Edinburgh Research Explorer

School subject choices and social class differences in entry to higher education: Comparing Scotland and Ireland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationModels of Secondary Education and Social Inequality
Subtitle of host publicationAn International Comparison
EditorsHans-Peter Blossfeld, Sandra Buchholz, Jan Skopek, Moris Triventi
Place of PublicationCheltenham, UK
PublisherEdward Elgar
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978 1 78536 726 7
ISBN (Print)978 1 78536 725 0
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2016


The existing literature on differentiation in secondary education and its consequences for social inequalities in educational attainment has focused mainly on students’ assignment into different formal school tracks (e.g. Hanushek and Wößmann 2006; Brunello and Checchi 2007; Horn 2009, 2013; Bol et al. 2014). With a few exceptions (van de Werfhorst et al. 2003; Ayalon 2006; Iannelli 2013), social stratification research has largely neglected the role of internal differentiation within secondary schools (such as allocation to or take up of different subjects) in shaping social inequalities in life-course outcomes. We advance the literature on curriculum differentiation by analyzing whether specific subject choices in upper secondary education mediate social inequalities in higher education (HE) entry in Scotland and Ireland. Both countries are distinct in the extent to which students are limited in their subject choices and in the requirements for HE entry. This distinction can give us valuable insights into the extent to which the mediating role of subject choice for social class differences in HE entry is shaped by the opportunities offered by the education system. Because both Scotland and Ireland experienced a large expansion of HE (Iannelli et al. 2011; McCoy and Smyth 2011), a further aim of our study is to identify changes in the mediating effect of subject choice for social class differences in entering HE across different cohorts of school leavers.

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