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How Do I Prepare For The Next Stage of My Child's Education?

In some parts of the country, there is a ‘middle school' system where there is a first school, middle school and high school. Depending on the local authority, children transfer from middle school to high school at age 13 or 14.

Whatever system your local authority operates, you and your child will need to make a number of choices about what he/she studies next. SAT results at age 14 will give you both an idea of the subjects your son/daughter does well in and which ones he/she enjoys (they might not be the same thing).

The results will help with making decisions about the subjects that he/she might want to study and the qualifications that he/she will aim for at Key Stage 4. Your child's teachers are likely to be very helpful in giving advice about subject choice. However, some parents do feel that they need to question and challenge the expectations of and assumptions made about their children.

Some children choose subjects because they want to stay with their friends or because they like their teacher. You'll need to find out what lies behind their decisions.

It's also worth considering not only which subjects your child enjoys and is good at, but also which courses or jobs he/she might want to pursue in future. It's important not to rule out any options. The Jobs4U website gives useful information about what qualifications are needed for particular jobs.

Choosing subjects

Some subjects lead to a formal qualification while others - like physical education, careers education, sex and relationship education and drugs education - don't necessarily.

There are some subjects that your child will have to study: English, Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Physical Education, Citizenship, Religious Education, Careers Education, and Sex Education.

In addition, your child can take one subject from each of the following areas: the arts, design and technology, humanities, modern foreign languages. Not every optional subject is offered by every school so you'll have to check.Once they are 14, children can get permission to drop certain National Curriculum subjects so that they can, for example, attend a college-based or a workplace-based course. The government-produced workbook Which Way Now? helps Year 9 students to examine the different options.

Types of qualification

There are many options, but they might not all be offered by your child's school. You'll need to check with the school what they offer and how many subjects your child can choose.

GCSE: Most schools offer General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSE) courses. They usually last for 2 years and there are many subjects available, including work-related ones. As well as final exams, coursework forms part of most GCSEs though there have been a number of recent changes including the withdrawl of the coursework element of GCSE maths. Coursework can include essays, reports, artwork or design projects, for example, and is usually done over a period of time. GCSEs are graded from A* (‘A-star') to G. The grade your child gets will depend on both coursework and exam marks.

GCSEs are tiered. Each tier has a range of grades that can be awarded. Usually, at some point in Year 10, teachers will decide which tier your child should enter in each of his/her GCSEs. The idea is for your child to take an exam in which his/her ability will be tested, without him/her being deterred by questions that are much too difficult or much too easy. Some GCSE subjects such as Art and Design, History, Music, PE and Religious Studies are not tiered. Most schools will decide which tier is right for each student around the January before the final exam, after the bulk of work has been covered and they have the results of mock exams.

Your child could also choose from 8 GCSEs in vocational (work-related) subjects: Art and Design; Applied Business; Engineering; Health and Social Care; Applied ICT; Leisure and Tourism; Manufacturing; Applied Science.

In some schools, students sit GCSE exams at the end of Year 11, in others they might sit some at the end of Year 10 and more at the end of Year 11.

Many employers will expect at least a GCSE qualification in Mathematics and English. In terms of future possibilities for further education or employment, students will be at a disadvantage without these basic qualifications so it's vital that your child understands how important these particular GCSEs are.

It's worth remembering, though, that if your child doesn't do well in his/her GCSEs, he/she can take them again, although some schools may ask you to pay the examination fee for repeat sittings.

GCSE short courses: Some schools offer GCSE short courses. 2 short courses make up a full GCSE since each course covers only half the content of a GCSE. The short courses are graded from A* to G. They are available in: Design and Technology; ICT; Geography; History; Modern Foreign Languages; Art and Design; Music; Physical Education; Religious Education; Business Studies; Electronics. Your child might be interested in a certain subject but may not have the time to do the full GCSE. Because the subject is still studied in some depth, this might allow your child to keep his/her options open. He/she might, for instance, want to take an A level in that subject later on.

The Diploma is a new qualification for students aged 14 to 19 and is available in selected schools and colleges. Diplomas offer a more practical, hands-on way of getting the essential skils that employers and universities look for. Diplomas are available in five areas: Construction and the Built Environment; Creative and Media; Engineering; Information Technology; Society, Health and Development.

Your child might work towards either:

- a Foundation Diploma - a level 1 qualification, equivalent to 5 GCSEs at grades D to G;- a Higher Diploma
- a level 2 qualification, equivalent to five GCSEs at grades A* to C.

Each Diploma takes two years to complete.

NVQs: National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are work related. They are based on ‘national occupational standards', that is, the standards of competence expected of adults doing particular jobs in specific areas (for example ‘retail operation' or ‘preparing and serving food'). NVQs are suited to students who are interested in a specific job and want to study ‘on the job' - in the workplace.

Edexcel BTEC qualifications are also work related and nationally recognised. They can provide an introduction to an area of work such as retail or administration or they relate to a specific job such as floristry or journalism. The First Certificate (part-time study) and First Diploma (full-time study) take 1 year. The National Certificate (part-time study) and National Diploma (full-time study) take 2 years. The Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) are usually taken after the age of 18.

Entry Level Certificates represent the first stage of the National Qualifications Framework. They allow students to go on to GCSEs, foundation GNVQs or NVQ level 1. Students studying for the Certificate include: 14- to 16-year-olds with special educational needs; young people in young offenders' institutions; and people who have been out of education for some time. Generally, students study for a period of 1 or 2 years for the Certificate.

Pupils can achieve entry level qualifications at 3 different levels that are broadly in line with National Curriculum levels 1-3. Pupils can take entry level qualifications alongside GCSEs, GNVQs, vocational GCSEs or NVQs. Tests assess tasks that can be written, spoken or practical.

Young Apprenticeships are new types of courses that allow students to gain experience of real work. Students can find out what it's like to work in: art and design; business administration; engineering; health and social care; the motor industry; the performing arts. Students on Young Apprenticeships still study the main National Curriculum subjects but they study for qualifications in a workplace. They learn through a combination of classroom lessons, practical training and work experience. Students on a Young Apprenticeship can study for a GCSE in a vocational subject (worth 2 GCSEs) or another type of work-related qualification such as an NVQ or a combination of qualifications. The qualifications are recognised by employers and educational institutions in England. After a Young Apprenticeship, your child might want to go on to a full-time Apprenticeship or further education or else start training or full-time work.

There have recently been a number of changes to the 14-19 curriculum. You can keep up to date with what's happening at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority website.