Education Quandary: How can I persuade my son to choose A-Level sciences when he says that he thinks they are too hard?

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

This query comes after the head master of Harrow School lambasted state schools for steering pupils towards "soft" A-level options, thereby, he says, diminishing their chances of getting into top universities. All very well, says this parent, but how do you persuade a reluctant child to take the tougher road?

First, be sure that this is the right thing to do. Is your son genuinely interested in science? If not, you shouldn't be trying to steer him in that direction.

If you sense that he is, but simply balking at A-Levels, then discuss his doubts and try to deal with them. Is it dull teachers? You can have those in any subject. Is it a particular area of difficulty, like maths or physics?

If so, maybe he could have extra tuition. Is it the sheer amount of work? Well, arts students have a lot of work, too. Think of all that coursework they have to do. Is it that he wants to be with his friends? Well, they'll all still be at school together and isn't it time he began to be his own person?

Try and talk things over as adults, without pressure and stress, and remember to listen properly to everything he has to say. Discuss career options and the areas of interest science might open up for him. But do all this bearing in mind that you might not win the argument and that you might not even be right!

Readers' advice

I am a linguist and people constantly express their admiration for the fact that I have chosen a field popularly held to be difficult. I find this hard to appreciate as for me languages have never posed much of a problem.

Equally I would have regarded studying physics at A-Level with horror. Two of the reasons the students at my college give for not taking science A-Levels are that they have been poorly taught at school and lack confidence, and that they can't see where the money lies in future.

Your son should consider his academic abilities, interests and university and career aspirations. In my experience the subject that generates the greatest work load at A-Level is art – which the Harrow head no doubt regards as a soft option.

Kathy Moyse, Surrey

When our daughter was dithering over her A-Level choices we arranged for her to visit various workplaces. She loved the hospital and decided to take chemistry, biology and English and do a nursing degree.

Chemistry was a struggle, but she was motivated by having a goal.

Jay Mees, Cornwall

Our son chose sciences because he hated writing essays. For him it was the easy option. Looking ahead to graduate employment patterns he might have been better doing media studies!

John Bailey, Oxfordshire

Next Week's Quandary

Both my children, aged three and four, are ambidextrous. Now I see that researchers have found this causes problems like ADHD and dyslexia in school. I am really worried. Should I be making them use only one hand, or doing anything else for them, like getting extra help?

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