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How many GCSEs?

11 posts in this topic

How many GCSEs do you think is a reasonable number for most kids with AS?


Take into account that back in the days of O Levels most kids took 8 subjects. Biology, chemistry, and physics counted as three separate subjects. In recent years it's commonplace for kids to take 12 GCSEs but is this really too many subjects for their own good?


Are there any particular subjects that are not worth taking because nobody sees value in them?


Are there any particular subjects that a high proportion of kids with AS struggle badly with?

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It depends on the individual. I sat 7 Standard Grades and I'll admit that with minimal effort and study efforts I had 6 top grades and 1 middle grade. I didn't like the way maths was taught in my school and I ditched it as quickly as I could. I regret it because I have started reteaching myself it and I'm enjoying it. I now realise that I could have done so much better if I'd studied it independently. I'm sure being in my early twenties now helps a fair bit, though.


1. What interests them the most is definitely essential!

2. Where they are strongest is equally so.

3. English, Maths and a science are definitely essentials at GCSE level.Maybe a double science?

4. History could be good if the curriculum reflects something that interests them? But it depends on them.

5. I did a technical class at an equivalent qualification - woodwork. I enjoyed it despite having fine motor issues. It was just memorisation mostly and classwork (not sure of the curriculum in England).

6. Psychology is good at a lower level but it depends on personal interests. I don't recommend sociology because from personal experience I've found that sometimes wrapping around the irritatingly inflated writing styles of traditional writings quite frustrating. That said, I minored in it at University.

7. A politics/government subject isn't bad either, I did it in high school and enjoyed it. Majored in it at university. However, I know that this is all subjective and it depends on the individual.

7. Computing is an obvious choice (I got a top grade in it, but never continued it :(


I know there are a lot of variety in the subjects offered in England that aren't available where I am. I know ones that demand a strong vocal component (languages + audio tests?) might be difficult for most. I was great at reading and pretty good at writing in foreign language, but I struggled to comprehend what was being said, and obviously communication is a bit of a struggle. So,uhm, maybe starting out in the usual number and then having the option to drop some if it proves too much is the best compromise. I think there are a core set you must take for a good standard of general education no matter your interests.


I think the varied amount of subjects is good that it lets kids explore their options. Find something that appeals to them to carry on at A-level. Which I find pretty good and wish the Scottish system could reflect better. I should probably add that I am still waiting for my assessment as an adult, so this is just retrospect consideration of my own experience while being undiagnosed.

Edited by pinklemon

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Luke Jackson wrote about there being hardly any GCSE options because most subjects were compulsory.


Do you think that schools make kids take too many subjects or too diverse a range of subjects.

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My daughter took 12 and got 12 A* to C, most at A* and A


While she chose to do GCSEs there were a number of courses she could have taken which would have given her several Level 3 certificates (GCSE equivalents)


I know there are subjects which are seen as 'soft' or worthless, but I do not prescribe to this.


My daughter was not keen on textiles, seeing very little value in this subject. After school she got into Cosplay, and makes most of her own clothes and props. Once I was happy this was not just a quick phase/interest I bought her a sewing machine to make things easier. If she needs something embroidered she asks me, a skill I first learned at school, and has given me a lot of pleasure over the years.


Another skill I learned at school which has stood me in good stead over the years was typing. This has helped me to move from manual work, I am no longer able to do to office based work.


However I agree with Pinklemon it will depend a lot on the individual.

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There has been criticism that as well as English, maths, and science, many secondary schools have been known to make every student take:


1. A humanity


2. An arts subject


3. A foreign language


4. A technology subject


5. Religious studies


6. ICT


It has caused problems by making kids take subjects that they are no good at as well as preventing them from taking combinations of subjects they want to take. For example, history and geography not possible. Two foreign languages not possible. Electronic products and business studies not possible. Art and drama not possible.


The situation has changed a bit now that foreign languages and technology subjects are no longer compulsory but schools can still impose their own rules.


I hold a view that some subjects are harder or softer than others as many shades of grey but I refuse to recognise a demarcation line between what is a hard subject or a soft subject. Such a demarcation line could cause developments in education to stagnate.

