February 2019. Selecting GCSE and A-Level subjects.

Thursday February 14th, 2019

Welcome to our February newsletter.  In this issue we’ll be covering subject choices at GCSE and A Level as this is the time decisions on those have to be made.  We’ll look at the options available in most UK independent schools and discuss how you and your child might go about choosing the subjects best suited to their personality, ability and aspirations.  We’ll also take a look at some of the educational activities your child could enjoy during the February half-term holiday in the UK.  And we’ll explore the origins of Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday and the range of recipes and races that revolve around the humble pancake in homes, towns and cities all over the UK!

Selecting GCSE subjects

GCSE choicesPupils usually select GCSE subjects towards the end of Year 9 or Key Stage 3 (the two years spent studying GCSEs equates to Key Stage 4) when they’re aged 13 to 14.  The majority of independent schools offer between 10 and 25 GCSE subjects, of which pupils tend to study eight to eleven or even twelve, although ten is usually the typical number.

English (language and literature), maths and sciences are compulsory – and some independent schools favour the English Baccalaureate.  It’s not a separate qualification; it just means that all pupils study five core academic subjects at GCSE level and schools are ranked according to the number of students that achieve the EBacc, i.e. gain a grade A* to C in all five subjects: English, maths, double or triple science, history or geography and a foreign language.  The EBacc is often favoured by independent schools because it provides a strong combination of rigorous, ‘academic’ subjects highly regarded by universities and employers. 

GCSE options

In addition to these compulsory subjects, there are four ‘entitlement’ areas from which pupils can choose their remaining subjects. These are arts (for example, art, drama, fashion and textiles); design and technology (including subjects like product design, electronics and computer programming); humanities (such as history, geography and business studies) and modern foreign languages.  In government-run state schools pupils are also obliged to study ‘enrichment subjects’ such as P.E. (physical education) and PSHE (personal, social and health education).  These are not examined (although increasingly some are available as GCSE-level qualifications) but they are considered an important part of a young person’s education and so many independent schools also ensure these feature on the Year 10-11 timetable.


You may have heard of the International GCSE or iGCSE, adopted by many independent schools.  Not specifically related to any one country’s curriculum, iGCSEs were tailored for a multi-lingual, multi-cultural audience, many of whom may not be studying in a UK context.  State schools (funded and controlled by the government) can no longer teach the iGCSE and must adopt the new GCSE structure set down by the government, which has been rolled out from 2017 (with new grade boundaries from level 1 to 9, instead of A* to C for a ‘pass’).  You might have seen the press coverage in the UK media about this development, and what it means for pupils and their prospects. 

The good news for pupils studying at independent schools in the UK is that the schools themselves can dictate which qualification (GCSE or iGCSE) they will teach.  And in some cases UK independent schools will even offer their students the choice between iGCSE and the new government-approved GCSEs, i.e. they teach both and you can choose which route your child will take.  On the surface, this may seem like just one more daunting choice amongst so many options!  But in fact it’s a really positive progression that pupils and their teachers have the chance to choose.  With our in-depth knowledge of UK independent schools, Regency Education can guide you through the process of deciding (should your school offer you that choice) and talk to you in more detail about either route to reassure you should your child’s school offer just one or the other.  Contact us for a no-obligation chat.

Planning ahead

Your child might already be very clear about their future career.  If this is the case, it’s advisable to select subjects that pave the way for the required A Level subjects and desired degree course.  For example, triple science for budding doctors and vets; two foreign languages and Latin too for prospective linguists; product design to support maths and physics for would-be engineers or architects. 

It’s also very common to be uncertain about what you’d like to do or be at this stage of your education.  In these cases, encourage your child to focus on their strengths and what they enjoy doing.  If they excel at science and think they might like to study a science at A Level, consider double or triple science at GCSE (as some schools or colleges will only accept students onto A Level science courses who have double or triple science GCSE).

