GCSE options

I find it incredible that the time has come for my son to choose his GCSEs. It doesn’t seem long since he was starting secondary school, but we’re halfway through year 9 now and it’s decision time.

I wasn’t sure what options even entailed in this day and age. I knew they would have to take some core subjects, but I didn’t know how much choice there would be beyond that. My husband summed it up with the words: ‘So this is when he can drop RE?’.

In my day, you had to choose from columns and, sometimes, there was just no way you could fit all of the subjects you wanted to do together into the columns. There really wasn’t a lot of choice. I guessed it would be similar for my boy. We went to school to find out more.

I was impressed that he seems to have a lot more choice than I’d had. They have to do English, maths and science, of course. They also do PE and life skills stuff, not as exam subjects. They are advised to do a language. Apparently universities these days like to see a GCSE in a language. I can’t imagine a GCSE grade C in French would have much bearing on your ability to study maths or medicine, but what do I know?

At my son’s school, in addition to their core subjects, they choose two subjects from one box, which they’re guaranteed to get. This includes the more academic subjects, like languages, geography and history. There is a bigger box, which includes the same subjects again, but also lots more subjects, like the arts and business studies. There are lots of different types of art and design & technology (DT), as well as drama and music. You didn’t have a lot of that sort of stuff in my day (I would have loved to do GCSE drama!). From this box, they have to choose four subjects, of which they will be allocated three. So if they really want to do French or geography, they need to choose them from the other box.

My son really wants to do business studies, but he’s started talking himself out of it. He says everyone wants to do it and he doesn’t think he will get it. Well, why wouldn’t he? It seems he has a 75% of getting it. I also doubt that ‘everyone’ wants to do it. Apparently the reason some kids want to do it is because of a year 10 trip to Cadbury World. Not really the best reason to choose a subject.

We got the chance to walk around, look at displays and talk to teachers about the GCSE courses. My son’s attention span was zero. He walked into a crowded room and couldn’t be bothered to wait. He didn’t seem to realise, or care, about the importance. Eventually we managed to actually talk to some teachers.

A display caught my eye. It was about moral issues, like wars and animal testing and some really big questions. That’s just the sort of thing my son likes. He always watches the news and has a far better understanding of world affairs than me. What subject was this? It was RE. The one subject we’d all said he would drop. Apparently RE is a lot about ethics and issues. It sounds really interesting.

We found out about the history syllabus, which doesn’t cover either of the World Wars as the school takes a view that they study them in year 6, year 9 and at A Level, so they do something different in years 10 and 11. My big concern about history is that the first 25% of the final mark is picked up in the first half-term of year 10! So there’s no time for slacking. I’m not sure how well that will suit my son.

He liked the sound of geography and business studies and we ascertained that music would be a viable option for his ‘arty’ subject. Owing to his general attitude to music, specifically his lack of violin practise, I have my concerns about this and had to remind him he will need to give it equal time and status with his other subjects.

After his initial reluctance to engage, the evening turned out to be a useful one for both of us and we came away confident of what he would choose – French and geography as his guaranteed subjects, then history, business studies, music and RE for his optional subjects. I can safely say I never expected a child of mine to study RE! The temptation was to fill the form in there and then and get it straight back, but I wanted to give him to reflect to make sure he’d made the right choices. I told him to look carefully at the assessment criteria for each subject to make sure he was happy with the balance of coursework and exam. Apparently that wasn’t an issue, as he’s good with both of them. (I hope so, although I’ve yet to see evidence of this!)

GCSEs, GCSE options, School, Education, Son

A few days on and the form still hasn’t been handed back in. I suggested he hand it in before half-term (the deadline is the day they go back). But he’s wavering. He’s now not sure about history and is wondering whether he should do one of the DT subjects instead. I know he’s always enjoyed DT, so I don’t have a problem with this, but I would rather he dropped music than history. For someone who isn’t an arty person, it would seem silly to be doing two arty subjects. The reality is, he’s unlikely to get a B in either of them, whereas he should get a B (or hopefully an A) in history.

It’s important to study subjects you like and subjects that will be useful to you in the future, but it’s also important to study the subjects that will give you the best grades. In reality, getting a D doesn’t matter, but I think he would feel happier at getting all his grades at C or above.

So the jury is still out. There’s still a bit of decision-making to do. But I’m glad he’s taking it seriously now and really thinking about what is right for him. I’m confident he will make the right choices in the end.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Eek good luck! Tooke ages to decide and in my day it was picking from columns too so you couldn’t really pick everything you wanted. I ended up picking IT then and a love affair was born 🙂

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    • That’s good that you found the right subject for you unexpectedly! It definitely seems a lot more flexible at my son’s school than it was in my day!

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  2. Hope he picks something he’s happy with. There’s really no need to do an arty subject at all. I missed that out as I was hopeless at anything that involved those type of skills. Dropping some now doesn’t mean he can’t pick them up later. I didn’t do history, but ended up with a history A level and a history degree.

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    • Thanks very much, that’s interesting to know! I do remember a friend who did A Level history, despite not doing GCSE. You’re right, there isn’t actually a need to do an arty subject, and I really don’t think my son should do two! I think it’s going to take the whole of half-term for him to make his final choice.

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  3. It’s interesting what you say about RE. Our family are not religious at all but my daughter loves RE at school because it’s more about ethics (covering fair trade at the moment). And it evidently has the best teacher……

    Hope your son manages to get the options he wants!

