Advising students about GCSE choices: the basics
Get to grips with the key issues around choosing GCSEs. This introductory guide will help you understand the facts and advise your students effectively.
Most schools offer GCSEs as a two-year programme in Years 10 and 11. But, recent curriculum changes and the extra challenge of the new GCSEs, especially maths, has led more schools to introduce a three-year GCSE programme from Year 9 for at least some subjects.
How many GCSE subjects is best?Most students will do nine or 10 subjects depending on how your school organises its curriculum. In order to secure the best grades it’s best not to overload students; more than 10 can be counterproductive.
Equally, unless there are specific educational or health circumstances involved, fewer than eight leaves little scope for choices and narrows experience. It would also need to be explained if and when a student applies for university.
GCSE curriculum changes explainedGCSEs are undergoing significant changes in grading, difficulty and content. New GCSEs in English and maths were introduced in 2015 and, by September 2017, all subjects will be reformed or discontinued.
How new GCSEs are gradedGrading is on a scale of 9 to 1:
- Grades 7, 8 and 9 are equivalent to A / A* BUT fewer students will get a 9 compared with the 7-8% in the past who achieved A*s.
- The threshold for Grade 7 is equivalent to that required for an A grade.
- Achieving at least Grades 5 or 6 is essential to pursue A-level programmes in most institutions.
- Initially the same proportion of students will be awarded a grade 4 and above as achieved C or above in the old system.
- A Grade 4 is equivalent to the lower end of the grade C and a Grade 5 is being seen by many as the new benchmark for what is termed a ‘good pass’.
What else is different?New GCSEs are more difficult too - there is more content and no coursework or controlled assessment - except in creative and practical subjects. Qualifications are linear, with examinations usually at the end of two years of study.
Make sure you are aware of these changes and the implications for students. Check out the Ofqual website, exam board websites and the Which? University guide to GCSE changes.
- English (language and/or literature)
- Science (combined – two GCSEs as minimum)
- Arts (e.g. drama, music, art)
- Design and technology (e.g. electronics, food and nutrition)
- Humanities (e.g. geography, history, RS)
- Modern foreign languages (e.g. French, Spanish)
For example, excellent linguists may wish to take two languages and this may mean, depending on the number of subjects a school wishes them to follow, they might not select an arts or a design and technology option.
Other options include
- Physical education
- Classical civilisation
What about the EBacc?The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is a performance measure to assess the percentage of students in each school who study and achieve good grades (probably Grade 4 or 5 in future) in English, maths, sciences (includes computing), a language and a humanities subject. It’s a good idea to ensure that as many students as possible have access to a programme which offers them the EBacc subjects.
How important are GCSEs when applying to uni?GCSE choices and grades are relevant to university admissions. Tucked away in admissions requirements on uni websites you will find details of GCSE expectations - these are most demanding for subjects like medicine or veterinary science but many courses will have some basic minimum requirements.
For example, this is what University College London (UCL) states in its admissions requirements:
- Make them aware of the requirements for A-levels in your school.
- Show them how to check university website information.
- Direct them to check that their choices meet any requirements and to confirm when submitting their choices that they have done the appropriate research.
- See our advice page for students on GCSE changes explained
- See Advising about GCSE choices: what to include in your programme
- Here's why your GCSE grades are important