It is options time in this house and even though there aren’t that many options to take with many of the subjects being compulsory, it has been a hot topic of conversation in this house over the last couple of weeks. My son is in Year 9 and is having to choose his GCSE options over the next couple of weeks.
It can be both difficult and stressful for teenagers to choose their options, many have absolutely no idea what they want to do when they leave school and that time also seems so far in the future, they don’t really want to have to think about it. Suddenly, they are given this list of subjects and told how important it is to make the right decision now as it can have an impact on their choices for A Levels and college courses but also for university options and jobs.
That can seem like a whole load of pressure at a time when hormones are raging and life can sometimes seem quite stressful already.
With our teen, he has an interest in science and maths. He talked last year about possibly going into medicine or physiotherapy but after attending a careers evening at his school at the beginning of Year 9, he was totally inspired by the possibilities maths could offer him. He is lucky that maths comes very naturally to him, like his father, and he not only gets maths but he really enjoys it. After the careers evening, he was certain that maths was the way forward and that he would like to do A-Level maths and maybe a maths degree at university.
Maths is, of course, one of the compulsory subjects, so we had to look at the subjects that would work well for him for GCSEs alongside his core subjects. In his school, he has to do maths, English, science and a language. His choice of language was always going to be French, I wouldn’s say that he loves French but he finds it quite easy and at least I can help him with his homework and learning, so I think that will work well for him and there are huge benefits to having at least one language to GCSE. For his remaining choices, we encouraged him to choose the subjects that he enjoys.
Business studies was always top of the list. I think and hope that he will enjoy this subject. A lot of the content is common sense and he already has an interest in current affairs which will help.
He has done well in art this year and whilst art is a good subject to take when all of the other subjects are academic, it is a tough one to balance time-wise as it can take up a lot of time, so I was glad that he didn’t want to take it next year. His marks in history and geography were pretty much equal, so he has chosen geography as he finds it more interesting.
That left one subject. PE was always high on his list of choices and I am glad that we looked into this one as it would have turned out to be a nightmare if he had taken it. 30 percent of the course is assessed on the student’s chosen sports and they have to do three from quite a prescribed list. The teen has dropped many of his sports now to focus on his rugby and the other option would have been Tae Kwon Do which he has done to a fairly high level, but martial arts are no longer on the list. It is a shame as much of the course would have really suited the teen as he already has such an interest in the health and physical side of the course, but he wasn’t willing to do the additional sports, so that was off the table.
His final choice, in the end, was RE. I have to admit that I did RE to A Level which I never regretted as it was always such an interesting subject. Of course, there is a religious aspect to the course, but it is so much more than that, with a look at some pretty interesting issues from a religious, social and ethical point of view. The teen has thoroughly enjoyed RE this year, enjoyed having interesting topics to reflect on and give his opinion on and it is one subject where he really contributes in lessons. So RE it is.
So after many weeks and months of discussion, the teen’s option forms are in. I am happy that he has made the right decision for him and I think he will enjoy his GCSE years which in turn will hopefully motivate him to do well.
So how can you help your teen make the right choices? Here are a few tips that I have picked up along the way.
You need to take time to read through the information available so that you are fully equipped with everything you need to know about the different subjects. Most schools provide an options booklet with key information about each subject which is designed for both students and parents to read through. If you need more information, there is also lots of advice and support online.
The important thing is to remember that it is their choice and not yours. Ultimately, you want them to do the very best they can in their GCSEs but they need to be doing subjects that they enjoy as well as the subjects that they will do their best in.
Don’t overload them
Most schools will already have a system in place for the number of GCSEs they require students to do. For more able students, there is sometimes the opportunity to do additional subjects, but it is important to consider whether that is the best option. With the changes to GCSEs, this year is the first year where all subjects will be graded 9 – 1 instead of the old system of A* – G. Many teachers are already commenting that it is harder to gain the top grades and with many subjects no longer having a coursework option, it is probably better to concentrate on doing better on a smaller number of subjects than taking on additional subjects at this stage.
Attend the key events in school
Many schools will arrange and Options Evening where parents and students can get more information about the different subjects and talk to staff about the subjects, what is involved and if they know your son or daughter, they can also comment on the suitability.
Careers evenings are also a really good idea, even in Year 9 as they can provide careers advice, offer advice on which subjects suit certain careers and for student’s without any career ideas, it might even give something that inspires or motivates them.
Don’t rush it
Take some time to reflect on the options available. Most schools will give you a few weeks to take in the information and use it. Make sure that your teen is completely happy with their choices before the form goes back to school.
Encourage Extra-Curricular Activities
With thoughts turning to exams and teachers talking about studying hard and preparing for the exams ahead, it is so important for teenagers to carry on with clubs and activities outside school. Not only is it good for them to use on applications for jobs and UCAS applications when they are applying to universities, it is time for them unwind, relax and clear their heads.
The GCSE years pass by so quickly that it won’t be long before you are awaiting results and thinking ahead to the post 16 options. The Russell Group website has a really clear and useful guide to subject choices for A Level which is invaluable if your son or daughter is planning on going to university. I have recommended this website to lots of parents and they have found it to be really helpful it is well worth a look whether you are looking at Russell Group universities or not. For students who would prefer to take apprenticeship route, UCAS and GOV.UK both have lots of information which make a great starting point.