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    • Thanks very much! That’s just what I wanted to hear about RE! Sounds like your daughter and my son have a lot in common. Talking about ethics really suits my son.

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  4. Oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine! I was dismayed to find out my 14 year old niece is sitting part of her science GCSE this year, the rest to be taken in a years time…ridiculous!

    I must admit to thinking the whole thing with GCSE’s has turned in to something of a joke, they’re being forced to make what could be life changing decisions at such an early age when to be honest they can barely decide what they want for breakfast let alone the subjects they want to study to lead them in to college or uni and beyond.

    I hope your son gets the subjects he enjoys.

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    • Thanks very much! I think enjoyment is definitely the key thing. Wow, 14 seems incredibly early to be sitting part of the GCSE!
      You’re right, they don’t have much idea about what they want to do in any part of their life at this age, let alone thinking long-term to university and career! I guess keeping their options open and doing a wide range of subjects at this age is the safest bet.

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  5. My son has just selected his A levels, it went like this:
    School email to say here is the form, chat with your child.
    I email school to ask if someone in the boarding team can discuss this with son and his teachers.
    Son emails me to say he’s doing CISCO (software, coding etc) and photography as there is little written work
    School reply suggesting Science
    Son refuses to budge.
    I print, sign and scan form back, as there’s no point in arguing with him.

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    • Sounds stressful! But at least he’s chosen things he likes, so hopefully he will enjoy it and come out with the best possible grades.

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  6. Crikey, it’s so tough, isn’t it? I remember choosing mine and it seemed quite simple at the time because I don’t think there was really that much choice. It was columns for me too 🙂 English, History and French were my top three but then later on, I moved towards maths and finance. It’s such a young age to decide but luckily he has you to guide him.

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    • Thanks very much. It’s surprised me how much choice there is now, compared to ‘our day’. It’s good that you were able to keep your options open enough to move from one area to another.

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  7. when we were choosing for my son, every teacher (except P.E.!) wanted him to do their subjects. He ended up doing 12. Music usually does include performance as well as written work and composition. Has he any idea what he wants to do later? Whatever he (and you) decide, it’s never wrong. If they need something else later, it can be studied elsewhere. Good Luck!

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    • Thank you for such a lovely and reassuring comment! There are no teachers begging for my son to do their subjects. He doesn’t know what he wants to do when he’s older, but I think it might involve business as he’s quite an ideas person. His music GCSE does have a performance element, but he doesn’t seem worried by that (I’d actually like him to be a bit more worried!).

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  8. Thanks very much! I’m sure he will. I’m glad he’s not rushing into it. x

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  9. You’re putting a lot more thought and consideration into subject choices than I did. Lol. Drama was my only D grade, but then I point blank refused to do the written work for it so I lost 40% of my marks that way. I wish I’d picked history instead of geography as I was better at that. I left school with one A, four B’s, three C’s and a D. The C subjects were the ones I messed around in (geography and science). In my day it was year 11 that counted for most. I ended up in solitary confinement because I rebelled too much. Lol.

    I’m sure you will guide him towards the right decisions. Xx

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    • Impressed that you managed to get a D when you missed nearly half of the work! Made me laugh at the thought of you in solitary confinement! I’m going to do my best to guide him, although it’s never easy with teenagers! x

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  10. Is he up for advice? Having experience half a year of music GCSE, I would suggest no one takes it as an option, unless they are at least Grade 3 in an instrument (possibly higher) and seriously interested in music. It’s flipping hard and a lot of composition as well as performing. I think it’s the hardest GCSE my daughter has chosen. She is doing RS and is really enjoying the topics. At her school it is compulsory. I think they advise a language and another humanities subject because that would give them the equivalent of the french baccalaureate which we are moving towards. I don’t think that I put any consideration into my subject choices. I realise now that that was a mistake!

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    • Thanks very much for the advice, it’s much appreciated! My son is working towards grade 3 and has never done composition, so that’s very useful to have the tip-off.

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  11. It does come round really quickly and before you know it, you will be choosing A levels. I think the key is to choose subjects that you enjoy. Unless you are really sure of what you want to do in the future (which very few thirteen year olds do), it is great to do subjects that you enjoy and will do well in. It is great that there is more choice but sometimes that can be tricky too. Business Studies is a good one to do and it is really interesting and no the trip shouldn’t be a good reason to do the subject as it is quite hard.

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    • Thanks very much, that’s useful advice from someone who has been there! My advice to him is definitely to do subjects he enjoys, so I think he will make the right decisions. Fingers crossed!

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  12. Ah this brings back memories! My son did this two years ago. His options were limited if he wanted to take triple science, which you can only do if you’re in the higher sets (still have no clue how he ended up in the higher sets lol)! He does like the sciences though. He dropped language against my wishes but in the end I didn’t want to fight him on it.He said he hated it and I thought he wouldn’t do well in a subject he hated and was forced to take. He did take two arts, Art and Graphics which he loves but I will say it is a lot of work…. worth it though as no need to revise at the end. History and geography I’ve heard are the hardest subjects. Good luck to your boy and it sounds like you’re being wonderfully supportive xx

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    • Thanks very much! To be honest, I would have supported my boy to drop the language as he doesn’t seem to enjoy it and isn’t very good at it, but he’s got his reasons for sticking with it, so I will support him. I think the school allocate them either double or triple science at some point, but I’m not sure what he’s going to be given yet. It makes sense for your boy to do two arts if he enjoys them and is good at them. I remember how much work I put into my art GCSE and A Level, they’re certainly not easy options!

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