Forming post-compulsory subject choices in school : a longitudinal study of changes in secondary school students' ideas, with particular reference to choice about science
The research in this thesis examined the basis of young people's decision making. A longitudinal study involving periodic interviews addressed questions about how changes in secondary school students' ideas led to decisions about elective education by individuals in mid-adolescence, particularly with reference to science. Analysis of interview data captured changes in students' ideas over time and a new way of looking at post- 16 choice was developed that gives a more indepth picture of how students' ideas are formed than has hitherto been achieved. The ways in which students' educational objectives were driven by different ideas and the ways in which students engaged with influences on decisionmaking were used to develop a typology of choice trajectories. The typology unearths variations in the temporal characteristics of young people's thinking about choice. Five types of choice trajectory were identified. Students with a 'directed' trajectory had a demonstrably stable commitment to a specific career direction inspired by a critical influence at an early age. The 'partially resolved' trajectory was that of a student with identifiable vocational leanings prompted by positive dispositions towards some school subjects and related careers. The 'funnelling identifier' trajectory was shaped by a gradual identification with a domain of interest whereas that of 'multiple projection' was characterised by favouring different careers at different times. The student with a 'precipitating' trajectory lacked critical influences, had diffuse ideas and aimed for broad and versatile choices. Application of the typology to four portraits of students who chose science demonstrated that science was chosen in a variety of ways. In conclusion, the thesis raises issues for discussion about the impact of choice support mechanisms in schools, particularly in relation to careers guidance and within science teaching.