GCSEs are a major part of every UK student’s life, and we spend the majority of our time in secondary school preparing for them. When the time comes for students to pick their GCSE options, there are certain subjects’ students not have the option to drop; they are compulsory, but what are these subjects?
There are 3 subjects that are compulsory at GCSE – Maths, English, and Science. Maths earns you 1 GCSE, English 2 GCSEs (English Language and Literature) and Combined Science, which is worth 2 GCSEs. Although Physical Education is not a compulsory GCSE subject, it is obligated for children to continue having PE lessons up until the end of Year 11.
This article will explain which subjects are compulsory, why they are compulsory and answer any questions related to this topic. Let’s get into it!
Table of Contents
Which GCSE subjects are compulsory?
Compulsory subjects that are mandatory to take at GCSE level are often referred to as the ‘core-subjects’. These subjects consist of Maths, English, and Science.
A GCSE in Maths is worth 1 GCSE overall. At the end of the course, you will only receive one grade.
A GCSE in English is a little more complex. There are 2 separate GCSEs: English Language and English Literature. English Language is enforced by the government in every school; this is not the case for English Literature. The vast majority of schools will offer English Literature, however, it is not compulsory at all schools, click here to find out more.
There are 2 different options students could be made to study – Separate Science and Combined Science. The difference between Separate and Combined Science is that Combined Science totals to 2 GCSEs; Separate Science is worth 3. This means the latter is more work and overall is an increasingly complex course.
Some schools only offer combined science to students who achieve high grades in Science and Maths. That being said, some schools- although infrequent, do make Separate Science compulsory. Although the government only requires that students complete Combined Science. If Separate Science is not compulsory at your school, it will likely be an option for you to take once you reach Year 10.
Technically, there are no other mandatory subjects, however, schools may choose to make other subjects (such as History, Geography, a Modern Foreign Language or Religious Education) compulsory.
Why are there compulsory GCSE subjects?
As a student, or as someone who was gone through the educational system previously in their life, you may be wondering why the subjects mentioned above are compulsory. Why is it that students can’t pick for themselves which subjects they feel they will benefit from the most?
At the age of 14 (the age most schools allow their pupils to pick their GCSE options) you are still maturing into the person you will become as you enter adulthood. At this age you will likely still be figuring yourself out, your likes and dislikes. Over the course of the next few years, you may find that subjects you used to despise you now love and vice versa.
The core subjects are such important subjects it makes it vital that you are kept in study of them until you are old enough to have a clearer idea of what you would like to do in the future. The compulsory subjects are considered the most important as they provide the basic literacy and maths skills required in everyday life. Basic level science is also very important, we don’t want people sticking knives in toasters, this is of course a very bad idea. Make sure you pay attention in your ‘core subjects’.
Why is GCSE Maths compulsory?
The notorious question asked by many students whilst learning Maths in school is ‘When will I ever use this in real life?’.
Maths is used in later life, just not in the way you would initially think. Mathematics is also the basis of everything and is fundamental to understanding the world around us. Everyone will require some basic maths skills in order to use their bank account, pay for goods and potentially require maths in their work.
Subjects such as Circle Theorems and Trigonometry are unlikely to be used past Secondary School and in future careers unless you enter a STEM field such as engineering. There is still a major value in learning these topics and in having an understanding Maths in general.
A basic analogy that can be applied is someone may go to the gym to exercise their muscles and as time goes by the consistent practise will make these muscles stronger and stronger. Mathematics works in the same way for our brains. Having the ability to wrap our heads around difficult equations and problems will train our brains to be able to work out similar problems when we come across them later in life. Our problem-solving skills and sharp, logical thinking are dramatically improved by training our brains all our lives to think like this through Maths.
Why is GCSE English compulsory?
GCSE English is another core subject that has students wondering why they should spend their time learning it. Knowledge on this subject has many invaluable benefits attached along with it.
Firstly, actually being able to speak the language. Having the ability to communicate professionally in the working world is a huge advantage when it comes to your employability and ultimately the level in which you are respected. A well-spoken individual is going to be held to a higher standard than someone else who is not as articulate in the way that they speak.
Attending multiple English classes per week at school is going to greatly widen your vocabulary and knowledge of consciously crafting sentences, as you are encouraged to push both of these skills regularly.
Secondly, GCSE English exposes you to different viewpoints, cultures, and lifestyles that you may never have learned about if it weren’t for English classes.
Through literature and non-fiction passages from the past and present we can understand the way things were and the way things are to a deeper level and hear the voices of millions of people through the power of words.
Finally, you may have to analyse and interpret language much more than you think later on in life. Perhaps you have to read a complicated passage for research purposes or interpret a particularly metaphorical letter from a co-worker- the possibilities are endless. English helps prepare you for all of these circumstances.
Why is GCSE Combined Science compulsory?
Similar to Maths, Science comes into our life in ways we would not have necessarily expected. Science is the key to understanding the world around us. Everything can be defined by science, making it necessary to have even the most basic of understanding on this tricky subject to truly appreciate our planet.
Secondly, it teaches problem solving and thinking skills, and training your brain to wrap its head around complex topics and formulas that often come up in science will greatly benefit us in the future.
As of March 2023 GCSE combined science is a compulsory subject. Students also have the option to choose GCSE Triple Science. Check out this Think Student article to learn about the differences.
Do different schools have different compulsory subjects for GCSE?
Different schools naturally have different preferences on what they wish their students to take for their GCSEs. This means schools have the option to make different subjects compulsory as well as the ones advised by the government.
A very common option for schools to choose to make mandatory is Religious Studies. Many schools consider his to be a core subject as the course teaches students about cultures from around the world. It also encourages students to contemplate some of the world’s most difficult current political and social issues.
Religious Studies is a subject students can opt out of sitting for their GCSEs. The government website states that parents do have the option to request their child not to take this lesson at all. This may be due to religious or other personal reasons and are to be discussed with the school. If you want to find out more check out this article.
Other topics that are generally chosen by schools to be made compulsory are History, Geography, and a Modern Foreign Language.
If a student attends a specialised school (such as an engineering school) they will most likely be obligated to take GCSEs to do with their specialised subject. For example, if they did attend an engineering school, they will most likely take GCSE Engineering, or GCSE Design and Technology, or any other GCSE relevant to the study of Engineering. This would also be the case if you went to a specialised art school, dance school etc.
It is worth noting that even if you do attend a specialised school, you are still required to take the other compulsory subjects advised by the government (Maths, English, and Science).
Is P.E. compulsory at GCSE?
There is much confusion around whether P.E. (Physical Education) is a compulsory subject for students to take at GCSE. The short answer is no. Students are not obligated to take a test in P.E. unless they choose it as one of their options or go to a specialised sports school where it may be made compulsory.
The government states that children up until the age of 16 must have at least two hours of exercise a week, and therefore, students must carry on doing P.E. lessons up until the end of Year 11, read more here.
There will not be any sort of standardised test at the end of this imposed by the government, however, schools themselves may choose to test their students. If they do, the results of this will not be recognised as a GCSE.
Is there any way to get out of doing these compulsory subjects at GCSE?
For those who have a complicated relationship with the core subjects, it may be one of your biggest desires to find a way to drop them and not complete the GCSE. Unfortunately for those who relate to this situation, there is no way to get out of studying the core subjects at GCSE. Everyone in the country must complete them, no matter their situation. This is the law and to not complete these GCSEs would be illegal.