Choosing subjects and courses for Years 10 and 11 (Key Stage 4)

It’s important to choose your options carefully

Find out as much as you can about the subjects offered. Your school will give you information listing all your choices or options. You’ll be spending the next two or three years studying them.

Your choices at 16 may also be affected by what you choose now. Find out as much as you can about the subjects offered. Your school will give you information listing all your choices or options.

Most of you will take GCSEs in subjects you know such as maths, English and science, at the school you joined in Year 7. Some of you may also be able to choose work-related qualifications in subjects such as childcare, catering, business or IT that can lead to other qualifications such as a BTEC or Cambridge National.

Alternatively you can consider moving to a University Technical College for students aged 14 to 19. They teach technical, creative and scientific subjects. There are a number of UTCs in London, specialising in, for example specialist engineering - aviation, building, design, health, product, transport; medical services; broadcast and media, creative, technical and digital

You have a chance to choose:

  • Subjects you enjoy
  • Courses you know you can do well in
  • New subjects
  • Subjects to help your future career plans.


  • Some level 3 courses cannot be taken unless you do the GCSE first - so choose carefully
  • Employers, colleges and universities will look at the full range of subjects you have taken, so a spread of subjects can be useful
  • A spread will also prepare you for a greater range of jobs and courses - important if you are not sure about your future career
  • To think carefully about how choosing or dropping some subjects may affect you.

Before you make your decisions:

  • Think about yourself - subjects you like or dislike, do or don’t do well in
  • Think about careers and what you want to do in the future before deciding
  • Find out which subjects you’ll need for the careers you’re interested in.
  • Check out all your options now
  • Look at careers information in school and on websites. Your subject teacher, careers adviser and careers teacher will all be glad to help
  • Find out what you’ll learn and the skills you’ll develop in each subject. For example, if you like both history and geography and don’t know which to choose, find out what topics you’d be studying for GCSE - it could help you make up your mind
  • Ask if the course helps you to learn in the best way for you. Try to think about what will suit you. Do you like assignments, practical tasks or are you good at exams?
  • Choose a subject because you want to do it not because your friends are doing it
  • Choose a subject for itself - not because you like or don’t like the teacher
  • Make positive choices - don’t think about ‘boys’ subjects and ‘girls’ subjects - all are open to you.

Qualifications taken in Year 8/9 to Year 11

Look in your school’s options booklet and on its website to find out more about the qualifications, subjects and courses you can do in your school.

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)

  • Most of you will take GCSEs.
  • GCSEs are in subjects you have studied up to now such as music, history or English.
  • GCSEs are graded 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, U. You may need to get certain grades for the course or job you want.
  • Having grades 9-4 in a few subjects will increase your career options at 16.
  • If you don’t pass English and/or maths you will need to resit these regardless of the option you pick for post 16 choices.
  • You will take exams in all subjects and be internally assessed in your work.
  • All exams in two year GCSE courses have to be taken at the end of the course. Marks for spelling and grammar will be awarded in the following subjects: English language, English literature, geography, history and religious studies

Applied GCSE or GCSE Double Award

  • Double award GCSE science takes the same study time as two GCSEs. You will get two grades from 9-9 to 1-1
  • These may be offered in work-related subjects, such as business, technology and IT
  • You will find out more about these areas of work and learn some of the skills needed for them.

Vocational Qualifications

  • These are in broad work-related areas, such as health and social care, business, performing arts or media
  • You may study these at your school, another school or a college
  • These are good if you like practical learning
  • Qualifications offered include BTECs at entry levels, levels 1 or 2 and Cambridge Nationals at level 1 or 2
  • The Government has put in place new standards for vocational qualifications that are equal to GCSEs
  • Vocational qualifications will be known as Technical Awards. You can study up to three Technical Awards, alongside a minimum of five GCSEs.

The Subjects

Every subject you study will give you valuable skills and knowledge for the future.

Most of you will study these subjects:

English - skills in writing and speaking are important for everyone. They are particularly important if you are thinking of writing articles, books or software, or going into law, sales, social work, marketing or publishing. You can take both English language and English literature.

Maths - good skills in maths are important if you are considering engineering, building, a career with science, finance, or teaching. The minimum requirement for many jobs, is maths GCSE at grade 9-4.

Science - all students study science. Many of you will study single science or combined science GCSE - GCSEs in science. Science GCSE and combined science GCSE are a mixture of biology, chemistry and physics.

You should check out entry requirements for science A levels with your careers adviser. Some schools or colleges may want you to take individual science subjects - biology, chemistry, physics - most schools offer these as separate GCSEs. Individual GCSE sciences are useful if you are thinking of careers in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Research your career ideas before choosing a science qualification. Sciences are essential for engineering, laboratory work, food science, teaching, farming and health care jobs.

Religious education, citizenship, physical education, sex education and ICT - you will study all these subjects but you may not take exams in them.

Optional subjects

These vary from school to school, so check which subjects and qualifications your school offers. All schools must offer at least one subject from each of these areas:

  • Arts, such as art and design, music, dance, drama
  • Design and technology, such as food technology, resistant materials, engineering
  • Humanities, such as history, geography
  • Modern foreign languages, such as French, Spanish, German.

Vocational or work-related subjects may include: business, media studies, ICT, performing arts and others.

Check which courses and qualifications your school offers as not all schools offer all of these options.

The government is also cutting down on the number of vocational subjects on offer. Vocational qualifications that are approved will be offered by a range of exam boards, such as City & Guilds, Cambridge Nationals and BTEC.

The GCSE grading structure is explained at:

Check out qualifications for Years 10 and 11 (look at level 2).

You will take all your exams at the end of your GCSE course.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc):

EBacc is a set of subjects that the Government has said are particularly important and is used to measure how well schools are doing. 

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) certificate is a way for schools to see which Year 11 students get six GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 in the following subjects:

  • English
  • maths
  • either history or geography
  • an ancient or modern language
  • and two science subjects, which can be either science and additional science or three from physics, biology, chemistry and computer science and gained grade 9 to 4 in two.

Making your decision

After you have read your school’s option booklet:

  • List the options that interest you
  • Find out as much as you can, talk to the subject teachers
  • Cut down your first list to a short list
  • Think about the pros and cons of taking these

Who can I contact if I want more information?

If you are confused or undecided, ask at school or contact the Progress team at Lift or Platform.

Got a career in mind? Check out what qualifications you will need. The National Careers Service website has information on hundreds of careers.

Related articles