Stepping Up: Helping your child transition to GCSE English

The step up from Key Stage Three to GCSE English can feel quite intense for some students, and I know many parents are keen to prepare their child for this change. After all, schools and colleges require a Grade Four in English, and many schools ask for even higher than this. Your child is entering two years of intense study, so he/she does need some time to relax and unwind over the summer, especially given the stressful and uncertain times we have all been through. However, if you do want to get your child doing a bit of preparation this summer, here are some suggestions.

Reading the set texts

This one will depend on your child, but it is obviously a great way to prepare. Students need to have read the set text more than once in order to do really well on the examination, and ideally they should have their own copies of the texts. The school should be able to give you a list of which texts will be studied at GCSE. If your child is not so keen on English and reading, it is going to be harder to get him/her to sit down and read over the summer, and some of the GCSE texts are more accessible than others. Jane Eyre is a fantastic novel, but not one that I would recommend for many students. If your child is less than enthused at the idea of reading their set text, then see if there is a TV or film adaptation that you may be able to use to introduce the text to them. Anything at all you can do over the summer to get them familiar with the story will help.

You may also want to get revision guides in, but double check the examination board if you are not sure. This is important, as the examination question style differs between the boards, and there may be different assessment criteria. For example, for some examination boards, the student may be required to talk about context, whilst others do not want this included in the essay answer, and may require a stronger focus on language, form and structure. A revision guide that has been written specifically for a certain examination board will have taken this into account.

Watch the Shakespeare plays

Your child will be studying a Shakespeare play, most likely Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet, but I have come across some slightly more adventurous choices such as The Merchant of Venice. Reading a Shakespeare play is not just boring - it is wrong! Shakespeare’s plays were written to be seen, not read. There is no such thing as a reader in Shakespeare, it is always the audience! Obviously going to the theatre is not an option this summer, and is not an easy thing for some families to organise even out of a national lock down. However, you can buy DVD recordings of the plays being performed at The Globe, or you may get lucky and find something on YouTube. Plus The National Theatre are currently streaming previous productions online as well, so keep an eye on this. Again, films are another option here to introduce story and character, but bear in mind the Shakespeare text may well have been seriously abridged, or even made up!

Wider reading

I have written a post before on how to get a reluctant reader reading. Wider reading is the best way to prepare for the GCSE syllabus, but it is also a real battle if your child has decided they do not like reading. Try as wide a variety of texts, including non-fiction, which tends to work well with reluctant boy readers in particular. Also, try to get them to read the news. The BBC news app has shorter articles, so encourage your child to at least have a look at the headlines and see if there is anything that engages him/her. Do not get too anxious about this, wider reading at GCSE is desirable, especially if your child is aiming for Grade Seven +, but at the end of the day it is not essential to pass.

Writing Skills

I am not necessarily advocating getting your child to spend hours in the grammar workbooks, although of course this can help. But if you suspect your child has issues with writing skills, it may be worth having a look in their English books, or at any of their other school work. Look for frequent issues with spelling, the odd mistake here and there is no cause for concern, but if there are repeated issues, or their writing does not make sense, then it may be worth seeking some support, if your child does not currently receive any.

Also look at how much writing they are producing, and have a chat with your child first if you are worried. We all know that quality is more important than quantity, but if a student is not covering enough of the examination requirements in his/her answer, then they will not get the marks. Of course, it may be the case that they are simply not working to their full potential, but there may be a more serious processing issue. Use your intuition, but if you do think there is a problem, make sure you speak out. Do not panic if you cannot get in touch with anyone at your child’s school over the summer, but it may be worth noting your concerns and having a quick phone call or email conversation with your child’s English teacher when they return. Your child may be entitled to extra time in an examination, but this is not something a teacher can arrange at the last minute. There is a lot of paperwork to be done, and a teacher will need to submit evidence to support the child’s right to extra time, so the earlier in Key Stage Four this is done the better. You may also find that your child performs better when he/she is allowed to use a laptop, and some students are also entitled to a scribe. Again, these provisions need to be applied for, so the sooner you raise your concerns with the school the better.

If you would like any further support or ideas about how to prepare your child for GCSE English, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at I also have a support group for parents on Facebook, Calypso Secondary Parents’ Support Group.


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