The GENERAL CERTIFICATE OF SECONDARY EDUCATION (GCSE) is an academic
qualification awarded in a specified subject, generally taken in a
number of subjects by pupils in secondary education in
One of the main changes to previous educational qualifications in the
The qualification is equivalent to a Level 1 or Level 2 (grade
Key Skills Qualification (in
The education systems of current and former British territories, such
Prior education to GCSE level is generally required of pupils wishing
A Level courses or the
BTEC Extended Diploma and
International Baccalaureate . GCSE exams were introduced as the
compulsory school-leavers' examinations by the government of the
BTECs can also be taken. These are marked with a different grading system: level one, grades D–G, and level two, pass (C), merit (B), distinction (A), and distinction* (A*) (Pronounced distinction-star) New regulations require that BTECs now include some form of examination, usually done online. The difference between BTECs and GCSEs is that the BTEC course is heavily coursework-based.
At the end of the two-year GCSE course, on the third Thursday of the August of that year, candidates receive a grade for each subject that they have sat. Before the transformation of the GCSE grading system from alphabetical to numeric grades, the pass grades, from highest to lowest, were: A* (pronounced "A-star"), A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Grade U (ungraded/unclassified) signifies that a pupil achieved nothing worthy of credit, therefore no GCSE is awarded to the pupil in that subject. For GCSEs after reformations, the pass grades are: 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 but a "good pass" which is generally required, is grade 4 or higher. The U grade stays the same as mentioned above.
Broadly, the same proportion of students will achieve 4 and above as currently achieve C and above, and the same proportion of students will achieve grade 7 and above as currently achieve A or A*.
GCSEs are part of the National Qualifications Framework . A GCSE at grades D to G (or grades 3 to 1) is a Level 1 qualification, while a GCSE at grades A* to C (grades 9 to 4) is a Level 2 qualification. GCSEs at A* to C or 9 to 4 (Level 2) are much more desirable and insisted on by many employers and educational institutions. Level 2 qualifications are usually required to advance to Level 3 qualifications.
Pupils can also receive an X grade which signifies that they have completed only part of the course or that key elements such as coursework are missing and so an appropriate grade cannot be given. A Q (query) grade means that the clarification is needed by the exam board, whom the school should contact. Both X and Q are normally temporary grades and replaced with a regular grade (A* to G or 9 to U) when the situation has been resolved.
X grades are also very rarely used by some exam boards to indicate
that the examiner found offending material, usually hate speech,
within one of the exam papers that a pupil took. In some cases this
may cause the pupil to lose all marks for that particular paper, and
occasionally for the entire course. X grades are most common in
subjects where ethical issues are raised and/or there is a question
which requires the pupil to express his/her personal opinion on a
scientific/religious view. Notable areas where this can occur are
The 2017 GCSE reforms changed the grading system as follows: instead of grades ranging from A* to U, they range from 9 to 1 with 9 being the highest grade. This was introduced because students' average performance was increasing each year, with a larger number of pupils achieving A*. The change to the grading system allows the exam boards to increase the difficulty of the exams and therefore discriminate better between pupils who achieve the highest grades, and get a closer representation of the pupils' capabilities. It also enables the exam board to add higher grades if pupils' attainment increases further. English and maths exams are being trialled using the new grading system in the 2017 exams.
