similar levels of agglomerate attainment, but one group performs better in science and the other performs better in arts GCSEs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-168
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Issue number2
Early online date20 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


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