GCSE Choices at 13+ Year 9

Core Subjects – Key Stage 4

Core subjects are compulsory and must be taken at GCSE. These are English, Maths and Science but your school may make other GCSE subjects compulsory. If you are unsure it may be worth checking with your school. 

These subjects will be studied in Years 10 and 11, ages 14-16.

In September 2015, changes were introduced to the grading of the GCSE's and instead of being A-F it is now 1-9. To find out more about these changes visit our changes to GCSEs page. 

Below is a list of the compulsory and optional subjects, click on them to find out more.

Maths is compulsory in Year 10 and 11. In many jobs numeracy is an important skill. Because of this, if you do not achieve a grade 9-4 or A*-C GCSE at school, you will have to continue to study maths and resit the exam until you do achieve it (up to the age of 19). Many areas of work and further/higher education courses require a C (4-5) grade in maths for entry.

If you enjoy maths you might consider a career in finance, banking, insurance, accountancy, statistics or research. In addition to GCSE mathematics, some schools offer GCSE statistics which is about collecting and analysing numerical data to identify trends.

GCSE science can be taken in a number of different versions and schools have had a lot of flexibility in the way that they teach the course. You could have the option of single, double or triple science, single specific sciences e.g. chemistry biology, physics or applied science. If you want to take science at A level you should be taking at least double science or two single specific sciences.

Individual science subjects of biology, which is the study of living organisms and life processes, chemistry, which studies the substances of which matter is composed and investigates their properties and reactions and physics, which is concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy including: atomic structure, mechanics, heat, light, sound, electricity and magnetism.

Combined science is available as a double award qualification, which combines study of all three sciences in a single curriculum.

Applied science is available as a single or double award. Applied science is not aimed at students who want to study specific sciences at A level but can lead to A level applied science.

If you enjoy science you could consider working in many areas such as engineering, healthcare or medicine, research, environmental work, architecture, construction, forensic investigation, etc.

You must study English in Years 10 and 11. Most employers need their staff to have a good standard of written and spoken English. If you do not achieve a grade A*-C (9-4) GCSE in English at school, you will have to continue to study and resit the exam until you do achieve it or until you reach the age of 19. Many areas of work, college and university courses require a grade C (4-5) in English for entry. You normally take GCSE English language and many schools also expect you to take English literature.

Changes to English GCSE from 2016

From 2016, all students will study GCSE English Language. There will be no tiers in the exam paper as the new exam format will cover the full range of student ability. All English GCSEs will have no ‘controlled assessment’ and will be tested with a final exam at the end of the course. The exam will assess the use of more complex writing skills, such as narrating and arguing.

The new English language GCSE will encourage students to read a greater range of high quality literature and non-fiction text from a range of types (from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries). Reading and writing will have equal value in the new English Language GCSE. There will be a greater focus on making sure that students are able to write clearly and accurately, in good Standard English. There will be an increased focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar including the use of vocabulary.

The new English literature GCSE will encourage students to read a wide range of classic literature fluently with the assessment of: a 19th century novel, a Shakespeare play, a selection of poetry since 1789, and British fiction or drama from 1914 onwards. There will be increased assessment of unseen texts and the quality of writing in the response to texts will be assessed.

If you enjoy English you might consider working as a teacher, journalist, librarian, researcher, legal work, public relations or in the media.

History is the study of events, trends in the past in relation to humans and their impact on the present. You could study different periods such as the Tudors and Stuarts or Post War Britain. Students studying history develop research skills, critical thinking, examining evidence and drawing inference and conclusions.

If you like history you could consider careers in archaeology, heritage, archives and museums. The skills are also useful for law, journalism, politics and management.

Geography is the study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere and the impact of human activity on these. It also covers populations and resource distribution. Students studying geography develop an understanding of change and development, analysis and human impact on the environment.

If you enjoy geography you could look for careers in environmental conservation, land management, surveying or planning. An interest in geography is also useful background for travel and tourism, exporting and importing, logistics or geology.

Religious studies is about studying the fundamentals of life in relation to religious themes. It develops an understanding of people's cultural background and beliefs, morals and values. It includes the study of all religions and the views of those who follow no religion.

Religious studies is directly related to further study of theology or to careers in ethics or in ministry. It can provide useful background for a range of careers focused on working directly to support others, such as social work, youth work and roles in the arts and social sciences, caring work, healthcare professions, and jobs in the community.

You can either take a broad GCSE course in art, craft and design or you may be able to follow a more specialised programme, for example in textile design, fine art or three-dimensional design. If you want to study art as a post 16 choice it is important to have studied it at GCSE for portfolio development. Art and design is the creation of art using various media including photography, painting, sculpture, etc. It provides students with a wide range of creative, exciting and stimulating opportunities to explore and express their interests in ways that are personally relevant. It can include some study of the history of art and great artists.

If you enjoy art you could consider careers in any creative field in art and design such as fine art, graphic design, textiles and fashion design, photography, interior design or the design of products such as furniture, jewellery, ceramics etc. It also shares a lot of skills with careers such as display, floristry hairdressing, beauty, architecture, industrial design and website design.

The study of languages involves studying both spoken and written language as well as structure and use. Languages are often available in schools as full GCSEs or short courses. If you do not take a language at GCSE, it is unlikely that you would be able to study at A-level (unless you are bi-lingual). Study of one language can mean that you develop the skills to pick up other languages.

French, Spanish and German are the most widely offered GCSE language courses in schools, although there are others including Urdu, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Italian and more. Some schools also offer Latin and Greek.

Studying a modern foreign language will help you to understand, and hold a conversation in, the language you have chosen. You will also learn about the country and its way of life. Being able to communicate in a modern foreign language is increasingly useful for careers in industry, technology and engineering, as well as many aspects of business.

The careers that relate directly to languages are translator, interpreter or language teacher. For these routes you would be expected to have a degree in your chosen language. Some careers specify languages as a requirement such as working as long-haul cabin crew or flight crew. Languages are very useful for those who want to work in international business, banking or for the European parliament.

Computer science is the study of the theory and methods of processing information in digital computers and the design of hardware and software. You will learn about algorithms, data storage, computer networks and cyber security. You will develop your computer programming skills - designing and writing programs - and your problem-solving skills in relation to computing. You do not need to have taken the GCSE to study Computer Science at A level but it does provide you with a strong understanding of the key concepts.

Computer science skills are what underpin most of the technological development in industry and roles are available across almost all sectors from healthcare, to engineering and manufacturing. If you are interested in specific roles with computer science you could consider ethical hacking, hardware development, software development or computer games design.

ICT is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application, encompassing radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, and satellite systems. This helps students develop an understanding of computer systems (both current and emerging) and applications by learning how to use them effectively.

In school, it is available as a double award (2GCSEs), full GCSE or GCSE (short course). You do not have to take a GCSE to undertake an A level in ICT.

ICT is more about using IT than building systems and writing code and therefore the careers that it links to are often less technical, such as web designer, systems analyst and user experience developer. Many more opportunities are available with a degree in ICT.

Physical education is a course related to developing and enhancing the physical fitness of the human body. It is taken during primary and secondary education and encourages psychomotor learning in a play or movement exploration setting to promote health. The GCSE is not required if you want to become a professional sportsperson or coach.

Everyone in school must take PE lessons but some students will also study it as a GCSE. As well as taking part in various team and individual sports, the GCSE includes learning about the things that affect sporting performance, such as the anatomy of the body and the benefits of activity to health. The subject is available as both a full GCSE and a short course.

If you enjoy PE you might consider a career in teaching, youth work, outdoor activities trainer, coaching, sports science, sports development work or sports therapy.

Business studies is designed for students to learn skills for running a business, such as managing money, advertising and employing staff. You will learn how businesses operate and grow and learn about different business functions such as marketing and business communications.

Schools may offer a GCSE in Business Studies or a similar vocational course such as a BTEC or OCR. There are some different course structures available so it may be called business studies, business and communication systems/business communications, applied business, or business studies and economics.

Business studies is useful if you want a career in an office environment, local government, civil service, marketing, advertising banking, finance, recruitment or accountancy.

Design technology is the study of production from concept to finished product. This is offered in several study areas: electronic products, food technology, textiles technology, graphic products, resistant materials technology, product design, and systems and control technology.

Not all schools offer all options. The Design and Technology GCSE can be taught as either a full qualification or short course. It is a great subject for artistic, creative and practical students.

Design and technology is a relevant subject for many different careers, often these are specific to the version studied: For instance

  • electronic product – engineering, electrical installation, telecoms and IT roles
  • food technology – food manufacturing, dietetics, catering, food scientist.
  • textiles technology – fashion design, fabric design, product design, manufacturing
  • graphic products
  • resistant materials technology- construction careers, carpentry, joiner, kitchen fitting, architectural technician
  • product design – manufacturing, marketing, promotions
  • systems and control technology – telecoms, ICT

All are able to help you research, design and development skills, together with a high-level knowledge of maths and science, provide a good basis for careers in engineering and in product design and development.

Music is particularly valuable for people likely to take advanced music courses; however, practical and theoretical music exams are generally required in addition to the GCSE or A level. You do not have to play to be a musician to take the GCSE. Many students do not play an instrument but sing instead.

Music GCSE is needed if you want to take the A level unless you have graded in a musical instrument such as piano or guitar.

Drama and dance GCSEs are performance GCSEs where you are assessed on your knowledge of the subject as well as your ability to perform and write. They can help to develop your self-confidence and the ability to express yourself in both spoken and body language. These courses also involve a lot of teamwork and cooperation which are great skills for jobs where you have to work well with others. The GCSE will not take the place of specialist dance training that would be required for a career as a dancer.

Careers where these attributes would be useful include presentation roles such as science explainer, teacher or journalist, people-related roles such as event planning or marketing, retail or customer services.

To find out more about other qualifications return to the Qualifications page.

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