For children who aren’t set on a specific vocation at this stage, it can be helpful to select at least one subject from each of the four entitlement areas.  Some universities favour applicants with a wide range of GCSEs in conventional subjects such as history, geography and modern languages over more specialist subjects like media studies or food preparation and nutrition.

However, if your child is keen to try – and shows an aptitude for – a new subject that’s only available at GCSE level and beyond (for example, psychology or business studies)look at the syllabus to see what’s involved or encourage your child to talk to older pupils already studying those subjects. 

Your child’s teachers and school’s career advisor will be able to give you valuable insights into the choices best suited to them for the next stage of their studies.  At Regency Education, we can offer extra support too.  We can provide expert, objective, personalised advice based on an in-depth analysis of your child’s strengths, preferences, learning styles, aspirations and academic ability.  Contact us to talk about how we can assist you with GCSE options.

A Level subject choices

ALevel subject choicesYour child’s choice of subjects at A Level will impact on their university options.  For students keen to pursue a medical career, sciences are essential.  Maths courses will obviously want to see a strong maths A Level grade – ideally supported by further maths too.  For pupils considering law degrees, universities might not dictate specific A Levels.

However, they do like to see a mix of arts and science subjects that showcase logical ability and strong writing skills.  If you know what degree course you want to study – and you have an idea where you want to study it – do take the time to research the entry criteria before you commit to your A Level choices.  There is still flexibility though. For example, most engineering degree courses require maths and physics A Level, but if you didn’t take these subjects you could still apply on the understanding you’d be expected to take an extra foundation year of study.

So if you’re still not 100% sure what you’d like to do or be when you finish your education, fear not!  Although many universities do still favour rigorous, traditional, ‘academic’ A Levels, there are plenty of examples that prove branching out and studying something that really piques your interest could transform not only your studies but also your career opportunities.  Many university graduates now follow multiple careers and sometimes what might seem like an unusual combination of A Levels can give you the very best basis for future roles.  For example, a student might be encouraged to take a second foreign language at A Level alongside English Literature.

The moral of all this is that your A Level choices are unlikely to hold you back in the long run.  If you’d like some assistance with planning your A Level choices around your thoughts, ideas and aspirations for degree courses and careers, then talk to us at Regency Education. 

Half-term holiday activities in February

Half term holiday activitiesYou might prefer to brave the outdoors with bracing activities to inspire and uplift you.  Or perhaps you favour cosier indoor temperatures and activities!  Either way, there are plenty of opportunities during the February half-term holiday to learn and have fun in the UK.  With exhibitions at London’s world-famous museums showcasing everything from fashion to home futures and theatre workshops at Shakespeare’s Globe and his birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avontrails and treasure hunts at historic houses and their grounds across the UK; there is something for everyone.

Why not intersperse some fun, hands-on learning with subject-specific tutoring during the break?  Our team of DBS-checked tutors are specialists in their subjects and offer one-to-one Skype or face-to-face lessons during school holidays. Get in touch to find out more about our tutoring packages. 

Pancake day

The date of Pancake Day varies from 3rd February to 9th March – depending when Easter falls – and in 2019 will be on the 5th of March.  All across the UK and beyond, people will be mixing eggs, milk, flour and salt to make pancake batter then tossing or flipping the pancakes as they fry them.  English pancakes are very thin, which means they are the perfect texture to cover with lemon juice and sugar and roll into a tasty treat… but they are also prone to sticking to ceilings if flipped too vigorously!

Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday falls just before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, the lead up to Easter.  The feast day represents the last chance to use up the more luxurious ingredients in the pantry such as eggs and fats before the Lenten fast.  Some countries celebrate the day with carnivals such as the Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday!) in New Orleans and the famous Venice ‘Carnevale’ (carne vale – farewell to meat).  There is a definite theme of indulgence prior to parsimony on pancake day!  In the UK pancake races in towns across the country bring communities together, flipping pancakes in frying pans as they run, often raising funds for good causes. 

Other pancake-related traditions have evolved all over the UK.  Read more about some of them and download a recipe for the perfect English pancake.