The Impact of Science Curriculum Content on Students’ Subject Choices in Post-compulsory Schooling



This chapter considers the impact of school science experiences on students’ post-compulsory subject choices. We view student choice as a ‘dynamic process’ rather than a rational decision made at a point in time. This process is influenced by a range of socio-cultural factors and students’ developing sense of agency and identity. Using a combination of questionnaires and individual narrative interviews we examine how high school students (aged 16–18 years) in two schools in England reflect on the process of their subject choices. A distinctive feature of this study is that in these schools students are following a science course with a strong focus on socio-scientific issues and the nature of science, taught by teachers with commitment and enthusiasm for such teaching. Consistent with previous studies, these students refer to a broad range of influences including perceptions of future careers, and school-related influences such as subject attainment, teacher quality, and enjoyment of the subject. Science curriculum content is one influence amongst many within these students’ reflections on subject choice. The distinctive focus on socio-scientific issues and the nature of science appears to encourage many students to consider pursuing science, but such choices need to align with other factors such as attainment and career aspiration. However, some students are ambivalent about, and in some cases dismissive of, such teaching. A minority of students in our sample talk of an early commitment to a science route through schooling. For other students, their reflections on the choice are characterized by ongoing uncertainty and indecision.


  1. Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2010). ‘Doing’ science versus ‘being’ a scientist: Examining 10/11-year-old schoolchildren’s constructions of science through the lens of identity. Science Education, 94(4), 617–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., & Macrae, S. (2000). Choice, pathways and transitions post-16: New youth, new economies in the global city. London/New York: Routledge-Falmer.Google Scholar
  3. Cleaves, A. (2005). The formation of science choices in secondary school. International Journal of Science Education, 27(4), 471–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Eccles, J. (2009). Who am I and what am I going to do with my life? Personal and collective identities as motivators of action. Educational Psychologist, 44(2), 78–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. European Commission (2004). Europe needs more scientists. Report of the high level group on human resources for science and technology in Europe. Retrieved April, 2010, from
  6. Foskett, N., & Hemsley-Brown, J. (2001). Choosing futures: Young people’s decision-making in education, training and careers markets. London/New York: Routledge-Falmer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Foskett, N., Dyke, M., & Maringe, F. (2008). The influence of the school in the decision to participate in learning post-16. British Educational Research Journal, 34(1), 37–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hollway, W., & Jefferson, T. (2000). Doing qualitative research differently: Free association, narrative and the interview method. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Maltese, A. V., & Tai, R. H. (2010). Eyeballs in the fridge: Sources of early interest in science. International Journal of Science Education, 32(5), 669–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Millar, R. (2010). Increasing participation in science beyond GCSE: The impact of twenty first century science. School Science Review, 91(337), 67–73.Google Scholar
  11. Murphy, P., & Whitelegg, E. (2006). Girls and physics: Continuing barriers to ‘belonging’. The Curriculum Journal, 17(3), 281–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. NSB. (2010). Science and engineering indicators 2010. Arlington: National Science Board.Google Scholar
  13. Roberts, D. A. (1988). What counts as science education? In P. Fensham (Ed.), Developments and dilemmas in science education (pp. 27–54). London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  14. Rodd, M., Mujtaba, T., & Reiss, M. (2010). Participation in mathematics post-18: Undergraduates stories. British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics, 30, 175–182.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations