12 Success Tips for parents with children in secondary school

These tips are aimed at providing parents key facts, practices and helpful information about the education system; the awareness and implementation of which will provide your child an advantage in getting and staying ahead of the game. It is designed for parents with children of secondary school age, from 11 to 18. However, parents with younger children will also find it useful in gazing ahead to the future. This particular set of ‘Success Tips’ is generic in nature and you are strongly advised to request ‘Success Tips’ for the specific age of your child. Also ensure that you stay ahead of the game by reading the success tip for the years ahead of your child’s current age group. The education system in England is rather complex and the curriculum changes very often – Be Informed

  1. Don’t leave things too late – Remember that children grow very fast and don’t leave things too late. Always look at least three years ahead of your child’s current age, whist at the same time keeping up to date with the requirements of his or her present Key Stage/year group.
  2. All focus at secondary school should be on GCSE and A-level
 – All the focus in secondary school is now on GCSE and A-level as these are the two main examinations. The official age for studying GCSE is 15 to 16 – Y10 and Y11. However, in reality all high-performing schools start much earlier at KS3 – as early as Y8 or Y7 in some cases.
  3. The Ebacc – English Baccalaureate – the EBacc is the new yardstick for measuring real academic success at the age of 16. Achieving five good grades at GCSE is no longer sufficient as those grades have to be in the specific subjects of English, Maths, two Sciences, either History or Geography, and one Language. A minimum of grade 5 (C grade) is needed in each of all those subjects.
  4. KS3 is just as important as GCSE and A-levelTeachers begin to form their opinion about your child’s potential for GCSE right at the start of KS3 and it’s vital that he or she is in the set that suits his/her ability. Most students in the lower set at KS3 end up doing the Foundation Tier for GCSE exams, where the highest grade they can obtain is ‘grade 5’ (C grade in old money!), or worse, get put on a vocational course such as BTEC. If that’s all your child is capable of then that’s fine and accept it. However, if they are more capable, it’s a shame to just coast along, with no desire or enthusiasm to achieve beyond mediocrity.
  5. The new GCSE Number Grading SystemThe new number grading system, from grade 9 to grade 1, is designed to identify the most able students, and achieving the top grade 9 is very challenging. There is a lot of confusion about the minimum requirement – grade 5 is accepted as safe but more able young people should aim even higher.
  6. Academic Qualifications available at A-levelThe range of academic qualifications that are available for post sixteen are: A-level; the IB – International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Pre-U.A-level is the safer option and most widely known and accepted for university admission. The IB is broader in content and also just as academically challenging as A-level; however, not all schools and colleges offer the IB. The Cambridge Pre-U is the most academically demanding and only a tiny number of the top schools offer it for the most able young people.Achieving three top grades at A-level is sufficient to gain admission to the top universities. Although many universities, including the top institutions, list BTEC as acceptable, in reality students at the top universities have studied an academic qualification to gain entry and the very few who manage to get in with BTEC usually struggle immensely on the course and may end up not completing their degree.
  7. Universities are not the same and society and the top employers value the Russell Group Institutions more than other universities. The very top universities have a strong preference for certain A-level subjects and a student needs to achieve very high grades in at least two of those in order to have a chance of being offered a place at a top university.
  8. Preferred subjects listFor GCSE the EBacc subjects are key. At A-level, the subjects in which the most prestigious universities have a very strong preference for are: Maths, English Literature, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, History, Economics and languages – such as French, German, Latin, Mandarin and a few others.It’s ok for a teenager to follow their passion but subjects such as Media Studies, Photography, Sociology, Psychology, Business Studies and some other related subjects are looked down or ignored by top universities.To increase the chances of an offer at a top university, two of the preferred subjects listed here ought to be included in your child’s subject choice for A-level or its equivalent of IB or Pre-U.
  9. Schools are better places to study A-level – the top schools
A school that offers post-sixteen qualifications is the best place to study an academic qualification such as A- level, IB or Pre-U, and not at a college. Only a handful of sixth form colleges have a track record of achieving top exam grades at A-level. Ask questions and check the past record of A-level successes before your child accepts a place to study post-sixteen qualifications at a school or college.
  10. Cooperate with the school to get the best for your child
In order for your child to get the most out of their school, it is helpful to be seen to cooperate with the school and observe their rules, practices and expectations, both written and unwritten. Confrontation should be avoided as much as possible but be assertive in voicing your concern. It is usually more effective to write a letter to the head of the school – but only when it comes to a very important matter you wish to be dealt with.
  11. Electronics are a huge distraction.Electronic gadgets are powerful tools that can be useful to get things done and for entertainment. But for most people – including young people, computers, tablets and smart phones are more of a distraction than an asset. Most young people spend too much time on electronic devices and technology should not be allowed to control your child’s life, but to be used cautiously and effectively. Remember, examinations are still done with a pen and paper, and having ideas is one thing, but to communicate those ideas in the way an examiner wants, requires written practice.
  12. Converse with your childRegular conversation with your child is vital. It is difficult to speak to teenagers but there is no option but to find a way to do it.Take an interest in what your child is doing and establish an effective communication channel and keep it up throughout their studies.The benefits of this go beyond just passing examinations. Also speak to teachers as often as you can without being seen to be a nuisance.


Conclusion and enjoy it all!

This particular set of Success Tips is generic in nature as it covers all the three key stages of secondary education. Please request the specific success tips for your child’s year group/ Key Stage.

There is so much variation in the education system from one sector to another and the curriculum changes very often. Be Informed and be aware of Rules, Practices and Preferences – official and non-official!

Be demanding but at the same time encourage your son or daughter to celebrate their successes – including little progress made. Be mindful of their strengths and weaknesses and show them you are proud of whatever they achieve; as long as they have tried hard.

Excel in Key Subjects offers helpful and impartial advice on matters relating to secondary education, achieving exam success and gaining admission to university. Contact us for a free consultation, which can be on the phone or by a scheduled visit to one of our centres.

Good teachers are expensive but bad teachers cost your child more...

Enjoy parenting and make the best of the last few years before they grow wings and fly off into the big wide and wild world!

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