The experts at Gabbitas answer all your questions about education

Q: My son is struggling at school and his teachers have flagged up a potential learning difficulty. Can you advise on how we get an independent SEN assessment and guidance on next steps, including (potentially) the right school to help him?

A: The first thing you should do if you or your son’s teachers have flagged up potential special education needs is to arrange an appointment with the Special Needs Coordinator at your school. It may be suggested that an educational psychologist’s report would help identify strengths and weaknesses and generate suitable recommendations for teachers, parents and other professionals that are used to meet those learning needs. If you are struggling to find an education psychologist contact us and we will be more then happy to recommend some that we have worked with in the past.

Before the psychologist’s assessment takes place you and your school might be sent a questionnaire to find out more about the situation. You will be asked about your son’s general state of health, how well he can perform certain tasks and what you, as a parent, think needs to change.

During the assessment the educational psychologist will most likely want to observe your child in his learning environment and ask him to take part in a series of tests. These tests might include reading and writing, language development and vocabulary, local reasoning, memory, speed of information processing, organisational skills and approach to learning. 

After your son has been assessed you will receive a report that not only indicates strengths and weaknesses but also areas of potential improvement. Depending on the severity of learning difficulties, you can work on an action plan drawn up by you and your school that involves special education needs support. 

If this is not possible with the school your son is currently visiting do get in touch with us. We have extensive experience advising families with children who need special help and can also suggest excellent schools where your child will be able to fulfil their potential. 

Anastasia Hatvany, Consultant for Gabbitas

Q: After the last school year’s disruptions my daughter is more confused than ever about her GCSE choices. Where should we go for advice and are there any general pointers for keeping study options open for A level and beyond? 

A: Maths, English and Science are core subjects everyone must take when doing their GCSE. English Language is compulsory in all schools, and so is English Literature in most schools. Science may be split into the three separate sciences (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) or into two combined Science GCSEs. The optional subjects include Modern Foreign Languages, humanities (History, Geography or Religious Studies), Art, Music, Drama, Media Studies, Design & Technology or Computer Science. 

So, which GCSEs should your daughter take? This is down to a combination of different things, such as your daughter’s interests, plans and which optional subjects your school offers. She will be taking the first steps in shaping her own education.  

If she already has a university course in mind, check entry requirements for specific courses at university and work back from there. Medicine, for example, might require Chemistry, Biology and either Maths or Physics. If she only picks Chemistry and either Maths or Physics, her chances of gaining entry will be significantly reduced. 

If she is undecided about what she would like to do in the future, it is important for her to pick courses that will provide a broad and balanced programme so she keeps her options open. You can get a guide to which GCSE subjects and grades you need for a range of degree courses on Informed Choices and UCAS websites.  

Perhaps the most important recommendation is for your daughter to choose subjects she thinks she will be good at. This means researching content closely and asking teachers and others who know her well for advice. She shouldn’t be choosing subjects for the wrong reasons – such as following her friends – and it will help her stay motivated if she also enjoys the subjects she studies.  

Natallia Patsaluyonak, Head of Family Services

Q: My son’s school offers BTEC qualifications, alongside A level, in some of the subjects he’s keen on taking. How are these qualifications viewed by universities and employers? 

A: By tradition, A levels are academic qualifications required for university, whereas BTECs are more vocational. However, universities have evolved over the years and are more open to alternative qualifications. 

One of the main differences between the two qualifications is the method of assessment. BTECs are regularly assessed through coursework and practical assignments, whereas A levels are essay and exam focused. This means BTEC may be more attractive to students who prefer and perform better through an independent, flexible, and practical approach to academic study. 

BTEC has been around for almost as many years as A levels, and the number of students taking this qualification has risen in recent times. Universities tend to give equal consideration to both qualifications, although every university will have its own requirements. For example, Oxford University considers BTECs as alternative UK qualifications, although in some cases it will require additional qualifications, such as a combination with A levels to make a competitive application.  

Employers are also becoming more open to considering students with BTEC, as it is considered a more practical qualification that will develop and then assess a student’s time management, problem solving, planning and employability skills. In some instances, it may be a better alternative. For instance, BTEC Business Studies might be more recognised by an employer with job roles in this area. Some employers might also prefer BTEC qualifications in IT-related jobs.  

Neither higher qualification should make it difficult for a student to enter university or to find a job, so the choice may come down to your son’s preferred method of learning and working and what study approach works best to highlight his true potential.  

Sarah Oshun Williams, Gabbitas Client Account Manager

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