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My son is 13 and in the next few weeks he’s going to have to make some decisions that potentially will affect the rest of his life. It’s time for him to make his subject choices at high school.

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To me, this seems like a huge event. It’s when he goes from the ‘learn what you’re told to’ approach of the first half of his education to the ‘what are you going to be’ world of older pupils. It’s the first steps to what could define the rest of your life.

There are always going to be a fortunate few folk who know exactly what they want to do – and have the capability to do it. For them subject choices are always going to be easy – simply find out what their further education course requirements are and work backwards. Dundee University has a very helpful table giving details.

However, for the rest who don’t really know career they want, decision time is much more tricky.

Along with most of his peers, my son doesn’t have anything more than a few vague ideas about what his adult jobs might be. So to help him, I’ve gathered the best pieces of advice to help with the process.

Talk about it. What subjects does your child enjoy and which are they best at? What do they feel about them?
Find out what options are available. IT isn’t an academic free-for-all. Each school or system will require pupils to do a core of essential topics, such as English, maths, science and a foreign language. Thereafter subjects can be selected, often with a certain number from subject groups. Your school will certainly have produced detailed information about how this works.
Try to encourage your child to keep their options open as much as possible. While it’s good for them to have some ideas about what they want to do in the future, it’s highly likely those ideas will change over time.
Guard against biased views about certain careers, for example ideas that some subjects or jobs are only suitable for boys or girls.
School is there to help. Talk to teachers and careers advisors, and use any resources they may have.
Parents beware. Ensure you don’t offer your child advice base on how things were when you were at school, or on what your ambitions are for your children. Equally guard against being influenced by what school friends are doing.
Have a look at how people you admire got to where they are. Can you follow their career paths? If those people are public figures, can they research them online, or is there a friend or family member they can talk to?
• If your child is interested in a particular field, see if you can find events or talks on related subjects. For example, National Science and Engineering Week activities.
Consider what your child is passionate about. While it’s important to look to the future, a pupil is much more likely to be successful in a subject they love.

Blogger and parent Ruth Dawkins summed it up: “If you have a clear idea of what future career you want then pick the subjects that allow you to do that.

“If you don’t, then just pick the subjects you really love. Don’t feel you have to slog through something like Higher Maths if you’re confident you won’t need it for entry to Further Education / Higher Education.”

The UK Government has a helpful leaflet called Which Way Now? That you can download from their website.

4 Comments

4 Responses to “Choices, choices, choices – how’s a pupil to pick their subjects?”

  1. kati10705

    Another thing to consider is how organised your child is. Most schools will discourage taking both Art and a Design & Technology at GCSE because they both (currently) require a large amount of coursework, which are usually due for completion at roughly the same time.
    Look at the course requirements, is it all exam? Or is there some element of controlled assessment, Resistant Materials (for example) has a large piece of controlled assessment that will take 40 hours to complete and is worth 60% of the final GCSE grade. (But as an RM teacher, I would like to point out that this can be very rewarding!)

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  2. Pinkjumpers

    I think as long as he enjoys (or at least is in favour of) the subjects which he takes then I don’t think it’s possible to go far wrong! :)

    I know my mum made me take French, despite my hatred for the subject, and that was the subject I did worst in. (Perhaps a causal link there?) haha.

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    • ellenarnison27

      Funnily enough my son wants to drop French, but there is quite a lot of pressure for him to persist with it.

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