Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Pattern of Subject Specific Performance in School Attainment in Scotland

Project Number:



Chris Playford (ADRC-S; University of Edinburgh)
Vernon Gayle (ADRC-S; University of Edinburgh)
Roxanne Connelly (ADRC-S; University of Edinburgh)
Susan Murray (University of Stirling)

Start Date:

8 January 2015



Standard Grades have been the central qualifications undertaken by pupils in secondary schools. Standard Grades are important qualifications as they were historically the first public set of examinations in a young person’s educational career and often form a major gateway to further education and employment.

The study of parental effects on Standard Grade attainment has been relatively under-researched, largely due to the unavailability of suitable social survey data. The recent linking of SQA data with the SLS provides a unique and valuable resource to analyse the relationship between parental socio-economic positions and filial educational attainment. The study of the SLS / SQA data will provide robust findings that will distinctively contribute to the research evidence base.

Until the very recent introduction of the Curriculum For Excellence, pupils undertook a mixture of ‘core’ and optional Standard Grade subjects. Each Standard Grade was awarded a grade ranging from 1 – 7 (with grades 1-2 indicating a Credit Level Pass; 3-4 a General Level Pass; 5-6 a Foundation Level Pass). Given the wide range of possible subjects that may be studied, and that each subject is awarded an individual grade, there is no single recognised measure of school attainment at Standard Grade level. There are summary measures of school Standard Grade attainment, but there is no widespread measure, unlike GCSE attainment in England and Wales (e.g. 5+ GCSEs at grades A*-C). In previous research on school GCSE attainment we have used the term agglomerate (i.e. overall) measures (see Connelly, Murray and Gayle 2013; Gayle, Murray, Connelly forthcoming).

In recent work examining school GCSE attainment using social survey data, Gayle and Playford (2014) have documented that there are substantively important patterns of subject level attainment which are occluded by agglomerate measures. They report that these patterns are highly structured and parental socioeconomic positions have a distinctive effect. An innovative aspect of the analyses undertaken by Gayle and Playford (2014) is the application of a latent variable approach to address both the heterogeneity of pupils’ subject patterns and the individual grades awarded. We propose to adopt a similar statistical modelling strategy, but also extend the analyses to explore alternative (but complementary) latent variable methods.


There is a longstanding interest in the relationship between parental social backgrounds and filial (i.e. children’s) school educational attainment. In this project we aim to explore the relationship between parental socio-economic positions and filial attainment in Scottish Standard Grades at a subject specific level.

Much of the analysis of Standard Grade attainment has relied on overall or agglomerate measures of attainment. More recently (see Gayle and Playford 2014) attention has been focused on individual subject level performance in similar examinations in other parts of the UK. In the proposed research we plan to investigate the rich and detailed subject level information contained in the SQA data (see Raab 2013).

We propose to adopt a latent variable approach to investigate the heterogeneity of pupils’ subject patterns and attainment in these subjects. This will provide greater understanding of the relationship between socio-economic background and the patterning of attainment in Standard Grade subjects. This work will extend, and enable comparison with, the analysis of Gayle and Playford (2014).

Central research questions:

What is the relationship between parental socio-economic positions and subject specific patterns of filial standard grade attainment in contemporary Scotland?

Building on previous research which analysed subject specific data regarding GCSE attainment in England. We aim to understand how the patterns of attainment in combinations of Standard Grades (e.g. combinations of subjects undertaken and successfully passed) compare to patterns we have observed in GCSE attainment in England and Wales.

The aim of this would be to establish whether there is an empirical regularity in the patterning of subject specific attainment by building on and replicating previous research in this field. This evidence could contribute to our understanding of the processes of the development of educational inequalities which remain an enduring feature of Scottish society.


Connelly, R., S. Murray and V. Gayle (2013). "Young People and School GCSE Attainment: Exploring the 'Middle'." Sociological Research Online 18(1): 6

Gayle, V. and C. J. Playford (2014). "The concealed middle? An exploration of ordinary young people and school GCSE subject area attainment." ESRC Centre for Population Change Working Paper 51(June 2014)

Gayle, V., S. Murray and R. Connelly (Forthcoming). "Young people and school General Certificate of Secondary Education attainment: looking for the ‘missing middle’." British Journal of Sociology of Education: 1-21

Raab, G. M. (2013). Education data available within the Scottish Longitudinal Study. Scottish Longitudinal Development & Support Unit Technical Working Paper. 6

Related Outputs (viewable on CALLS Hub):

Explore the variables held in the SLS data dictionary.

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