Government reforms to GCSEs and A levels, which start to take effect from September 2015, are continuing to cause confusion amongst parents and students. Subjects with an emphasis on coursework submitted throughout the year are being phased out and the focus should now be on how these changes may impact on students’ choices, particularly at GCSE level.
At this time of year students are faced with important decisions about which areas of study to pursue at GCSE and A level. This is nerve-wracking for students and, considering the recent reforms, it is a testing time for schools as well. There’s still a lot of uncertainty and some of the changes are not easy to understand, but we are here to advise students and to walk parents through the minefield of subject selection. It’s important students receive the support they need at school and at home so they understand their individual strengths and how to expand their horizons so they keep all doors open to them.
For A-level choices, forward-thinking is crucial. Some university courses require certain A-level subjects and this can ultimately affect a student’s career path, so thorough research into university courses is vital at the selection of A-level subjects stage.
Students moving on to GCSE are advised to complement core subjects such as English, maths and sciences with a modern foreign language and a subject in the humanities before looking at their remaining choices.
I strongly believe, for example, that studying at least one humanities and foreign language subject at GCSE allows students to cover all the bases and helps develop certain skills such as clear expression and identifying key ideas – skills which have benefits across all subject areas. I’d also like to stress the importance of doing what you love – a cornerstone of subject selection at GCSE and A level. Success and happiness are inseparable. To ensure our students are given the freedom to study the subjects they are interested in, we build our timetable around their choices rather than prescribe options blocks which can be limiting. Students spend a significant amount of time studying their subjects and it requires dedication to succeed. Without passion for a subject students won’t have the drive to fully commit to it.
Above all, I would offer students the following advice:
• Don’t close doors – choose subjects at GCSE that will enable you to keep your options open at A level
• Get the facts – everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Be thorough and research the course. What topics are involved? What types of assessments are there?
• Don’t be afraid to ask – talk to careers staff, teachers, parents, tutors and older students studying the courses you’re interested in
• If at first you don’t succeed … It’s not always necessary to study something at GCSE in order to study it at A level. If you haven’t achieved what you hoped for at GCSE, expand your horizons and choose something different at A level
• Do what you love. It is important to do what you are good at but perhaps even more important to do what you love – passion is key to success.
Susan Gorham is headteacher of Nottingham Girls’ School