Choosing your Year 9 options
What are the options open to me?
Schools now offer vocational qualifications such as BTECs, in addition to GCSE courses. BTECs are available in subjects linked to an area of work, for example sport. Understanding these qualifications and how they are taught and assessed is important. For example, BTECs are usually coursework based and often appeal to students who find exams difficult. GCSEs are not necessarily better than BTECs. What is important is what would be better for you!
Can I choose all of my subjects or are some compulsory?
Most schools allow students to choose some of their GCSE subjects. English, Maths and Science are compulsory and are the ones that colleges, universities and employers think are important. In Wales Welsh is also compulsory either as a first or second language GCSE. Religious Education can also be a compulsory short course in many schools. You also have to take lessons in Personal and Social Education (PSE) and PE.
Do I really need qualifications? My aunt has a really good job and she left school with 1 C Grade.
Recent research shows that the lower a person's qualifications, the harder it may be to find a job, especially one which is well paid. If you continue with your learning in school, college or at university, or find a job with training such as a traineeship or apprenticeship, then you are more likely to improve your future job prospects.
My friend is taking the Welsh Baccalaureate, what is it?
The Welsh Baccalaureate is available to 14 – 19 year olds and combines personal development skills with existing qualifications, like GCSEs. Studying the Welsh Baccalaureate will give you an extra qualification that is recognised and valued by employers and universities. As part of the course, you will study Welsh culture and politics and you will also develop other skills, such as presenting and research. The qualification is currently coursework based which also gives you the option of doing a project.
What should I think about when deciding my options?
It sounds obvious but think about what your good at, not so good at and what you enjoy studying. Ask your teachers to be honest with you. Get their opinions about how subjects are assessed and how they think you might perform. If you are always being nagged to do your coursework, is it really wise taking subjects that are completely coursework based?
Remember to choose the subject and not the teacher. Basing your decisions on whether or not you get on with particular teachers is not a good idea. They might not teach you and they may even leave your school before you even start your GCSEs. Don’t base your choices on what your friends are doing either. Choose for yourself! You need to look forward to your lessons not dread them.
Think long term. If you do have definite ideas about the career you want in the future check entry requirements carefully. Science careers for example, will require you to have followed at least Double Award Science. Thinking ahead also applies to college, sixth form and university. Research new subjects and new qualifications thoroughly and ensure you understand what you are letting yourself in for.
Who can help me decide?
Family and friends can share their experiences with you and your teachers will also be a good source of help. Just remember if you’re good at their subject then they’ll want you to take it! Your parents and caregivers are also likely to have an opinion. However, things will have changed since ‘their day’ so it’s a good idea to make sure they fully understand changes in qualifications and subject content. Your school careers adviser and careerswales.com are also valuable sources of help.
My dad says GCSE's in IT and Languages are important these days, is this right?
A GCSE in languages is important if you want to study that language further, work with languages or even work for a company with links overseas. You can pick up conversational language skills, which don’t necessarily require qualifications. Computer skills are important these days for most jobs. However, again, it isn’t always necessary to get a qualification in IT. You probably have the sufficient computer skills required for most everyday jobs.
I'm not able to take Music or Drama in my school. Does this mean I can't be an actor?
NO! You can pick up drama at college or sixth form, but think about joining a local drama/theatre group. If you have music lessons outside school and have gained grade 5 in BOTH practical and theory, then this is usually considered the equivalent of GCSE. You can study lots of subject areas at college or sixth form but not necessarily have studied them at GCSE. For example, sport, motor vehicle studies and childcare. If in doubt, check it out!
I'm not very good at schoolwork. Does this mean I won't get a job when I leave?
Qualifications are important but you can gain valuable skills and experience from the things that you do outside school. Playing sport competitively, belonging to a club, volunteering and babysitting, demonstrate that you can work as part of a team, communicate with others, solve problems and follow instructions.
If I don’t take a subject at GCSE, can I still do it at A level?
Some A levels need a GCSE in the same subject, for example Maths, the Sciences, English, Welsh, Modern Foreign Languages, but with others such as Law, Economics or Business Studies, a GCSE in the same subject isn’t needed. If you’re already thinking about courses you’d like to take after Year 11, it’s worth double checking their entry requirements before making your final choices.