Firstly we will focus on what to look at when making GCSE choices. GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is an academically / subject based qualification. Students in England and Wales study towards this over a 2 year period, Year 10 and 11. The idea of GCSEs is to give you a broad general knowledge, from where you can then become specialised in your A-levels.
My GCSE choices
For most students, whether State or privately educated, the choice of GCSE subjects is their first foray into the world of career decision making. Some may have had a say in where they are currently at school. However, usually, the reality is that that choice was never entirely in their hands.
Most schools seek to encourage GCSE subject choices – ‘Options’ to be made during the Autumn term of Year 9. When they are aged 13/14. There are a few exceptions to this. Some schools get their students to choose their GCSE subjects in Year 8. Subsequently, they can start teaching GCSE courses a year earlier. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages associated with this approach which will not be covered here.
What are my GCSE choices?
GCSE subject choices will vary from school to school. Usually, the subjects are put into groups and students are required to choose a subject from each group. This includes a ‘free choice’ which is usually any subject from any other group. For example, a student may want to take Geography and History. Both of which might be in the same group.
The ‘free’ choice would allow them to take both. Not all schools can facilitate this. The flexibility of GCSE subject choices should be an important but oft-overlooked consideration when choosing a senior school for your child. The ideal, however, is to have varied subjects, with the core subjects of English, Maths and Science. The more varied your subject choice, the more freedom you will have in A-level and eventually career choices. Some universities, for example, ask for certain GCSE subjects and certain grades, so make sure to check that you are taking the right subjects.
Why are my GCSE choices so important?
Your GCSE subject choices and subsequently the results you get can affect the following:
- the sixth form you go to
- the qualifications you take next
- your eligibility for a university course
- which university you can apply to
- your career prospects
As seen above, the wrong GCSE choice could have a big impact on the rest of your life. Especially when it comes to further education and career choices.
All schools have specified core subjects which are compulsory at GCSE. These core subjects vary from school to school. Core subjects will always include English, Maths and Science. Science may be either combined science (the equivalent of two GCSEs) or triple science Biology, Chemistry and Physics (three GCSEs). Which science route is chosen will depend on the school and also the student’s ability level. At some schools, Religious Education (RE) is also considered a core subject. This is can be known as Religious Studies (RS), Philosophy or World Affairs. Also, some schools include a Modern Foreign Language (MFL) as a core for all but the least able of students.
The number of subjects included in the core curriculum tends to influence the number of option subjects, students can take. They are usually three or four. Students are usually asked to also make a reserve choice, in case of class sizes become too unwieldy if a subject is over-subscribed.
In summary, English and Maths (sometimes Science) are the GCSEs that universities are most likely to be interested in – and you don’t get the option of dropping these. So whatever GCSEs you choose, you’ll still have a broad range of unis to make up your mind over (if you get the grades, that is).
If your child has been ‘given’ a subject choice that they are deeply unhappy about doing, challenge this with the school. With the inevitable excitement associated with being able to choose the subjects one wants to study and give up the least favourite ones, being required to study a GCSE option subject that does not fit, needs careful management and is so often a source of early disengagement and which is sometimes irrecoverable.
How can I help my child?
I cannot over-emphasise the importance of Career Education at this stage. Students should be afforded the opportunity to understand why they are required to study core subjects and how these will underpin and facilitate their future career paths. They should be helped to consider where their strengths lie and to consider what they enjoy doing most.
It’s easy to choose subjects for the wrong reasons;
- You like the teacher – the teacher may change
- There isn’t much homework – that will change
- Friends are taking the subject – it might be right for them, but not for you
What to consider when making GCSE choices
As pointed out above, your GCSE subject choices will affect most further career choices. What should you then consider when making these choices?
- Your longer term aims – although it might seem far off, try to think about what University degree you would like to do in the future, then work your way back to which A-levels you would need and finally which GCSE subjects would support those.
- Workload – make sure you don’t take on too much. You want to do your best in the subjects you choose so don’t take on too much. Make sure you find out the workload in subjects if you are not sure.
Hannah Courtney Bennett is a Chartered Psychologist and Registered Career Development Professional specialising in the Psychology of Careers.
Hannah likes to help students from different backgrounds and with varying abilities, in the State and the Independent sectors, reach decisions about education and careers and understand how strengths, interests and personality fit together to inform ideas about career routes.
She is registered with the Health and Care Professions Council and the Register of Career Development Professionals.
Hannah is a Chartered Psychologist specialising in careers guidance and talent management. She has experience of working with individuals from across the age range (12-70 years) within schools and also with a wide range of different businesses and organisations. Hannah has 20 years experience of guiding and coaching individuals through their career journey, helping them to work towards achieving self-actualisation in their chosen goals. Hannah also has a wealth of experience designing and delivering assessment centre exercises and interviews for a wide range of clients which gives her a unique insight into what different businesses and organisations want in the people they recruit. The work of Csikszentmihalyi underpins Hannah’s work. Furthermore, she believes passionately that all individuals should be encouraged to aspire towards achieving a state of Flow in their chosen career.”