Research and analysis

Subject and course choices at ages 14 and 16 amongst young people in England

Report outlining the different course choices on offer in England at ages 14 and 16 and how these choices can effect later‐life education.



The subjects and courses young people choose to take from age 14 onwards can have profound implications for their later‐life education and economic opportunities. It is therefore vital their choices are understood, and whether any aspects of the current decision‐making process may be detrimental to their future welfare.

In 2009 to 2010, GCSEs were still the most commonly‐taken qualification at key stage 4. Fewer than half of key stage 4 pupils take GCSEs in modern foreign languages, about a third take GCSE history and about a quarter take GCSE geography. However, these are much more likely to be taken by pupils from less deprived backgrounds.

This report addresses some of the important issues relating to young people’s subject and course choices, both from a purely descriptive standpoint - explaining the different choices on offer in England at ages 14 and 16, and documenting the actual decisions made by recent cohorts of young people - and from a more scientific perspective, attempting to point the way towards future experiments that may begin to untangle the cognitive mechanisms through which young people make decisions about their future.

Published 27 October 2011