Student Info - KS3/GCSE

Secondary school is split into two Key Stages:

  • KS3 (Year 7- Year 9)
  • KS4 (Year 10 – Year 11)

KS3 starts in year 7 with most schools teaching the KS3 curriculum for 3 years. Some schools may teach KS3 over a shorter time period so that they can begin teaching GCSE subjects during year 9.   

Until year 8, students have little choice in the subjects they study at school, except maybe in the choice of language studied. However, by the end of year 8 or early year 9 pupils choose the subjects they study in years 10 and 11 for GCSE. 

Core Subjects:


As in primary school, Maths, English and Science are compulsory in secondary school. The new National Curriculum (NC) for KS3 was introduced in September 2014 and is generally more demanding than the previous one, especially in the core subjects of Maths, English and Science.

 Other subjects that your child may study (but not necessarily take an exam) are:

  • History
  • Geography
  • Modern Languages
  • Design and Technology
  • Art and Design
  • Music
  • Physical Education (PE)
  • Citizenship
  • Computing (ICT)

 Some schools also have extra compulsory subjects such as Religious Education; schools can also vary in the options they offer.

Tests and  Average level attainment

SATs are now discontinued in KS3 and there’s no formal exam for years 7 to 9. However, shortly after starting in Year 7 students take the Cognitive Ability Tests (C.A.T.s).

Schools use the C.A.T. tests to find out students’ baseline ability. The results also help the school predict the expected progress of students throughout secondary school and set GCSE target grades.

C.A.Ts measure students’ ability to think with words (verbal reasoning), think with numbers (quantitative reasoning) and think with shape and space (non-verbal reasoning.)

The national average score for C.A.Ts is 100. Students with scores over 100 are considered to be above the national average.

The old attainment levels that were used to assess progress have now been removed. Schools use their own assessment systems to ensure individual students are progressing and have an appropriate level of Knowledge and Understanding. 


During KS4, most students are working towards national qualifications, usually GCSEs. From September 2015, year 10 students in England will begin  new GCSEs in Maths and English with the first results issued in August 2017. Changes in other subject areas will be introduced from September 2016 with year 10 children being taught a new curriculum.

The purpose of changes to GCSE qualifications is to make them more challenging and better prepare students for further education and their careers beyond.

GCSEs explained

GCSE is short for ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’.  GCSEs are offered in academic as well as vocational or work-related subjects such as Applied Business or Applied Science.

GCSEs are major stepping-stones to college, sixth form, universities and eventually employment. Your child’s chances of getting a job, apprenticeship or university placement increase if they achieve 5 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C (or > 4 in the new 9 – 1 GCSEs).

KS4 National Curriculum Subjects

The National Curriculum subjects for KS4 include:

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    English (Core subject)
  • Maths (core subject)
  • Science (core subject)
  • Citizenship (foundation subject)
  • Computing (foundation subject)
  • Physical Education (foundation subject)

Schools also offer at least one subject from each of the following areas:

  • Art and Design
  • Design and Technology
  • Humanities (including Geography and History)
  • Languages

Other KS4 Options

Years 10 and 11 aren’t just about GCSEs. There are other types of qualifications your child can study – and some may suit them better than GCSEs. Depending on what’s available at your child’s school, they can choose GCSEs, BTEC Diplomas, OCR Certificates, or functional skill qualifications.

The key to helping your child choose their options successfully is to ensure you both know what’s on offer, how each subject is assessed,  the subjects that suit your child’s learning style better and the subjects that they enjoy.

Changes in GCSEs

There are major changes ahead for GCSEs and whilst they probably won't have a significant influence on your child’s choices, you need to know about them.

The main changes are:

  • A new grading scale is being introduced which uses numbers to identify levels of performance. Numbers 9 - 1 will replace A* - G, with 9 being the top grade. Grade 5 is considered a good pass and grade 9 is the highest and set above the current A*. 

  • All GCSE courses will now be linear which means students sit all exams for the qualification at the end of the full course in May / June.

  • Assessment will be by external exams only. Practical assessments and non-exam assessments (coursework) will only be used in subjects where exams would not properly assess the skills required.

  • Students will no longer be entered for Higher or Foundation tier exams (according to their ability) except for in Maths and Science which will retain this tiered system.

  • Qualifications are administered and awarded by an exam board. The main exam boards are AQA, Edexcel, OCR, WJEC and CCEA (Northern Ireland)

  • There will be no modular courses and re-sit opportunities will be limited.

  • There will be more questions requiring longer answers as well as more emphasis on literacy and numeracy.

  • The new GCSE system is intended to provide more differentiation, especially among higher achieving students

How Tutors can help

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    GCSEs can be stressful for students – some students find themselves taking more subjects than they can cope with and can feel a little overwhelmed.
  • Private tuition can help in several ways, not least having a positive impact on your child’s exam success. Tutors support learning and aid understanding of difficult subject areas as well as helping with exam techniques and application of knowledge.
  • Tutors can increase confidence and encourage independence by developing better study skills, time management and organisation of resources. They can also improve revision skills, working on strategies to improve memory and recall.
  • Support from private tutors may be in the form of one-to-one lessons or could be in small revision groups arranged by the tutor. Each tutor is highly qualified and experienced in their subject area so is able to extend knowledge and understanding.