Young People and School GCSE Attainment: Exploring the 'Middle'

Roxanne Connelly, Vernon Gayle, Susan J. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The term 'missing middle' has been used to describe the position of ordinary young people in youth research. There have been recent appeals for youth researchers to concentrate upon the lives of ordinary young people and to better document their educational experiences through the secondary analysis of large-scale social surveys. This paper presents a series of exploratory analyses that attempt to identify the school-level educational attainment and social characteristics of ordinary young people using contemporary survey data.

We undertake a series of exploratory analyses of data from the British Household Panel Survey. These data cover the period directly after General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) qualifications were introduced. The dataset provides measures of school attainment and suitable individual, household and parental measures. We detect gender differences in school GCSE performance, with females outperforming males. There are some effects due to differences in parental education levels and household circumstances. There is a large group of young people who fail to gain any GCSEs, their attainment falls far short of benchmark standards, and has negative consequences. In contrast gaining a moderate level of GCSEs at school has a positive effect in relation to employment in early adulthood.

Our analyses fail to convince us that there are distinctive, or discrete, categories of GCSE attainment. The evidence explored here persuades us that there are no crisp boundaries that mark out a 'middle' category of moderate GCSE attainment. We conclude that there are clear benefits to understanding school attainment as being located upon a continuum, and that measures which reflect the heterogeneity of GCSE performance as fully as possible should be preferred.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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