In Britain, educational qualifications gained at school continue to play an important and central role in young people’s educational and employment pathways. Recently there has been growing interest in documenting the lives of ‘ordinary’ young people. In this paper we analyse the Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales in order to better document the experiences of those with ‘middle’ levels of school General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) attainment. The overall pattern of school GCSE attainment is one of increasing levels of performance. GCSE attainment is still highly stratified. Girls performed better than boys, and there were some marked differences in attainment for pupils from the main minority ethnic groups. Most notably, parental socio-economic positions are the most important factor. The analyses fail to persuade us that there are clear boundaries that demark a ‘middle’ category of school GCSE attainment. We conclude that sociologists should study ‘ordinary’ young people; however, school GCSE attainment is best understood as a continuum, and measures such as the number of GCSEs or point scores are preferable.
- youth transitions
- sociology of youth
- educational attainment
- General Certificate of Secondary Education
- missing middle
- Youth Cohort Study of England and Wales