GCSE options nightmare for my 13 year old - advice very welcome

(56 Posts)
HoneyKate Wed 15-Feb-12 14:28:12

I would be so grateful for any help in this area. My daughter is in year 9 and her current Key Stage 3 grades are mainly in the 5's (mix of a,b and c). What Level GCSE would you expect her to study? The school (recently converted to Academy status) is insisting she study all subjects at Level 1 and they will only let her do 5 GCSEs and Btech Science, meaning that she won't be able to achieve higher than a Grade D at GCSE. This is despite her predicted levels (for end of year 9) being 6's in most subjects (bar maths and science where they are 5a). She is so distressed (as am I and her father)that they won't let her even try for a C grade in anything. Everything she wants to do in further education relies on her getting minimum Grade C and B's. Her teachers have told her how well she is doing and even her maths teacher told us 2 weeks ago at the parents evening that she could achieve a Grade C if she worked hard. She is in the second from top English class but second from bottom in Maths. She is a good student, never absent and never disruptive. She has never been in any trouble or even had a detention. I don't understand why they won't give her the chance to try for Grade C's. I am guessing this stems back to her CAT scores at primary which were quite low even though her SATS were mostly in the 6's. She would have been in band 2 were it not for the CATS which reduced her to a band 4 and in fact the dep head at the time told me he was initially thinking of putting her in band 5, the bottom band. She has since gone up to band 2 in English. Are there any teachers out there with any advice? My past experience in trying to reason with the school over various issues has rarely met with an success although I do intend to go into the school next week with all guns blazing. We only found this out at the end of school last Friday so have to stew on it all week. My poor daughter is distraught at the thought of never being allowed to try for a Grade C.

Kez100 Wed 15-Feb-12 15:32:47

I really empathise with you as my daughter is of similar ability and 5's should get a crack at a C (a long running thread of mine proves why!). However, regarding your question, I don't understand why she isn't being allowed to study for Grade C.

You say she is sitting 5 GCSEs - they may be at foundation paper, but foundation papers can gain a C grade. What did you mean by her being stopped from trying for a C?

BTEC Science seems to be the current thinking for the non-scientists. Grade C is very difficult for these children - my daughter (a very hard worker but non scientist) has really struggled to get where she is in year 9 - which is a solid D is additional science and a borderline C/D in core. I suspect she might have enjoyed science a bit more if she had done Btec but I can;t say I am not delighted she has had the chance to try the GCSEs (and if she nabs even one of them at a C it will have been worth it IMO)

What options are they actually letting her do : what subjects and what exam?

HoneyKate Wed 15-Feb-12 16:20:15

Thanks Kez100. For the first time her school has decided to approach GCSE's differently this year, I assume this is a change which has come about as a result of them recently becoming an Academy. They have segregated the GCSE pupils into two groups and offered up to 12 Level 2 GCSEs (A-C) to those kids consider to be "bright". To those they consider less able they have offered vocational courses (2 day release to local college) and, for those who don't want to go to college, they say they offer up to 8 GCSEs but only at Level 1, meaning they can only study in the grade D-G level. There is no option here to get a C. I found the different levels explained on the education section of the government website. I am appalled that the school decides at this point in time - before the students have even begun their GCSE courses - which level they should sit an exam in. In fact part of these "8 GCSE's" are Btec science which (thanks to Michael Gove) are not going to be worth any GCSE's by the time they have finished them. They are offering my daughter 1 X English, maths, and 3 "option" subjects (she wants to do drama, history and french) plus Btec science all at Level 1 (D-G). The "options pack" provided by the school makes no mention of "foundation papers" it is all based on studying at Level 1 or Level 2. (The school gets to decide on an individual basis whether to let the student take GCSE PE and RE. Obviously these last two are obligatory subjects but it's the school's choice whether they study on a core or GCSE level.) Why would they do this when her Autumn 2011 grades were mostly 5's and her predicted grades for end of Key Stage 3 mostly 6's? From info I have found on Mumsnet a 5 at Key Stage 3 can predict a C pass and a 6 a B pass. She was hoping to be able to try for the EBacc (a recent introduction at the school) but will be excluded from the opportunity.

SecretSquirrels Wed 15-Feb-12 16:38:24

I have two DCs at secondary school and have never heard of level 1 GCSEs?
They are normally foundation and higher. The foundation allows up to a grade C.
It is outrageous that the school is effectively narrowing your child's options for further education in this way.

titchy Wed 15-Feb-12 16:43:00

I think the school are basically saying that they have split the year group into those they expect to get the Level 1 GCSE, and those they expect to get the Level 2 GCSE. This is normal!

Those that they expect to get Level 1 GCSE will do Foundation tier - this goes up to a C!!!!! And possibly a B in a few cases I believe.

The other group will also do the Higher Tier which will enable them to get grades up to A*.

Your dd has been identified as someone who isn't expected to get a B or higher, so they are playing safe and just allowing her to do the Foundation Tier. She is still able to get a grade C though.

You may be able to argue she should be given the chance to do the Higher tier for a couple of subjects - e.g. English, but I'd have thought this would be best discussed on a subject by subject basis, once you know her final KS3 results.

