What are GCSEs?

GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) are subject-based academic qualifications. Students study towards GCSEs at secondary school in England and Wales over a period of two years, usually in Year 10 and 11.

GCSEs are undergoing changes, which will continue to be rolled out until 2020.

Why are GCSEs important? How will GCSEs affect your child’s future studies?

1. GCSEs can determine the sixth form your child goes to

Entry requirements for school and college sixth forms vary – ranging from four to five C grades (that’s between a 4 and 5 under the new GCSE grading system), with perhaps Bs in the subjects you want to study, through to at least six GCSEs at grade A for the most selective colleges.

Your child’s GCSE performance is usually a good indicator of how well they’ll do in A-level or other advanced studies – in fact, it’s the only real hard-and-fast evidence of their academic abilities a college has to go on. Many sixth forms use a scoring system, based on GCSE grades, to predict how well your child is likely to do (and from that, decide whether or not to accept them).

For instance, five B grades (roughly 5 or 6) and five C grades (roughly 4 or 5) at GCSE could roughly translate to a predicted CCD at A-level, while straight A grades would suggest AAA is possible.

The lower your child’s GCSE grades, could limit the number of colleges and sixth forms open to them.

If you’re worried your child grades might not cut it with the sixth form or college they want to go to, see if they’re prepared to be flexible – otherwise, you may need to approach some alternatives, learn more about what to do if your grades don’t go to plan.

Appeal a GCSE grade – this how-to guide could come in handy if your child’s results fall short of their predicted grades.

As the changes to GCSEs roll out, there may be additional leeway as the changes settle in.

2. GCSEs determine the qualifications you take next

Some sixth forms may say your child can’t do a particular subject unless they got at least a grade A (at least a 6 or 7) in that subject at GCSE.

If your grades are mostly Cs (4 or 5), studying A-levels or Advanced Highers could be off limits altogether; a sixth form may offer you a vocational (ie a more practical and hands-on) course such as a BTEC Level 3 qualification instead.

3. GCSEs could be used to assess eligibility for a university course

Regardless of your child chosen subject to study, the majority of university courses look for at least a C grade in English, maths and perhaps science – that’s grade 4 or 5 under the new structure.

Some university courses go further and ask for specific subjects at GCSE, with certain grades, so check directly with universities if you’re in doubt. For example:

Psychology at the University of Bath asks for “a strong set of GCSEs, such as grade A*, 8 or 9 in at least five relevant GCSEs or grade A or 7 in the majority of GCSEs.  This university strongly prefers applicants who can demonstrate a solid grounding in mathematics or statistics, such as those with GCSE grade A or 7 in mathematics.”

Don’t let a disappointing GCSE performance put you off applying to the university course you really want, though – a good AS-level performance, for instance, could outweigh a set of weaker GCSE results, particularly if you expand on this in your personal statement.

However, given recent A-level reforms, universities might use your GCSE grades more than before when deciding whether to accept you or not.

Search for a course now to see full entry requirements and everything else you need to know.

 4. GCSEs may limit the universities you can apply to

Some of the top academic universities (often belonging to the Russell group) will ask for very high   A-level grades – AAB or higher – for most courses.

Because of the assumed connection between your child’s GCSE and A-level results, it’ll be down to them to prove they’re able to achieve top grades. Grades B and C (or a 4 to 6) at GCSE are suggestive of Cs and Ds at A-level – which won’t be enough to get into some universities.

The more competitive the university and course, the higher the number of high-achieving students with top GCSE marks applying. Some courses actively state this, like the University of Bath example above.

Here’s another example. Applicants to LSE need to have “achieved a strong set of GCSE grades including the majority at A and A*, or equivalent. Your GCSE (or equivalent) English language and mathematics grades should be no lower than B. We also consider your child’s overall GCSE subject profile, and your AS grades, if available.”

5. GCSEs can affect the career your child ends up doing

A career-related degree may also have subject-specific entry requirements:

Engineering courses such as chemical engineering:  your child will usually need A-levels or equivalent in chemistry and maths, and physics for other engineering courses, which in turn means they will need to have good GCSE grades in science and maths.

Medicine: competitive courses like medicine may ask for a whole suite of good GCSEs. The University of Birmingham’s medical school, for example, specifies “normally, applicants must offer A* grades in each of English (either English Language or English Literature), mathematics and all science subjects. Integrated Science (double certificate) is acceptable as an alternative to single sciences. Overall GCSE performance will be considered.”

Social work and secondary school teaching: these professions won’t consider you without at least a grade C (or 4 or 5) in maths and English language at GCSE.

Nursing and primary school teaching: grade C (or 4 or 5) in GCSE English, Maths and Science.

Now’s the perfect time to guarantee your child is on the right path by enrolling with UPwards Tuition to assist your child with their exam preparations.

Contact us today: +44 7950 815993

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