Archive Website of the UK government

Please note that this website has a UK government accesskeys system.

Archive brought to you by Cross Stitch UK

Main menu

Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Choosing subjects for Years 10 and 11: what’s compulsory and what’s optional

In Years 10 and 11 there are subjects you must take ('compulsory') and subjects you can choose between ('optional'). Talk to your parents, carers, teachers and Connexions advisers to help you decide which subjects are right for you.

Making choices

When choosing what subjects to study in Years 10 and 11, think what you enjoy most and do well at.

There is lots of information and advice to help you make your decision - see ‘Your choices in Year 9’ for details.

Choosing subjects for a career

If you have a particular career in mind, it’s worth finding out if there are particular subjects you need to take. However, it’s also a good idea to keep your options open by choosing a wide range of subjects.

What's compulsory?

Some subjects are compulsory because they cover essential knowledge and skills that everyone needs for the future.

The subjects you'll have to take exams in are:

  • English
  • maths
  • science

This usually means GCSEs, but these subjects may also be available at entry level.

There are some other subjects that you have to study, but may not lead to exams:

  • careers education
  • citizenship
  • information and communication technology (ICT)
  • physical education (PE)
  • religious studies
  • sex and relationships education
  • work-related learning

Some schools have other compulsory subjects - check with your teachers.

What's optional?

The optional subjects you can take in Years 10 and 11 vary from school to school. Your teachers will tell you what subjects are available - and some schools also put this information on their website.

However, your school must provide you with access to at least one course in each of four areas. These four ‘entitlement areas’ are:

  • arts (including art and design, music, dance, drama and media arts)
  • design and technology
  • humanities (history and geography)
  • modern foreign languages

Although your school must have at least one course available in each of these areas, it’s up to you whether you take them.

Other subjects you may be able to choose from include:

  • business studies
  • engineering
  • health and social care
  • leisure and tourism
  • skills for working life and life skills
  • manufacturing
  • social sciences

These subjects might have different names at your school.

Which courses can you take?

You’ll be able to choose from a growing range of courses at age 14.

Again, you should check which of these are available at your school - not all schools offer the same options.

You can find out exactly what’s available to you with your local online area prospectus.

Entry level qualifications

You can take these before or alongside GCSEs. Available in a wide range of subjects, they can help you move on to other qualifications.


As well as GCSEs in traditional subjects, you can choose from work-related ('applied') or short course GCSEs.

Key and Functional Skills

Key Skills are essential skills that will help you succeed in study, training work and life. They cover communication, working with others, problem solving, number skills and more. You can take these as recognised qualifications, along with your other qualifications.

Functional Skills are practical skills in English, maths and information and communications technology (ICT). They are becoming a part of other qualifications, including GCSEs, Diplomas and Apprenticeships. Functional Skills will also be available as stand-alone qualifications.

Vocational qualifications

Some schools offer vocational qualifications. These give you skills directly related to the world of work.

Young Apprenticeships

You may also be able to gain work experience through the Young Apprenticeships scheme. To find out more, see ‘Work experience in Years 10 and 11’.

The Diploma is available in selected schools and colleges

The Diploma

Selected schools and colleges across the country also offer the Diploma qualification for 14 to 19 year-olds.

The Diploma is a practical, hands-on way of gaining the knowledge and skills you need for college, university or work.

Getting the balance right

Once you’ve found out which options are available at your school, it’s time to find a balance of subjects and qualifications that’s right for you.

Remember that it’s a good idea to keep your options open by choosing a wide range of subjects. But you’ll also need to make sure that you can fit everything into your timetable - and that you’ve considered whether there are any subjects that will be especially useful for your future plans.

Your teachers, parents/carers, careers co-ordinator or Connexions personal adviser will be able to give you advice on getting the balance right.

Additional links

Simpler, Clearer, Faster

Try GOV.UK now

From 17 October, GOV.UK will be the best place to find government services and information

Access keys