Don't worry about the EBacc - it's not a qualification in its own right.

I doubt the school's expectations of her achievements is based on her Year 6 SATS, or her Year 7 CATS....

balia Wed 15-Feb-12 16:44:19

Can you tell us what boards they are offering these 'level 1' GCSE's in? AFAIK there is no English GCSE that only offers D-G grades, foundation is C-G and Higher is A*-D.

titchy Wed 15-Feb-12 16:47:16

Just for the record, Level 1 qualifications are equivalent to D-G grades at GCSE, Level 2 qualifications equivalent to A*-C at GCSE, Level 3 qualifications equivalent to A Level etc all the way up to PhF level at University.

For GCSEs the level you end up with is determined by your final results, not on whether you gained your C by only taking Foundation tier, or by taking Higher tier as well. A C grade is a C gade is a C grade!

titchy Wed 15-Feb-12 16:48:07

sorry can't type: PhD level at University (Level 8)

HoneyKate Wed 15-Feb-12 17:02:07

Thank you all, I am very grateful for your advice. The only explanation I could find about what a Level 1 and Level 2 GCSE constitutes is on the government website (education section) which states that Level 1 is D-G and Level 2 is A*-C. It isn't explained in the options pack she brought home from school and they don't mention foundation courses. The school has made it clear that the options forms must be in by the deadline of 9 March and that courses get filled quickly (it's a large school). By the time she's got the results of her end of KS3 exams it may be too late for her to get into a higher group and the school has not indicated (at this stage) that that is even an option. Her best subjects are english, french, history and drama so of course she wants the opportunity to be able to try for a C and possibly a B. She has had to forget her ideas of going into wildlife conservation because she needs GCSE and not Btech science. It seems sad at this age that she has to discount possible career areas that interest her. I strongly believe she hasn't been given the opportunity to prove herself in science as she has spent 2 years in a very disruptive class and the last year with a student teacher, not fully qualified, who couldn't control the class and didn't do much actual "teaching". All my complaints to the school fell on deaf ears. But that's a whole other story!

titchy Wed 15-Feb-12 17:07:59

I think if she works very hard the school shoudl be able to let her do the Higher tier papers in some subjects - they won't make the final decision until the end of year 10 I'd have thought, so she has year 10 to prove herself. She may be in a lower set though so it might be difficult.

Don't let her forget about her dreams though - she can always try for a Science GCSE at college. Or in the evenings. Or as a mature student. I have known gaduates in their 80s! It's never too late at - and certainly not at 14!

all the best to her.

balia Wed 15-Feb-12 17:14:57

I think you may be confusing the Btech GCSE equivalences with actual GCSE's? Honestly, with the emphasis firmly on 5 grade 'C'+ passes, it is extraordinarily unliely that any child who may be capable of a 'C' grade would be prevented from trying to get one, particularly in core subjects like English and Maths. Have they not had an options evening?

titchy Wed 15-Feb-12 17:19:41

She will be able to get a C Balia! The foundation tier goes up to a C.

BTEC Science is seen as theeasy option for science-strugglers though.

HoneyKate Wed 15-Feb-12 17:53:35

There was an options evening but it was quite confusing (many parents said so afterwards including one parent who is a teacher at the local Grammar so I don't think it was me being thick! LOL). Your comments are helpful and I will request a meeting with senior teachers next week to establish a clearer picture. I will ask them about Foundation level and hopefully make more sense of it all. I think I have a good case to ask for my daughter to be allowed to study 2 Englishes (Eng lang and Eng lit) at the higher level and also French, English and Drama. I don't know if the school will allow her to study some subjects at one level and some at another. The options booklet certainly doesn't seem to indicate this as a possibility. In fact I think the reason the school has issued two different options booklets shows that they want to specifically segretate the two. It is a shame about the Btec Science though because the local 6th form college doesn't recognise it as being a GCSE equivalent for any of its A level courses.

Coconutty Wed 15-Feb-12 18:03:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

noblegiraffe Wed 15-Feb-12 18:03:23

Maths GCSE 'level 1' doesn't exist, it's either Foundation Tier or Higher tier. If they are talking about 'level 1 maths' they are talking about an equivalent qualification and not maths GCSE. I would very much doubt that they are not entering the students for maths GCSE as this would affect the league tables.

If your daughter takes maths GCSE, she would be sitting Foundation tier and have the chance of getting a grade C. If she gets a level 5 at the end of KS3, it is worth knowing that about a quarter of students on a level 5 in maths at KS3 go on to get a C at GCSE in maths (I think it's about half of students in English at level 5). To increase the chances of this being her, she needs to aim for as high a level 5 (or even 6) that she can get.

Coconutty Wed 15-Feb-12 18:04:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Kez100 Wed 15-Feb-12 19:15:08

Just a bit of information about my daughters experience (she is what I would describe as a hard working 'foundation' paper student):

English language - lots of controlled assessments in year 10 (thats is coursework but done in classtime so they know the children have done it themselves). There is no limit on what grade they can get - if it's good enough, they'll get an A*. That guides the school as to whether they do higher paper or foundation for the exam. I believe, in EL, foundation goes up to a B.

