The GCSE options

The time has come for my younger son to take his GCSE options.

Since my eldest did his options three years ago, a lot has changed. When my eldest did his GCSEs, only maths and English were on the new 9 to 1 gradings. By the time my younger son takes his exams in two and a bit years, it will be the third year with all subjects graded 9 to 1.

At my son’s school, there are six core subjects which everyone has to do, which is probably slightly more than most schools. The core subjects are maths, English language, English literature, biology, chemistry and physics. I think a lot of schools do a combined science GCSE, worth two GCSEs, which is certainly what my eldest did.

In addition to the core subjects, my son has four options. The school wants them to take at least one language and one humanity. If they want to, they can take two languages and two humanities.

Most schools have their subjects arranged into columns and you have to pick a subject from each column. Some subjects might appear in two columns to make it easier, but it can be impossible to piece it all together to get the right subjects. Our school doesn’t do this – kids have completely free rein over what they choose, although they do have to pick a reserve subject just in case the school can’t make it work. But apparently less than 10% of kids don’t get their four chosen subjects.

Regular readers will know my son is at a grammar school for very high achievers, but the school sees no benefit in the kids doing 11 or 12 GCSEs, just because they are capable of it. Doing 11 or 12 GCSEs won’t help them with their A Levels or get them to a better university, but it will stop them enjoying life and having time to relax and enjoy sport.

The school also made it clear that there is no subject more important than any other and no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ subject. So geography isn’t more important than DT and history isn’t more important than computing. Kids should choose their GCSEs because they enjoy the subject and because they’re good at it. There’s no harm in a child who wants to be a doctor doing art.

GCSEs, GCSE options, School, Education, Son

My son was clear he didn’t want to do French or history and that he did want to do German and geography. In ‘my day’, and even at my eldest’s comprehensive, PE was seen as something that the ‘thick kids’ did. At my son’s school, there are clearly no ‘thick kids’. My son loves sport and he’s good at it. So why not do PE? There’s a big academic element to it and it is a good fit with biology, and potentially for anyone thinking of studying medicine.

So what else would he do? There’s PTE (philosophy, theology and ethics), which he is good at, but he really doesn’t like the religious aspects. He’s never shown any interest in business or computing and he’s not very good at DT.

I knew what I wanted him to take and I was pleased he wanted to take it too.


Ever since he’s been at secondary school, he’s surprised us with his art. He has got very good ideas and he executes them pretty well. He might not get a 9 in it, but he will certainly get a 7 or 8.

So he’s opting for art. Even though his brother and most of his friends think he’s mad. I think it’s a very good choice. And he’s going for PTE for his reserve subject.

Geography, German, PE and art.

I think he’s chosen a really good mix of subjects for his GCSE options and I’m sure he will enjoy studying them over the next couple of years.

Painting, Artwork, Landscape, Silent Sunday, GCSE options, My Sunday Photo







Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. I agree with you that art is a good choice. It’s supposed to be so therapeutic to do art, and I’m sure that he will feel that way when he does it at school. He’s still learning but also learning to take time doing something he enjoys. It’s certainly something I could do with learning!

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    • Ha ha, I think we could all learn to do that! His friends and his brother think he’s mad for taking art, which makes me admire him even more for it. x

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  2. It sounds like your son has chosen a good mix of subjects. The school sound like they are very relaxed at letting the children and parents decide what is right for them…
    My teen didn’t have much luck with her options. She’s only doing 2 out of the 4 she chose but she’s doing OK. One of her 2nd choices is one of her favourite subjects now. (Statistics). x

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    • I was very impressed by the school’s attitude at not pushing them towards all the academic subjects, as they’ve already got six academic subjects before they even start on their options. It’s a shame your daughter only got half of hers, but glad it’s worked out for her. x

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  3. It’s nice to read that grammar schools take art and design as seriously as other subjects. I was trying to dissuade my daughter from taking the late grammar test as she wants a career in design and I was worried that a grammar school would be very much focussed on academic subjects and perhaps not so good for design based subjects. The other school she was looking at (non grammar) allows her to take 4 design subjects for GCSE. x

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    • Wow, four design subjects is a lot! They’re quite big on design at my daughter’s school – there’s art, textiles and DT and I think they do some other design subjects in year 8. The grammar schools are actually very good at treating the kids as rounded individuals and they like them to do sport, art, drama, music etc in addition to their academic subjects. x

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  4. Sarah,

    Ten GCSEs seems more than enough.
    Back in the day, none of us took an O-level (GCSE) in PE, and most of us took Latin.

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    • Ten subjects is definitely enough! I did nine and most kids at my school did eight, some kids only did seven.

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  5. We have this after half term with R and he is still really undecided about his subjects. His strengths are maths and science and he already knows that he wants to do a maths degree so I’m not sure which other subjects he will take. That is brilliant that they can choose any combination as the column method can be really restricting

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    • Good luck to R and you! It’s great that he already knows where he wants to get to ultimately, so he can work towards that aim. We just have to cross our fingers now that my son does get all the subjects he wants.

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