Your choices at 14

GCSEs: compulsory and optional

GCSEs are the main qualifications that young people do in key stage 4 (usually this is in Y10 and Y11 but some schools start in Y9).

You will be able to choose some of your GCSE courses but there are some compulsory GCSE subjects that everyone has to take.

GCSEs you have to do

Some subjects are compulsory at GCSE level and have to be taken by all young people. The compulsory subjects are:

  • English (English Literature and English Language or a single English GCSE)
  • Maths
  • Science (Core Science, Double Science or Triple Science)

Some schools make other subjects compulsory, so it is worth checking what you are required to do at your school.

Whatever you are planning to do in the future, it is now a requirement for you to retake both maths and English GCSEs until you obtain a Grade 4 in the new GCSE grading system.

GCSEs - Optional choices

Optional subjects vary from school to school but you must be offered at least one course in each of four groups of subjects…

  • Arts
  • Design and Technology
  • Humanities
  • Modern Foreign Languages

You don’t have to choose one subject from each area, but remember that studying a range of subjects at this stage is useful so that you have a wider range of options for later study and career choices.

Different schools offer a different range of GCSE subjects from which you can choose. Because schools are not able to offer unlimited subject combinations, it’s possible that your choices may be limited. You will need to find out what GCSE subjects and combinations are available at your school.

Get help and advice on how to make your choices.

New GCSE Assessment and grading changes

In recent years the Government has changed GCSEs to make them more challenging - they think this will help young people to be better prepared for further academic or vocational study, or for work.

The new GCSEs have new content and will be structured, assessed and graded differently from the previous versions.

In addition to the changes to the content of GCSEs, a different approach to assessment has been introduced…

  • New GCSEs will use the numbers 1 to 9 to identify levels of performance, with 9 being the top grade (old GCSEs used letters with A* being the best)
  • Exams will be the main method of assessment and course content will not be divided into modules
  • Exams will be taken at the end of the two-year course in May or June
  • There will be fewer short-answer and more essay-style exam questions

OFQUAL video - Explaining the changes to GCSE grades

New GCSE grading structure

New GCSE grade structure
New GCSE grade structure

Progress 8: The New 5A* - C

Since 2016, the way that school performance is measured has changed. Schools are now judged on the progress made by students between the end of primary school (KS2) and the end of Year 11 (KS4) across a mixture of 8 subjects.

It is difficult to tell if this will have any impact on students, although it is predicted that it will lead to a reduction in pressure as students will receive recognition for success in all subjects rather than just English and Maths.

Click here for more information on Progress 8 

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