What next for our GCSE Students

I was actually quite surprised with myself. I thought that I would be nervous and stressed when I went with my eldest daughter to collect her GCSE results. Is it because, as a family of European migrants, we have never experienced before the actual exam period in the UK? Often, not knowing what to expect can actually be quite helpful! Having said that, 5-6 weeks of exams and revision were a true rollercoaster of emotions; tiredness, happiness when the exam went well, encouragement and motivation to continue learning even when the energy levels were low. 

I decided to accompany my daughter to her school to collect her important envelope. After a moment of hesitation, she decided to open it in her library. I was worried a bit that she might be unhappy with her grades, however she wasn’t. In actual fact, she did very well, in particular in the key subjects; Maths and English.

As a History teacher by profession, I found the English educational system interesting and at times, confusing. It has, like any other, advantages and disadvantages. Students are asked, as early as in Y.8 or Y.9, to drop some of the subjects and encouraged to select their GCSE options. Too early? In my view, most definitely. The same scenario applies to young adults, who decide to continue A-Level Education. After completing a few Sixth Form documents, my daughter was asked whether she is planning to go to University. She said yes, however she is still unsure what exactly she wants to do next. For her, making this decision is actually becoming a problem. She enjoys learning at least 5-6 subjects, however she needs to choose 3 topics/ courses. She still hasn’t made up her mind. 

What surprised me the most? I must admit that I was quite frustrated with “teaching blocks”. I find it really extraordinary that if a student wants to do both; geography and history, he or she can’t do it as they are both in the same group of subjects. In my view, very early, students are being asked to drop courses that they might enjoy and they are in a way forced to pick topics, which are not always “aligned” with their interests. 

The last few years of my daughter’s education weren’t easy. She, as well as her peers, had to spend almost two years of combining on and off-line learning. Sitting in front of her laptop, participating in lessons on Teams on Zoom will never replace a proper educational experience. The social element, which was missing for such a long period of time, has been equally important. However, I am glad that my daughter, as well as many of her friends, are resilient and despite so many obstacles and challenges, they managed to cope with some additional pressure and uncertainty.

I remember my time at school and exams. The world, my upbringing and educational experience were very different. In 1998, when I started studying History at the Catholic University of Lublin, I knew well one of the very few routes to a good job and some financial security was a qualification from a decent University. I was very lucky to have been given an opportunity to study abroad, in Zagreb, Croatia. This experience shaped me hugely as a person; not only because this is where I met my future wife but because I was, for the first time, exposed to diversity and multicultural society.

In the last month or so, while my daughter is embarking on an important journey to adulthood and Further Education, I often wonder whether I would still go to University, if I had a choice. Young people today, particularly in the UK, have so many options; College, Sixth Form, or various apprenticeship schemes. The political and economical transition change in Poland in the 1990’s meant that my options were limited. A lot has changed and I am really pleased that many foreign students decide to study in Poland, where many of the available courses are taught in English.

In the next few days, my daughter will have to decide what subjects she will be studying in the Sixth Form. As parents, we are keen to ensure that it is her decision and that we don’t impose our plans and ambitions onto her. We want her to “own” this process and it must be her, who is “in charge”. She has all the tools and skills needed to ensure that her educational and career paths are both enjoyable and rewarding and I am sure that any decisions she takes will lead her to a successful life.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • nigel hunter 28th Aug '22 - 9:01pm

    I did 6 ‘O’ levels,confident that I could do well,I did not.3 subjects would have been better.However, after getting over the disappointment picked myself up and ,over time achieved further useful qualifications with a degree. If she is taking 2 much on, with your futue support, encouragement she can do well.

  • Peter Watson 29th Aug '22 - 8:11am

    @Martin “It is difficult and not right to have to choose only three subjects.”
    I completely agree.
    It is often forgotten among all of the other things people regret this party supporting in Coalition, but changes to A-levels and AS-levels made this so much worse.
    Previously, many students studied 4 AS-levels and then three for A2 in year 13. This allowed them to keep more options open until they had more maturity / experience / knowledge, or to pick a 4th subject they enjoyed, or to study an AS in year 13 because they required a different subject for a degree they now wanted to study.
    Devaluing the AS and requiring children to make their three choices in year 11 seemed such a massive step backwards. It also seemed very regressive since children from less privileged backgrounds would have far less exposure to the types of careers they might enjoy and knowledge of the academic requirements for them.

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