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Stratifying science: a Bourdieusian analysis of student views and experiences of school selective practices in relation to ‘Triple Science’ at KS4 in England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalResearch Papers in Education
Early online date29 Aug 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Aug 2016


King's Authors


Currently, science in England is distinctive at General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in comparison to most other subjects, in that there is a notable stratification of award routes. The most prestigious of these, ‘Triple Science’ (the route for entry for three separate science GCSEs), is championed by English government and industry, but has received scant critical academic attention to date. Drawing on data collected via a national survey of over 13,000 Year 11 students aged 15/16 years and in-depth longitudinal interviews conducted with 70 students from this cohort (from age 10 to 16), we discuss how most students have little if any choice over which science ‘option’ they take at GCSE. Drawing on Bourdieu’s concept of pedagogic action, we unpick how students are ‘channelled’ into making the ‘right’ choices and come to accept their allocation as legitimate. We explore how selective practices around Triple Science create and perpetuate social inequalities, producing different patterns of student identity, aspiration and attainment. In particular, we discuss the identification of Triple Science as ‘for the clever’ and problematise its relationship with the science ‘pipeline’. We conclude by suggesting potentially more equitable ways forward for science education, reflecting on implications for post-16 participation.

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