In the world of education making the step up from Year 9 to Year 10 is referred to as one of the key transition points. A fancy term which just indicates that something important is happening; so everyone (especially parents and carers) should pay attention!
Very few 13 or 14 year olds have more than a very fuzzy idea about what they would like to do by way of a job in later life. That is perfectly normal and not in any way a cause for concern. Pupils in Year 9 tend to be just at the beginning of the process of thinking about their futures.
Nevertheless, the choice of courses or subjects they make in Year 9 can have an effect on decisions they are able to make later on.
In reality the system places big restrictions on the amount of choice available for Key Stage 4. State secondary schools are required to operate within rules which mean that all pupils must carry on with English, Mathematics and Science. In addition to that they must make their pupils choose at least one subject from these four groups of subjects:
Some schools will offer vocational qualifications alongside the traditional GCSEs. These courses are combined with GCSEs and provide a more practical kind of learning which is related to future employment opportunities. Substituting a vocational course for some GCSEs may be the right decision for some young people but it does depend on the courses on offer and how these match your child’s career aims and academic ability. Find out about opportunities to progress to employment (perhaps through an apprenticeship) or to a higher level vocational course after this one.
Choosing Key stage 4 subjects
Most GCSEs provide a good general preparation for further learning and work and, for the majority of students, keeping a specific subject or dropping it is not going to have a radical effect on their future lives.
Having said that, some specific subject combinations can be beneficial or even crucial for students who are drawn strongly to certain specialised careers with a very high knowledge or technical component.
Examples would include:
In cases like this it is important to think carefully about any option choices that might be available relating to these subjects:
GCSEs needed for advanced level (or Level 3) courses
If your child is thinking about doing an advanced level course post-16 such as A Levels, Level 3 Diplomas etc. they should find out what GCSE subjects and grades are needed.
GCSEs needed for Higher Education
Students thinking about higher education should be aware that certain highly competitive courses and universities are interested in subjects studied, and grades attained, at GCSE as well as advanced level qualifications.
Many institutions have a general requirement that English at grade C or higher must be included. Some others will require Maths also.
Some university courses, like Sciences, Mathematical subjects, Engineering, Health Care courses etc. will be looking for specific GCSEs at particular grades in Science subjects and Maths. And other courses, for example Psychology and Business, often demand at least a B grade in Mathematics and sometimes sciences too.
A number of universities specify that numbers of GCSEs and grades are achieved at the same sitting.
further reading: What are the changes to GCSEs about?
Some other issues
For many students the priority should be taking a broad and balanced set of GCSEs and achieving the best possible grades. When they examine the option choices offered by their school they will find it quite easy to make their selection.
But for high achieving students or those with a particular career in mind it is important to check the implications of dropping or selecting particular subjects. Grades of B, A or A* may be necessary in certain subjects or to get on to certain degree courses. These young people should do the research needed to ensure they don’t make a big mistake.
If in any doubt, seek advice from teachers, university staff or a careers adviser.
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Designed for professionals, the Career Alchemy blog mixes news, career trends and philosophy with "how to" advice to help you achieve happiness and success in your working life, no matter how much the world of work is changing.