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OPSN report reveals GCSE ‘subject deserts’

By Melissa Clements

There is no set criteria for how a pupil chooses which GCSEs to take. Pupil choice and school choice are normally the limiting factors, though a forthcoming report from the Open Public Services Network (OPSN) suggests that school choice – subjects being provided at a given school – can vary greatly across the country. This curriculum variation taught to pupils in English schools varies according to whether they live in a wealthy or poor area.

Student enrolment in three science GCSEs (known as “triple science”) is particularly influenced by the deprivation of a local educational authority (LEA). The report found that areas of higher deprivation were associated with lower triple science enrolment, though there are examples of LEAs bucking the trend.

ZPB worked with the OPSN to analyse GCSE data provided by the Fisher Family Trust. The analysis of the data revealed that there are ‘subject deserts’ in England where pupils were not offered certain subjects such as science or a modern foreign language.

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The summary report, which was previewed on the BBC today (11/02/15), raises concerns that pressure on schools to perform well in league tables has influenced the spread of courses on offer. This, other than pupil wants and needs, is determining courses available.

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Additional findings can be found on the OPSN’s website: https://www.thersa.org/action-and-research/arc-news/opsn-publishes-new-data-on-access-to-gcse-subjects-across-england/