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Our teacher pages include both the guidance that your students will be able to see, and guidance catered to you as their teacher. Look out for our Teacher Information boxes for any information relevant to your role and our best advice and tips on how to support your young learners. For additional support for you students, see our Outreach Activities which can be delivered in your education setting, or take a look through our resources which include lesson plans, worksheets, useful videos and more.
Options at 14
In Year 9 you will be choosing your GCSEs or Level 2 equivalent vocational qualifications such as BTEC Certificate/Diploma, OCR/City and Guilds or NVQ/T-Level qualifications.
Will we have Teacher Assessed Grades again?
Exams expected to take place in the 2021/22 academic year as Government and Ofqual launch consultations on arrangements to mitigate disruption to education (12 July 2021).
The government has stated:
“Exams are the best and fairest form of assessment, but the disruption caused by the pandemic meant it would not have been fair to young people for exams to take place this summer. Instead, teachers have determined young people’s grades, using a range of evidence to assess their performance. Detailed guidance and training has been provided to support schools, and a series of checks have been put in place to make sure grades reflect students’ abilities.”
It is likely that the government will aim to set lower grade boundaries for students as a reflection of the difficulties they have faced as a result of the pandemic. Teachers should aim to focus their students’ learning to topics which will give them the best ability to demonstrate their understanding, in line with some of the adjustments that the government propose to make:
- Giving schools and colleges some choice about the topics or content their students will be assessed in GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography;
- Providing advance information of the focus of exam content, to help students focus their revision;
- Giving students a formulae sheet in GCSE mathematics and an expanded equations sheet in GCSE physics and combined science;
- Changing requirements for practical science work and practical art and design assessments.
For more information, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/proposals-set-out-for-exams-and-assessments-in-2022
Why are GCSEs important?
For most young people, choosing your GCSEs is the first significant decision you will make about your own education. While your future career may seem a long way off, it’s important that you think carefully about your GCSE choices.
The decisions you make now – and the grades you will achieve – can have an impact on what you can do later in life.
- Your GCSE results may affect your options at 16 and beyond – for example which A levels or BTECs you can take.
- Most college and university courses, and many jobs, and apprenticeships, require good passes in GCSE English and Maths.
- Many university courses require a certain number of GCSE passes. Degrees in some subjects, such as medicine, have specific GCSE requirements in terms of the subjects studied, the number of GCSE passes and the grades achieved.
However, if you don't have a clear idea about what you will do in the future, don’t worry. Taking a broad range of subjects – including English, maths, sciences, a language and humanities subjects such as history, geography and drama – will help you to keep your options open when it comes to next steps.
So what are GCSEs?
These are the general qualifications you will do usually in Y10 and Y11 but some schools start in Y9.
You will choose your GCSE subjects in Year 9 (Y8 in some schools) and then study these subjects until Year 11.
How many GCSEs should I do?
Doing up to 9 or 10 subjects is common, but the ‘right’ number will depend on your academic abilities and whether your teachers have any recommendations. Some children do as many as 12, but this means a bigger workload and more exam pressure, which can, in turn, lead to lower grades overall, so it’s important to balance quantity with quality.
GCSEs are assessed by exams taken at the end of the two-year course.
Your school might also offer BTEC or T-Level qualifications in certain subjects which you can take alongside your other GCSE topics.
What subjects can I choose from?
GCSEs include subjects:
- you have to do - such as English, Maths and Science (core science, double science or triple science).
- you can choose to continue with or not - in one option within each of four subject areas, known as ‘Entitlement areas; These are
- arts, including art and design, music, dance, drama and media arts
- design and technology
- humanities, for example, history and geography
- modern foreign languages
You don't have to take a subject from every area, but taking a broad range of subjects will ensure you have plenty of options later, as you might not be able to take every subject you like – usually because of timetable clashes.
You might also be able to choose courses which are new to you, which might be work-related qualifications - such as health and social care, business and media.
Most GCSEs will be good general preparation for further learning and work so it’s not crucial to choose specific subjects to fit with a specific career at this stage.
There are a few things to bear in mind when choosing:
- If you are looking for a future career or course in science, health care or medicine then choose double or triple Science.
- If you want to have a career in art or design in the future, then choose an arts-focused GCSE.
- If you want to deal with customers from other countries or work abroad then a language will be very useful.
Here are some other useful tips on how to and how not to choose your GCSEs.
How do I choose?
- Find out what subjects your school is offering. These will usually be advertised on the school website or the school will give you an options booklet.
- Find out how the course is assessed. Are you someone who does better in coursework than in exams? If so, some of the vocational [work related] courses might be worth considering.
- Trying to choose between two subjects? Think about how each option fits with your other GCSEs. Does a subject go well with your other choices? Or does a subject provide a welcome change? If you’re taking lots of science and maths-based subjects, it can be good to include one choice which is essay based.
How not to choose
Choosing a subject because:
- You’ve heard it's easy
- Your parents want you to do it
- You like the teacher [you may not be in their class]
- Your friend says they’re doing it! [you might not be in the same class]
What are the most important GCSE subjects?
Maths and English are the most important subjects as they are a requirement for most courses, apprenticeships, jobs and university degrees. You will usually need at least a grade 4 and above in Maths and English before you can get into these. With a grade 4 and above in Maths and English, you will have a much greater number of opportunities open to you.
Some sixth forms and most colleges offer a range of Maths and English courses for students who need to retake one or both of these subjects after 16.
Good to know...
How to support students in choosing GCSEs
Get your young people to consider the careers which different subjects could lead them to.
- This isn’t set in stone, but it will help to broaden their horizons and consider possible careers that they did not know about before.
Ensure they consider the exams or coursework involved, some students may struggle retaining knowledge, and they could be naturally suited to Vocational Subjects requiring coursework.
- This does not mean that they cannot study subjects with exams, if they are passionate about the subject then they may just need more support with study skills, exams skills or time management.
Discuss what other subjects they may want to study.
- This will enable you to help them if they are struggling with what route they may want to take. You could advise them about variations of subjects that will work well alongside each other, for example, written subjects like English, History, Religious Education, Social Sciences etc.
- You can use this opportunity to discuss possible FE and HE Options. If you have a particularly creative student, are they taking a variety of Arts Subjects, including Music, Performing Arts, Art, Photography? How will other subjects fit in with these as a possible Career Path?
Encourage your young people to still work hard in their compulsory subjects, they are as important as their optional subjects.
- For many students, English, Maths, Science and any other subject that is compulsory in their school will often be met with low enthusiasm. This isn’t personal to their teachers but may just be a result of differing interests or finding the subject hard.
- Encourage students to consider the transferable skills gained from this subject that they will be able to develop and utilise in their future, make them aware of this, and use it to keep them motivated!
Most importantly: Support your students!
- At this young age, student’s GCSEs may be a very stressful time. Increasingly, more students are struggling with mental health issues, stress and anxiety. Notice the signs that they may be struggling and ensure that they know that you are there to help them. Provide extra support for them when you can and help them to meet their deadlines for work. If you are concerned about them, always check in with their Form Tutor so that they are aware and can check on their progress with other subject teachers.
Know what you want to do in the future.
Some careers such as being an architect, a vet or working with languages may require specific degree courses.
In this case, work backwards - to get into these degree courses you may need specific A-Levels/Level 3 qualifications, and to do these you may need certain GCSE subjects and grades.
Check out what GCSE/A-Level subjects and grades you need for particular degree courses on UCAS.
It's important to consider what type of careers you may be interested to access in the future as certain schools/colleges may not consider BTEC or T-Level qualifications if you want to progress onto A-Levels, which would then limit your options of University study later on.