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Hi Canopus,


I don't have a problem with the selection you have shown above, but then I believe that education up to the age of 16 should be broad, with the option to either specialise in a smaller number at A level or to continue with a broader education with ebac or bac.


I am sad to hear that a combination of Geography and HIstory is restricted in some schools.


Yes some subjects are harder, while some are easier, but I would disagree that because a subject is easier it is necessarily useless. My education was unusual as I attended a special needs school. So while we did the main subjects maths, English, general science, history, maths, history, geography, technology (ICT we didn't have a single computer) we also did less traditional subjects such as child development, home economics and typing. Over the years I also did canoeing, archery, abseiling and rock climbing, as well as PE, swimming and sport.


One of the current issues with education is it has been such a political football over the years. One of the most damaging is the league tables. This has resulted in some schools restricting or removing some subjects, such as history because previously poor performance has lowered their place in the league tables. Another crude measurement has been the introduction of SATs. This toxic combination has caused many schools to concentrate on results at the expense of a proper education. Fall behind on one of the basics, maths or English will have a knock on effect with students falling further behind. But teachers have little choice to move on to the next part of the curriculum. Yet while parents are expected to use these two measures to determine their child's future, and politician are too happy to compare to very different performing schools, the government has one main criteria to comparing schools, which is the number of students on free school meals.


One of the most pathetic spectacles I have seen is a primary head from a school in a high deprivation area going to a primary school in an affluent area to see how she could improve things for the students at her school and come back with only one suggestion. For parents to buy spelling books and get the children to learn how to spell ten words each week. This in a school where many students did not own a book or used the local library.


It is no wonder our education system is failing so many children.

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How easy or hard a subject is deemed to be does not clearly correlate with whether it is a soft subject or a hard subject.

The electronics A Level is generally considered to be one of the six hardest or most academically rigorous A Levels but it is not a facilitating or Russell Group subject so it is often deemed to be a soft or marginal A Level. Neither is the computer science A Level a facilitating or Russell Group subject. I am concerned that if computer science is not a facilitating or Russell Group subject then it will always be seen as inferior by employers and universities to the traditional sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics (which are facilitating or Russell Group subjects), with the potential to propagate down through the education system and seriously jeopardise the computer science GCSE or the recent initiatives to install computer science and coding into the primary and secondary school curriculum.

I have been involved in discussions about GCSEs and employment. Points have been raised that the physics GCSE is a hard subject but food technology and health & social care GCSEs are soft subjects despite there being many times more jobs in the food industry or in health & social care than in anything physics related. Is the government trying to push secondary school students away from studying subjects relevant to large and expanding fields of employment towards hard academics less relevant to the job market?

Forcing students to take certain optional subjects have caused much consternation if they are time consuming and the student is not capable or interested in getting a good grade in that they suck time and effort away from subjects that the student wants to get a good grade in. Examples are art and drama that the student just wants to take purely for the educational value or fun, but is not interested in getting a GCSE in.

I remember that pathetic spectacle with the primary head. Something to be aware of is that British shops are awash with primary school level study books about English, mathematics, and science (that practically did not exist back in the 1980s) but no mainstream school or teacher ever endorses such books or advises parents to purchase them. Is the proliferation of these books in shops and kid’s bedrooms a good or a bad sign of the times?

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While there are fewer jobs in terms of the sciences this doesn't mean that there are none. Chemists, doctors, vets, medical research, to name the obvious few where these subjects and occupations are needed. The two expanding job markets you mention are incredibly easy to get into and are well geared for adult education to get the necessary qualifications needed to get into, and are well funded by the government so often can be done without cost to the individual.


Indeed once you get away from the formal education for young people most courses now available are focussed on training people for particular jobs rather than academic subjects, more often than not for these type of service jobs, or particular trades for which there is a current demand.


Personally I don't see what the Russell group want having an affect on computer subjects or the recent introduction of coding in schools. These were introduced to help cover the growing IT companies and the current lack of talented people in this area and the need to depend on people from other countries.


I guess the question you are asking is what we want from our schools. As I said I believe at this level it should be a broad education, I would hate to see it reduced to what ever is required for either elite jobs open to those who concentrate on the sciences or for a particular mass job market.


