Lost in the maze of GCSE options and future plans

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How many of you can remember how many O-levels (or GCSEs as I believe they are known today) you received, let alone at what grade?

I still struggle to remember the subjects I studied. And no one has asked recently either.

So it was with some apprehension that I embarked on the journey that is GCSE options with my 13-and-a-half year old daughter.

Initially, I thought: ‘How hard can it be?’

But as time went by the number of permutations that kept popping up, accompanied by my having to learn a whole new language, meant that the whole experience became nightmarish.

As far as I can remember, when I ‘chose’ my O-level subjects, it basically depended on what the timetable could support and actually there was very little choice.

All I needed were enough passes to convince my school that I could stay on and take A-levels and not end up doing the secretarial course for the less academic, even though I actually really wanted to learn to type and do shorthand (and probably everyone who did it was a whole lot more employable than I was with my A-levels in history, geography and English).

So what I thought was going to be a simple task turned out to be angst-ridden and involved a host of Venn diagrams to a) understand and b) look at all the permutations of subjects to choose from.

First of all, we had to choose a ‘pathway’, then decide on one of three subjects, another one from another group, then four from another, even though you will only end up with two of them. Are you following so far?

Of course, the fly was thrown unceremoniously in the ointment when the school decided to offer a ‘triple science’ option three days after I had helped her make and register her choices.

It took me a week, a discussion with a friend whose older children had been through the same decision process, a chat with a biology teacher from a local college, and several hours banging my head against a wall in a darkened room, to understand that actually going for this option was a good idea.

In order to be accepted into the triple science clique, though, she had to write a letter of application and attend an interview.

In the interview she had to explain why she wanted to take this option, other than to differentiate herself above all the other poor students who will be struggling to get a university place in four years’ time (if they can afford the £9,000 tuition fees, of course).

And this is where the big difference is between now and when I was choosing my O-levels.

Way back then I don’t think that we needed to have any idea as to what we wanted to do in our future lives. We didn’t have to justify our choices.

Can you imagine if, in your early teens, you were under pressure to make choices that could actually affect your future career?

After all, at age 14 I didn’t imagine that I would be struggling to make a living out of writing – I was going to be married to Simon Le Bon and living a life of luxury.