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A-level choices - when your child wants to do their weakest subjects

(48 Posts)
AuntieUrsula Tue 08-Oct-19 21:13:40

DD2 is in year 11 and they're supposed to be making their preliminary A-level choices this term. The school has advised them broadly to pick what they enjoy and what they're good at, but what do you do if those two things don't coincide?

DD2 has announced she wants to be a chemical engineer and do maths, chemistry and physics for A-level. I have no idea where this has come from as she's never shown any particular interest in science before and positively hated maths, at least until recently. She's not bad at sciences as such (6/7/8 grade predictions), but she is definitely better at humanities and is predicted 9s for French, German, Latin and History.

DH thinks we should support her in whatever she wants to do, but I am worried she will struggle with science A-levels as she already finds the GCSEs quite challenging! However, having told the kids that we wouldn't pressure them to do particular subjects for A-level (because my parents did that with me and I resented it afterwards) I don't really want to get all heavy-handed with her.

Anyone else's kids done subjects that weren't their best academically and done OK? Or have they regretted it?

OP’s posts: |
crazycrofter Tue 08-Oct-19 21:31:24

It’s a long time ago now but dh started out with his strongest subjects - English, History and RS - then after a year he had a sudden desire to be a doctor and moved schools and switched the English and RS to Biology and Chemistry!

Not a good move - he got a B in the History with barely any work and managed Ds in the Sciences. Ended up doing dentistry instead of medicine and then two years in switching to a history degree!

I think no one impressed on him what it would take to become a doctor - or even questioned whether he would make a good doctor. You need to spend lots of time talking through all the A Level courses, talking about her strengths (both academic and relating to career choices) but somehow get her to reach the right conclusion....

crazycrofter Tue 08-Oct-19 21:31:56

... by herself that was meant to say. She needs to think she made the decision!

TimeforanotherChange Tue 08-Oct-19 21:37:13

Suggest she speaks to her Maths teacher and ask them for a bluntly honest opinion on whether she will struggle at Maths A level. @noblegiraffe will hopefully drop by with much more knowledge of Maths than me - I'm History but I would say hating Maths and having a 6 prediction isn't the best combination for A level.

Ginfordinner Tue 08-Oct-19 21:54:14

I would say hating Maths and having a 6 prediction isn't the best combination for A level.

I agree. Under the old grading system most schools wouldn't allow anyone with less than an A to do A level maths.

LolaSmiles Tue 08-Oct-19 22:00:26

There's worst and worst subjects.

E.g. A bright child who doesn't really enjoy my subject can get an 8 at GCSE and be totally unsuited to the A level, but someone who really enjoys the subject but had a bad day and got a 6 could do really well because they have the interest, drive and motivation.

I don't think having 9s or predicted 9s (which no school can do) in a subject for GCSE means much for A Level personally. What would worry me for A Level progression is if a student was getting 6s at GCSE with extensive support, lots of in school revision classes, lots of tutoring out of school etc as that suggests lack of aptitude and/or lack of interest.

Pythonesque Tue 08-Oct-19 22:33:50

Tailoring subject choices to career aspirations is ideal if those aspirations are genuine. Talk to her about where her idea of chemical engineering has come from, what does she know about it, why does she think she'd enjoy it. Her answers to that should help you know where to take the discussion next!

I can imagine scenario 1 - recent careers talk at school, chem eng needs more women, great job to do, chances to do X,Y, Z, sounds marvellous fun. Child with little previous idea what she wants to do thinks, oh great yes I'd like to do that. --> next thing you need to do is talk through the subjects, offer to help her find out more, perhaps consider a meeting with the maths teacher to work out whether maths A level is realistic.

Scenario 2 - she tells you in great detail exactly why she has been attracted to chemical engineering, has clearly researched it and fallen in love an idea founded at least partly in reality. In which case you support her strongly but equally, considering a meeting with school to check that her subjects will be strong enough and work out any areas that she could benefit from support in to ensure she can do them at A level.

Also, look around for summer schools relevant to engineering / chem eng that she might be interested in. (or encourage her to research them herself).