Maths - foundation paper goes up to a C. Needs a lot of hard work to get from a level 5 in year 9 but it can be done (my daughter just has)

GCSE Drama - the controlled assessments have no grade limit. The exam is a production - again no grade limit.

GCSE French - controlled assessments in speaking and writing. No grade limit. Exams in Reading and Listening and they do higher or foundation - foundation goes to Grade C.

So, you can see, there are opportunities to get C Grades, although hard work is required. Obviously, if she is on BTEC Science there is no GCSE available so its important for them to be able to say why they don't believe she will get a C. My daughter was 5a in year 9 but has still struggled to get close to C Grades despite a lot of hard work, past papers and the benefit of module exams (which I think are going).

Loshad Wed 15-Feb-12 20:22:21

there are level 1 qualifications available though, but i would be amazed if the school were suggesting a whole heap of students studied only for level 1 as it would drastically affect their place in the league tables hmm. We have a tiny number of students studying for level 1 qualifications (in single figures from 270/year), but they are students who we would not expect to gain C grades at all at GCSE in Maths/Eng/Sci and even then it is personalised for them eg 1 student may only do a level 1 in maths, but be sitting foundation tier English, another might be on level 1 for English but on track to gain a C in Maths.
Kez's info above is totally correct re foundation/higher tier stuff, i do wonder if that is what your dd's school intends not for them to do level 1 en masse.

I think there might have been some kind of communication break down here. I teach English & Litersture: pupils are entered for foundation (c-g) or higher (a*-c) There's no 'level 1' or 'level 2' and, in most cases, we'd decide which paper to enter pupils for as close to the exam as possible. I also teach Drama, where there's only one paper - all pupils are entered at the same level.

Honestly, truly, no school would decide in year 9 that a pupil should not at least have a shot at a C or above - firstly, if would effect their results too much (schools want pupils to get Cs!!!) and secondly, I don't know any exam boards that offer D or below exam papers.

I know it's hard as its half term and you can't do anything now OP, but I think you need to try to relax & arrange to go into school to discuss it. I really think (&hope!) you've got the wrong end of the stick.

Oh, and if you can tell from the literature the school have given you which exam boards they're offering (probably varies across subjects) then between us we can probably work out the details for each subject.

Loshad Wed 15-Feb-12 21:40:00

ey up truth are you sure you aren't a science teacher "Litersture" wink

Damn phone grin

Kez100 Thu 16-Feb-12 10:37:45

You say "They are offering my daughter 1 X English, maths, and 3 "option" subjects (she wants to do drama, history and french) plus Btec science"

I know the information is sketchy but questions I would be asking (in a polite and supportive manner) would be:

Why is she only expected to sit one English GCSE when she is in set 2 for English?

Given she has chosen history and french, the Btec Science stops her dead in her tracks in terms of achieving the English Bacc. Although we realise that the EB will be a hard hurdle for her, please can you explain to us why Btec Science is the right course for her over GCSE?

She is in a quite low set for Maths. Is there any booster work we can be putting in place now to help her achieve a Grade C?

HoneyKate Thu 16-Feb-12 11:10:14

Lots of help here, I'm very grateful and I will update as soon as I have more info. Her options booklet says "Level 1 GCSE" - English, Maths, BTEC Double Award Science. 3 X Option subjects. Core PE (GCSE by consultation), RE Full Course. 8 or 9 GCSEs or equivalent courses. Progression routes - OCR Nat. Level 2/3 AS Levels. Post 16 GCSE. No mention of any exam boards unfortunately. The other options in this booklet involve going to college to study childcare, nail technology etc. I really do hope I have got the wrong end of the stick. The other options booklet refers to "Level 2 GCSE" and the only info I could find that offered an explanation about what Level 1 and Level 2 actually means was, as I've mentioned, on the government website which specified the different grade ranges. I concluded from this that if you were classified as Level 1 it meant the school was only offering you the chance to study at that level, meaning the top grade you could hope to achieve would be a D. I agree this doesn't seem logical so I really do hope that I have got it wrong. I will fight for my daughter to be allowed to do double English because she really needs the chance to try for B grades in order to study English and drama at A level. The local 6th form college expects a student to choose 5 subjects to study at A level and, although C grades are sufficient for some courses, B's are requierd here and there. I may have to accept the Btec science although this will mean that my daughter has to narrow her "dreams" if you like, and concentrate purely on going down the drama/english/history route and not the zoology/conservation route which is her other great love and interest. It really depends on whether the school is prepared to allow any "cross over" between the two separate options booklets they have issued. This afternoon I am meeting with a group of home educators just to get an insight into how that all works. I feel I need explore other options in case the school won't budge at all. The other good local schools where I would consider moving her to are all full and have waiting lists. Moving her at all would be a very last resort - I am reluctant to do so as she is happy (well, was happy before all this) and settled.

elliepac Thu 16-Feb-12 11:17:05

Speaking as a history teacher, there should be no problem aiming for a C in History as there are no such thing as Foundation and Higher papers for any exam board. All pupils sit the same exam paper. And,as many have said, i think it highly unlikely that any school would limit a pupil's chance of achieving in this way.

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