Tuesday, February 24, 2009

GCSE Options

Background for non-UK readers: From age 14 to 18 - the equivalent of high school in the US - school students in the UK study for a series of public examinations. The first two years are spent working for GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) or an equivalent qualification in a range of subjects. English, maths and science are compulsory for everyone, and individual schools will often add one or two more compulsory subjects. Then students add extra subjects of their choice, usually taking around 10 GCSEs in total.

Angel has to choose her GCSE courses for next year this week, and I thought it might be interesting for those of you who are home educating, or whose children are not at this stage yet, or who are not in the UK, to see what options she has. It is very different from the way things were when I was her age and had a very limited choice of O-Levels (the predecessor of GCSEs, taken by those of us over a certain age!). Her school is a large comprehensive - over 300 students in her year alone, of all abilities. I suspect the size means that they have a bigger choice of subjects and subject combinations than most.

Four subjects, typically resulting in 6 GCSEs, are compulsory ... English (separate language and literature GCSEs), maths, science (usually a double science option giving 2 GCSEs) and religious studies (general philosophy and ethics, supposed to be suitable for those of any religion or none). The most scientifically able can do separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSEs, and strugglers do a single science GCSE. There is also two hours a week of compusory PE. All in all, the compulsory subjects take up 30 weeks of their 50 hour / 2 week rotating timetable.

In addition to the compulsory subjects students have to choose four optional ones, each taught for five hours over a two week period. Most options result in a single GCSE, but there are also some subjects that give qualifications considered to be an equivalent level - applied GCSEs (work related and more practical than standard GCSEs), City and Guilds and BTEC (practical qualifications) and ASDAN (general skill development). There are four specialist options which are taught for 10 hours every two weeks. Students taking one of these only choose two other options.

There are very few formal restrictions - no subjects that overlap, and only one 10 hour option - and the timetable is adjusted to accommodate student choices as much as possible, but some courses have limited space (particularly the specialist ones) and some combinations may turn out to be impossible to timetable. To allow for the possibility of not getting all four of their choices everyone has to pick six options in order of preference and the school prioritise those who have put a subject first or second on their list. They recommend picking options from different subject groups to give a good variety of courses, and strongly recommend taking a modern foreign language, though this is not compulsory (much to Angel's relief!). The way courses are assessed vary. Some just have an examination at the end of the two years; most have a mix of examination and coursework or a project, in varying proportions.

This is the list of options:

Specialisms (count as two choices)

  • Care of Animals / Horticulture - BTEC Certificate in Land and Environment with emphasis on animal care and either BTEC Certificate in Animal Care or BTEC Certificate in Horticulture
  • Engineering - City and Guilds
  • Construction Skills - City and Guilds
  • Hair and Beauty - City and Guilds
Modern Foreign Languages
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
Design and Technology
  • Carpentry and Joinery - Institute of Carpenters certificate
  • Food Technology - GCSE
  • Graphic Products (graphic techniques and product design)- GCSE
  • Resistant Materials (woodwork and metalwork) - GCSE
  • Systems and Control (electronics) - GCSE
  • Textiles (needlework, fabric and fashion design) - GCSE
Business Studies
  • Business Studies - GCSE
  • Business and Communication Systems with CLAIT (computer literacy) - GCSE
  • ICT (information and communications technology, ie. computer studies) - GCSE
  • Child Development - GCSE
  • Geography - GCSE
  • Health and Social Care - Applied GCSE
  • History (Schools History Project) - GCSE
  • History (World) - GCSE
  • Leisure and Tourism - Applied GCSE
  • Certificate of Personal Effectiveness - ASDAN
Creative and Expressive Arts
  • Art and Design - GCSE
  • Drama - GCSE
  • Music - GCSE
Physical Education
  • PE - GCSE
There are also alternative courses in Food Studies (cookery), PE and drama that are not examined, or lead to optional qualifications such as sports coaching certificates.

Angel doesn't have any specific career plans as yet, just a few vague ideas - something sports oriented, physiotherapy, and web design (or something else along those lines) are possibilities. She definitely wants to take PE, graphic products and ICT. All have a strong practical element, which suits her as she is a doer not a thinker. For example, for graphic products she will spend much of the second year of the course producing a design folio and a model or prototype of her design. For her fourth option she is dithering between health and social care, leisure and tourism, and geography.


Karen E. said...

So interesting! And my girls will be interested in reading this, too.

Mrs. Jane Doe said...

Thank you for explaining that. We are in the process of choosing curriculum and/or course study for our youngest daughter who will be entering high school (at home) next year. I have been looking through the different requirements/credits needed in order for her to graduate, etc. I do admire the course of study for your students.

You may have addressed this earlier but how long do your students attend school during the day and week? Like Karen E above, I find all of this so very interesting.


Anonymous said...

Wow that's a lot of choice. We were the second round of GCSE students and we certainly didn't have that choice. Although in my school there were only 800 students in the whole school! :) 300 in one year is a lot to me!