If you don't get answers that make you feel confident that her head is in the right place, then some detailed career path discussions and encouraging her to think broadly for a bit might be helpful.

(doi DD is high achieving including in the sciences, but has just started maths/history/english at A level and not really sure what she wants to do)

noblegiraffe Tue 08-Oct-19 23:37:49

Ok DD what does a chemical engineer do all day and why do you think you’d enjoy it? Would be my first question! I’ve got a lot of Y12s at the moment saying they’re thinking of going into accountancy. Why? No idea what an accountant does but they know it pays well.

It’s not clear from your post what your DD is predicted in maths. A 6 would possibly get her onto an A-level course, but really it shouldn’t. Kids with a 6 mainly flounder and drop out or struggle along for 2 years and come away with a D/E/U. Back in the olden days where they could take an AS at the end of Y12 then drop it, it was fine for weaker kids to give it a go, but now when they mostly start with 3 and have to stick with it I don’t think it’s right to waste their time.

A 7 would be fine for maths but she’d need to be aware that it would be a step up from GCSE and she probably wouldn’t find it easy or be heading for A*/A.

8 or above is great, even if maths isn’t her passion it is the most popular A-level and there would be plenty of others on the course doing it because it was a good-to-have rather than a burning desire.

Any subject choices made now aren’t set in stone, she can change her mind on results day

AuntieUrsula Wed 09-Oct-19 08:00:11

Sorry, should have been clearer - she's predicted 7 for maths, 6 for physics and 8 for chemistry and biology (but she doesn't want to do biology). Her current school require a minimum of 7 for maths and sciences, but another college we're looking at will take her with 6s.

I don't know where the chemical engineer thing has come from - last term they got to do some taster A-level lessons and she picked history and languages and there was no talk of science then. The trouble is she is not very communicative and doesn't really tell us anything about what goes on at school (I was gobsmacked last parents evening when the teachers commented on how sociable she was!!). I did ask her what being a chemical engineer involved and why she was interested and she was pretty vague, but I think it's tied in with all the climate change issues we're facing.

OP’s posts: |
LyraParry Wed 09-Oct-19 12:26:36

I teach physics and she will struggle with the A level if she is working at a 6 at GCSE. We have allowed students to take it if there are exceptional circumstances, but really a student with a 6 is likely to work really hard to come away with a D/E - which would not be enough for most (all?) chemical engineering courses.

Some universities do engineering taster days and it might be worth her while attending one before making a decision.

Grumpyperson Wed 09-Oct-19 15:55:41

Does she definitely need physics? I wonder if she could do chemistry maths and a language? That keeps options open and A level languages are a step up, but not massively tricky for a talented linguist, which she clearly is if she is doing three languages. A girl in my year did biology, chemistry and a MFL and ended up doing a law degree, so having a bit of a mix isn't a bad thing.

I looked at Bath as an example and they say they prefer physics for their chemical engineering degree, but it's not an absolute requirement.

Michaelahpurple Wed 09-Oct-19 18:20:15

I suspect the poster above speculating about a punchy career talk light have the heart of it. There is so much coverage about opportunities for women in stem and how more girls should choose these subjects (the way some papers phrase it, you'd think the best possible outcome would be for no boys at all to do physics a level)

I think girls thinking of humanities might feel a bit of a version of "real men don't eat quiche" to use a very silly phrase from my student days

BeyondMyWits Wed 09-Oct-19 18:33:47

My DD did
English (9 at GCSE) - her favourite and best subject.
Art - something she enjoys very much (A at GCSE),
and Music, which she finds fun, but was not her best subject (she got a B at GCSE)

She gained A*, C and D respectively at A level. She regrets the choice of music, and has taken a year out to think and grow up a little - she wants to study English at uni and will no doubt find a place (she also got an A in her EPQ which was based on English) but it has made her rethink and take pause.

daisypond Wed 09-Oct-19 18:41:07

I suspect there has been a talk at school about getting girls into STEM subjects, and of course there are good career paths there, and looking ahead to possible careers is worth while. But if you’re not great at STEM, I’d advise taking your strongest subjects - as long as you have a possible career path ahead. Mind you, one of mine did for A level entirely subjects she had not taken at GCSE at all.

