When it’s time for your child to choose their GCSE options, they’re likely to benefit from your support as a parent. So how can you help them choose GCSE subjects that are right for their future career options, skills and interests?
It may sometimes seem like your child is determined to test and prove their independence, but our Youth Voice Census annual survey shows that young people put parents high on the list in terms of people who influence their career and education decisions. Your input really does matter!
GCSES are not the end of the world
One of the key things your child will be facing is the anxiety and stress that surrounds making big decisions that could affect the rest of your life.
One of the most helpful things you can do as a parent is help to reduce that stress. Choosing GCSE subjects can be reframed as an exciting step, not one beset by fear.
Think about what you remember from your own GCSEs (or the equivalent). How many did you take? In which subjects? And what grades did you get? The likelihood is that you can’t remember.
Choosing GCSEs can support your child’s future, but really isn’t the only thing that shapes it. There’s no such thing as making a genuinely terrible mistake in choices.
GCSE options can feel big, and they’re important, but mistakes can be learned from, and anything your child chooses is likely to help them grow their self-awareness in the long run.
Parents – these are not your GCSE options, and they do not represent your goals and future. These decisions are for your child to make.
It’s tempting to give your child a shopping list of to-dos and expectations. However, you won’t be the one spending the next few years learning subjects and taking exams in them. Your child is their own person, and may flourish in careers and areas you’d never have considered.
As a parent, aim to support your child in knowing HOW to choose, not WHAT too choose.
Your school will help to cover the basics with core GCSE subjects
Many schools have it built into the system that children study for core subjects including English, maths and science. Your child may have varying levels of interest and ability in these areas, but they are rarely up for discussion.
That means your school has already helped you cover the basics in terms of an all-round education that will serve your child well in their transition from education to work.
7 questions your child can ask themselves when choosing their GCSE options
Thinking about having a conversation with your child about choosing subjects and not sure where to start?
Ask your child to consider these questions when putting together their final list of choices…
Should I choose subjects I’m good at for GCSE? (the answer is often yes – your child will get good results, which will help build their confidence and understanding).
Should I choose GCSE subjects based on my likes and interests? (Enjoyment helps students progress in their studies. It’s find to do a subject just because you like it. For example, theatre studies could lead to a career in theatre – but it could also help your child learn to express themselves with confidence AND memorise and retain information. These transferable skills are useful in any future career). Your child should consider if they would be interested in the things they’d be learning, and if they could build the skills the subject requires.
Should I choose a GCSE subject because I like the teacher? (Teachers come and go, and may not stick around – but they can also inspire a child to do their best. The person the child most needs to impress is themselves.)
Should I choose a GCSE subject because my friends are doing it? (Your child will most likely retain their current friendship groups and also make new friends through their choice of subjects. Doing different GCSEs shouldn’t have any effect on a child’s friendships).
Should I think about high paid jobs when I’m choosing GSEs? (If your child is thinking about future money goals, it may be that they are still open to options and don’t have a set career in mind. They will feel happiest if they progress into jobs they enjoy and feel able to do well and grow in. Time and passion leads to a higher salary in a wide range of jobs, and GCSE options need not play a huge part in this aspect of decision making).
Should I go for more or fewer GCSE subjects? (Both employers and further education establishments like universities typically look for high passes in student qualifications. Universities and colleges may only accept 9-4 GCSE pass grades for many degree courses. More GCSEs means a well-rounded education and lots of variety learning. Streamlining the number of GCSEs may help your child give more time to each subject and increase chances of a high pass. Do keep in mind that each GCSE your child takes on will require a substantial amount of work. If both you and your child aren’t sure, recommend that they talk to a teacher or education provider about how many GCSE subjects they should take.)
Are my A-level choices affected by my GCSE choices? (Some A-level options don’t require you to have studied them at GCSE first – for example, psychology, economics, media studies or law. For other subjects your child will most likely need the GCSE, so they can check with a teacher to make sure. Some A-levels, like science, may no longer be open to your child if they choose a single science at GCSE. Taking double award science (core + additional) or triple award science (physics, chemistry and biology) at GCSE will help to keep your child’s future options open. They don’t have to be a chemist or scientist when they grow up, but we live in an age of tech, and that dream phone design job or specialised journalist job might be harder to achieve without that extra GCSE science qualification).
Do my GCSE options affect my university chances? (Most universities need you to have English and maths GCSEs… which is handy, because you’ll be studying them as core GCSE subjects anyway.
For some degrees, or careers, their requirements for GCSE and A-level subjects aren’t too limiting. For example, most universities don’t mind which subjects you’ve studied before if you want to do a law degree – they just want you to have done well in the subjects you chose.
In some cases, your child may need specific A-levels (and therefore the GCSEs they need to do those A-levels) to get on certain university courses (e.g. the sciences, history or foreign languages).
Should I take subjects which aren’t GCSEs… like BTECs? (The school may have a range of non-GCSE options like BTECs. Your child can still apply to university if they’re taking BTECs at GCSE level, or BTECs instead of A-levels.)
A final checklist for your child’s list of GCSE choices
- Have a good general spread of subjects (so not pure science and maths, and not pure art or sport)?
- Feature ‘traditional’ subjects (like history or geography) so your child has plenty of future options and a chance to impress universities and employers?
- Feature subjects your child will enjoy doing and want to learn?
If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, the chances are your child has created a balanced final list of GCSE options that will make their next two years rewarding ones and set them up for later life.