14 SES 05 B, School-Related Transitions Within a Life Course Perspective III
In most North-Western European education systems the transition from primary to secondary education is a crucial branching point in young people’s school careers (Becker, 2003: Germany; Driessen et al., 2008: the Netherlands; Jonsson & Mood, 2008: Sweden). In fact, in most of these education systems pupils are confronted early on with a choice between academically and more practically oriented electives. One of these systems with early tracking is the Flemish system (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium). At the start of secondary education pupils in Flanders are confronted with a basic divide between A- and B-stream. A-stream is said to offer a common curriculum to all pupils preparing them to make a more elaborate choice two years later. B-stream on the other hand is geared towards those pupils who haven’t reached the basic requirements of primary education and leads to vocational tracks in later years (Department of Education, 2008; Van Damme et al., 1997). However, within A-stream pupils do also have to choose between optional courses such as Latin, modern sciences, technology, arts, etc. Whereas optional courses such as Latin and modern sciences are seen as a preparation for academic secondary education, optional courses such as technology and arts are perceived as a preparation for technical and arts secondary education respectively. Optional courses such as technology and – to a lesser degree – arts are generally perceived as being less demanding academically speaking. A study of teacher recommendations demonstrates that, in general, primary school teachers recommend enrolment in the practically oriented courses to pupils with weaker grade point averages in primary education (Boone & Van Houtte, 2013a). In fact, research also shows that pupils who eventually choose for the more practically oriented optional courses have a track record of weaker scholastic achievement (Boone & Van Houtte, 2013b). In addition, this research highlights that regardless of prior achievement pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more inclined to enrol in the more practically oriented electives. As a result the technically oriented optional courses in the first years of secondary education are generally attended by pupils who have a track record of weaker scholastic achievement and pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds (Boone & Van Houtte, 2010).
In recent years the Flemish government has been increasingly worried about the decreasing numbers of pupils in technical secondary education. The fact that a choice for technical secondary education seems to be a negative choice is seen as one of the most important obstacles. Inspired by the Lisbon Strategy of the European Union, the government has launched an Action Plan aimed at encouraging pupils to make a positive choice for technically oriented education. The idea is that pupils who are interested in technology should be encouraged to enrol in technically oriented education.
We aim to investigate whether primary school pupils’ interests are related to their choice of an elective in the first year of secondary education. If we can establish a relation between pupils’ interests and their eventual choice, we will then analyse whether their interests influence their choice over and above the influence of their prior achievement and socio-demographic characteristics. We will also study potential interaction-effects as it might be possible that the impact of pupils’ interests varies according to their socio-economic background. Prior research has suggested that pupils from working class backgrounds are freer to choose in which school and in which elective to enrol (Reay and Ball, 1998; Boone & Van Houtte, 2013b). It might well be that the interests of pupils from lower socio-economic background have a greater impact on their eventual choice than those of their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds.
Becker, R. (2003), Educational expansion and persistent inequalities of education: utilizing subjective expected utility theory to explain increasing participation rates in upper secondary school in the federal republic of Germany, European Sociological Review, 19 (1), 1-24. Boone, S. & Van Houtte, M. (2010), Sociale ongelijkheid bij de overgang van basis- naar secundair onderwijs, in opdracht van het Departement Onderwijs en Vorming van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap. Gent: Universiteit Gent. Boone, S. & Van Houtte, M. (2013), Why are teacher recommendations at the transition from primary to secondary education socially biased? A mixed methods research, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34 (1), 20-38. Boone, S. & Van Houtte, M. (2013), In search of the mechanisms conducive to class differentials in educational choice: A mixed method research, The Sociological Review, 61 (3), 549-572. Department of Education (2008), The Flemish educational landscape in a nutshell. Brugge: Die Keure. Driessen, G. , Sleegers, P. & Smit, F. (2008), The transition from primary to secondary education: meritocracy and ethnicity, European Sociological Review, 24 (4), 527-542. Jonsson, J.O. & Mood, C. (2008), Choice by contrast in Swedish schools; how peers’ achievement affects educational choice, Social Forces, 87 (2), 741-765. Reay, D. & Ball, S. (1998), ‘Making their minds up’: family dynamics of school choice, British Educational Research Journal, 24 (4), 431-448. Van Damme, J., De Troy, A., Meyer, J., Minnaert, A., Lorent, G., Opdenakker, M.-C. and Verduyckt, P. (1997) Succesvol Doorstromen in de Aanvangsjaren van het Secundair Onderwijs. Acco: Leuven.
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