fruitypancake Wed 09-Oct-19 18:47:33

I teach humanities at a level.. they get them interested in maths to keep their numbers up to run more groups and then kick them out within the first few weeks when they can't hack it and they can end up with little choice in what to pick up instead. By this point they have also missed the 1st few weeks of the course they have to switch into. It's shocking

lljkk Wed 09-Oct-19 20:28:26

I so regret not doing more math & heavy science at Uni.
I thought I had to get top grades or not bother at all
WRONG.
I would have loved the sciences even if I only got mediocre grades sometimes, & would have improved if I had stuck them out.
Even though I was great at writing... science turns out to be my gig.
So I'm voting let her choose. She doesn't have to excel for it to be a good choice. (the right choice)

Geo-engineering is hot topic right now, sounds like what she means. Physics & maths. Environmental science is related study area.

daisypond Wed 09-Oct-19 20:35:38

But you can’t just pick to do Maths and science at university once you are there. It matters a lot what A levels you do, or doors are closed to you or you have to start again. I was a good all rounder at school but went into the arts/humanities. I wish I had taken up maths and sciences instead. But you would need to be decent at them and enjoy them. If you don’t/aren’t, there’s no point.

lljkk Wed 09-Oct-19 20:51:36

In my university system I could just pick them once there, actually... but that's aside.

OP is talking about A-level choices. So now is her Dd's window of opportunity.

daisypond Wed 09-Oct-19 21:10:58

But there’s no point picking maths and science for A level if you’re not going to do well enough to get decent grades and enjoy them. The jump from GCSES is large, and unless you’re getting good grades now - or have the potential to- it will be too difficult at A level and the school will pull you out of the courses.

lljkk Wed 09-Oct-19 21:15:22

in your humble opinion, DaisyP, would a C at A-level be "not decent grades" that also meant absolutely for certain that it was impossible that OP's DD could enjoy studying those subjects?

LittleSweet Wed 09-Oct-19 21:19:21

Similar here. He's not predicted the grades that he will need to do astro physics at degree level. He watches Big Bang Theory...His predicted maths is 6. So not really good enough for physics degree. He has no work ethic either. He's looking at physics, maths and engineering, combinations of, at my encouragement. Possibly maths, physics and environmental science. I really don't want to push him into something he's not keen on, but at the same time I want him to apply for something he'll enjoy and be capable of doing. I'm incredibly frustrated with him because he's really clever and just making excuses for his lack of effort.

Paddy1234 Wed 09-Oct-19 21:22:53

DS has been forecasted a 9 in chemistry - he has been told to step up his work as the difference between GSCE and A level is huge.
Mind you he is a lazy fucker

LoyaltyBonus Wed 09-Oct-19 21:25:08

I think if she was doing "OK" in humanities and wanted to do those in preference to maths/science which were her stronger subjects that could work, but schools round here won't accept you onto an A Level maths course without at least a 7 at GCSE because they know you're unlikely to pass.

hoodiemum Wed 09-Oct-19 21:37:55

May be a non-starter of a suggestion, but have you considered the IB? Mostly only available in private schools, but there are several state schools dotted around the country that do it. It's a great option for someone in your DD's situation. She would have the chance to do a science, maths, English, an MFL (or Latin if available at the school), a humanities subject, and one other. 3 subjects at higher level (roughly equivalent to A level) and 3 at standard level (more like AS). Very easy to switch between higher and standard level as year 12 progresses, so she could do her 2 science subjects and maths at higher level, as I imagine is needed for chem eng, and switch to focusing more on arts subjects if she changes her mind. My son is in a v similar position to your DD, and is likely to take this approach. My DD did it and loved the course.

hoodiemum Wed 09-Oct-19 21:41:11

FWIW, I think the balance has shifted too far towards encouraging girls into STEM subjects if they're generally bright. There's a growing feeling among teens that if you go for arts subjects it's because you aren't good enough at science. hmm The ones with a particular aptitude for arts subjects end up doing science and sell themselves short.

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