With regards to the proliferation of study books, growing up my local library was three floors of books covering a huge range of subjects. I remember spending one summer at the library with a pencil and note book studying algebra which was holding me back at school. When I returned after the school holidays I went up two grades. Today the chances are I can go to my local library and buy a coffee while lamenting at the lack of books.as people sit with their laptops enjoying the free wifi. With home schooling more popular these books often enable parents to offer a wider education for their children.


With the state of the local schools my daughter attended they also provide a much needed resource for brighter students. When a 6 year old is threatened with expulsion for trying to correct a teacher who said that everything we eat turns to blood, than tried to cover her mistake by saying she was talking about animals, just compounding her initial mistake parents will do what they need to do to help their child's education.

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A criticism that has been levelled at secondary school education is that it is too abstract and theoretical. Neither well aligned with employment nor everyday life. It’s commonplace for many students to only have two or three GCSE subjects that they are genuinely good at or enjoy. Could the time spent studying other subjects be put to more productive uses?

One concept is that secondary school education should centre more on useful life skills rather than academics after students have mastered the primary school basics of English, mathematics, and science. Would that be a truly broad education? If students want to learn academic subjects then they can do so in their own time or in further education.

The point that I am trying to make with the computer science A Level is that secondary schools advise high ability students to take facilitating or Russell Group subjects at A Level (with the exception of music) because most of the top universities only accept students who have taken at least two such subjects. If the computer science A Level is not a facilitating or Russell Group subject then many students who want to study a computing subject at university will avoid it and take subjects like chemistry or history instead which are less relevant but are facilitating or Russell Group subjects. This could end up deterring secondary school students from taking computer science for GCSE and the computer science GCSE never attaining the same status as a hard subject as traditional science GCSEs. It’s noteworthy that attempts to install electronics as a GCSE subject in schools, as a modern alternative to woodwork and metalwork, has been generally unsuccessful and I fear that computer science could go down the same hole. History shows that no new subjects have been added to the secondary school curriculum since the 1960s that are both mainstream and highly respected.

Primary school level study books about English, mathematics, and science tend to be aimed more at low ability students to reach the level required by the National Curriculum or medium ability students to do well in SATs rather than for high ability students. Being too clever in English, mathematics, and science at primary school isn’t good for a student. A parent of Indian origin strongly believes that parents of primary school kids should buy these books, and read them themselves, as they are not expensive and very helpful, but he is influenced by his culture. In India parents have known for decades that if they want their kids to be well educated then they have to buy books for them rather than just relying on school to provide. Amongst indigenous British folk there is a large faction that believes that all education should be free (or taxpayer funded) so parent’s shouldn’t have to buy educational books for their kids, and a faction which believes that poor families can’t afford to buy educational books despite even poorer families in India managing to find money to buy them.

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A point raised by a parent which cannot be overlooked is the rise in the number of self employed people in recent years. In the past, self employment was a personal choice but the way things are going is that an increasing number of people are becoming self employed not through choice but through lack of choice. The school curriculum is very much designed around working for an employer and fails to teach business and entrepreneurial skills. Business studies is available as a GCSE but is deemed to be a minor and soft subject. Would time be better spent learning about business and self employment rather than studying for a large number of GCSEs?

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On 4/7/2017 at 5:17 PM, Canopus said:

Business studies is available as a GCSE but is deemed to be a minor and soft subject. Would time be better spent learning about business and self employment rather than studying for a large number of GCSEs?

Isn't Young Enterprise meant to cover this? My school was well into YE and in my younger years I was interested in getting involved, or perhaps it would be more true to say I was curious to find out how people went from a concept to running a business. But then late in Year 11 a pupil from the year above gave us the lowdown on what it was really like and I was put right off. She said, IIRC, "You spend the best part of the beginning of the autumn term arguing about what the product is going to be - you discover who your real friends are." (Emphasis added.) I had a suspicion it would be like playing rounders. That is, the most popular people snap up the most rewarding positions whereas I'd get the equivalent of deep-fielder where I'd have ######-all to do most of the time but would still be expected to attend every meeting (and get yelled at if I failed to respond to something coming my way).

Edited by Aeolienne
afterthought / clarification

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