Post-Sixteen qualifications – A-level subjects and courses option after GCSE

The GCSE exam results are released today, with fewer top grades of 7, 8 and 9 (A and A*) being awarded in comparison to last year, but higher than in 2019. Although A-level grades are the main determining criterion for admission into the top universities, GCSEs still matter and there are two reasons for this.

  1. High GCSE grades are needed in Maths and English and also in the subjects the students want to study in order to be admitted into a good school or sixth form college to study A-level or the IB.
  2. Most top universities now take GCSE results into consideration when considering candidates for a place on their degree courses.

The two criteria above are relevant for young people who are keen to study at a top university. The less reputable sixth form colleges and universities are less fussy about grades, as the bar is lower. There is a merit in going to university and all university education has a value in life. However, it is important to be aware of certain key pattens:

  1. Obtaining a degrees from certain universities significantly increases job and career prospects. However, those top universities require high grades and have a stronger preference for certain A-level subjects, although they do not broadcast this explicitly
  2. Not everyone will achieve a Grade A in all subjects and gain admission to one of the top universities such as the Russell Group; however, it would be a shame for the teenager not to try hard enough to achieve their full potential in all the subjects they take. For some young people that is an A grade and for others it may be Grade C.
  3. The two main post-sixteen academic qualifications in England are A-level and IB (International Baccalaureate). There is also the Cambridge Pre U, but this is extremely uncommon and is only offered by a small handful of Public Schools (top private independent schools), and perhaps some grammar schools.
  4. BTec is a vocational and not an academic qualification. Yes, almost all universities list BTec as acceptable as an entry requirement. In reality, however, students who study BTec before going to university usually struggle, and there is a high drop-out rate – particularly at the more reputable universities. This is because the courses are designed with A-level or IB (International Baccalaureate) in mind, and not BTec. It must be noted, however, that some young people are better suited to BTec, and they will do well by studying this qualification.

Below is a list of A-level subjects that I recommend that every student should do at least two from.

  1. Maths
  2. Physics
  3. Chemistry
  4. Further Maths
  5. History
  6. English (-any of Literature, Language or Lit/Lang)
  7. Biology
  8. Languages, such as: first category – French, German, Latin, Japanese, Chinese and Russian. There are other languages, which I call second category, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic, but I recommend the ones I’ve listed in the first category first.

One final point I’d like to make is that, on the whole, young people do better if they study A-level at a school or a further education college. This is a generalisation, but it holds very well in most cases. Having said this, there is a handful of sixth form colleges that have a good track record of students who achieve top exam grades.

I must clarify that the above list is my own humble opinion, based on my observations over many years, in which I have played a small role in teaching or managing teams that teach successful teenagers in mainly grammar school and independent schools.

Below is a link to a couple of places on our website, that you may find helpful