* 1 Tiers
* 1.1 Further education * 1.2 Controlled assessment * 1.3 Examination boards * 1.4 Results * 1.5 Criticism
* 2.1 Reforms
* 5 Subjects
* 5.1 Core/Compulsory subjects
* 5.2 Languages
* 5.2.1 Modern languages * 5.2.2 Classical languages
* 5.3 Technology
* 6 See also * 7 Notes * 8 References * 9 External links
In many subjects, there are two different 'Tiers' of examination offered:
* Higher, where pupils can achieve grades A* to D(E), or a U * Foundation, where they can achieve grades C to G, or a U
If a candidate fails to obtain at least a Grade G on the Foundation
Tier or a Grade E on the Higher tier they fail the course and receive
a U. Candidates who narrowly miss a Grade D on the Higher Tier,
however, are awarded a Grade E. In the old style modular subjects,
pupils may mix and match tiers between units. In non-tiered subjects,
UK GCSE Grades Awarded (%'age)
A* A B C D E F G U A*+A A*-C ENTRIES
1988 N/A 8.4 12.8 20.7 19.3 16.6 12.5 6.3 3.4 8.4 41.9 5,230,047
1989 N/A 9.9 13.8 21.9 19 15.8 11.2 5.6 2.9 9.9 45.6 5,132,998
1990 N/A 10.8 14.4 22.5 18.7 15.3 10.6 5.2 2.5 10.8 47.7 5,016,547
1991 N/A 11.4 14.7 22.4 18.6 15 10.5 5.3 2.2 11.4 48.5 4,947,593
1992 N/A 12.3 15.3 22.9 18.6 14.7 9.9 4.7 1.6 12.3 50.5 5,028,554
1993 N/A 12.5 15.9 23.1 18.6 14.2 9.3 4.4 1.8 12.5 51.5 4,968,634
1994 2.8 10.2 18 21.8 18.7 13.7 9.3 4.1 1.5 13 52.8 5,029,599
1995 3.2 9.9 17.8 22.1 18.6 14 9 3.9 1.5 13.1 53 5,431,625
1996 3.4 10.3 18 22.3 18.6 13.4 8.7 3.8 1.5 13.7 54 5,475,872
1997 3.6 10.5 18.1 22.3 18.7 13.3 8.5 3.6 1.5 14.1 54.4 5,415,176
1998 4.1 10.6 16.5 23.6 18.6 13.2 7.6 3.5 2.3 14.7 54.8 5,353,095
1999 4.4 10.8 16.9 23.7 18.7 12.7 7.5 3.3 2 15.2 55.8 5,374,751
2000 4.6 11.2 17 23.8 18.4 12.5 7.2 3.2 2.1 15.8 56.6 5,481,920
2001 4.9 11.2 16.9 24.1 18.3 12.1 7.1 3.3 2.1 16.1 57.1 5,632,936
2002 5 11.4 17.4 24.1 18.1 12 6.7 3.2 2.1 16.4 57.9 5,662,382
2003 5.1 11.6 17.3 24.1 17.7 11.7 6.8 3.3 2.4 16.7 58.1 5,733,487
2004 5.6 11.8 17.3 24.5 17.3 11.3 6.6 3.2 2.4 17.4 59.2 5.875,373
2005 5.9 12.5 18 24.8 17.3 10.5 6 2.8 2.2 18.4 61.2 5,736,505
2006 6.3 12.8 18.3 25 17.3 10.2 5.6 2.6 1.9 19.1 62.4 5,752,152
2007 6.4 13.1 18.6 25.2 17.2 9.8 5.3 2.4 2 19.5 63.3 5,827,319
2008 6.8 13.9 19.8 25.2 16.6 9.1 4.7 2.3 1.6 20.7 65.7 5,669,077
2009 7.1 14.5 19.9 25.6 16.5 8.5 4.4 2.1 1.4 21.6 67.1 5,469,260
2010 7.5 15.1 20.6 25.9 15.9 7.8 4 1.9 1.3 22.6 69.1 5,374,490
2011 7.8 15.4 21.7 24.9 15.1 7.8 4.1 2 1.2 23.2 69.8 5,151,970
2012 7.3 15.1 21.7 25.3 15.9 7.7 4.1 1.9 1 22.4 69.4 5,225,288
2013 6.8 14.5 21.5 25.3 16.6 8 4.1 2 1.2 21.3 68.1 5,445,324
2014 6.7 14.6 21.9 25.6 16.3 7.6 3.8 2.0 1.5 21.3 68.8 5,217,573
2015 6.6 14.6 22.1 25.7 16.4 7.6 3.7 1.9 1.4 21.2 69 5,277,604
2016 6.5 14.0 21.4 25.0 16.9 8.3 4.2 2.1 1.6 20.5 66.9 5,240,796
SOURCE: Joint Council for General Qualifications via Brian Stubbs. NOTE: In the final year DES statistics for O-Levels are available, and across all subjects, 6.8% of candidates obtained a grade A, and 39.8% and A to C.
UK GCSE CLASSIFICATIONS 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
* A* * A * B * C * D * E * F * G * U
Receiving five or more A*–C grades, including English and Maths, is
often a requirement for taking A-levels and BTEC Level 3 at a sixth
form college or at a further education college after leaving secondary
school. Where the choice of A level is a subject taken at GCSE level,
it is frequently required that the pupil has received a GCSE C grade
minimum. Most universities typically require a C or better in English
and Mathematics, regardless of a pupil's performance in their A-level,
Foundation Degree course after leaving school. Many pupils who
fail to get a C in English and
Leading universities often take into account performance at GCSE level, sometimes expecting applicants to have a high proportion of A and A* grades.
In some subjects, one or more controlled assessment assignments may also be completed. Controlled assessment can contribute to anything from 10–60% of a pupil's final grade, with more practical subjects, such as design and technology (60%), art (60%), ICT (60%), music (60%) and English (40%) often having a heavier coursework element. The rest of a pupil's grade (normally the majority) is determined by their performance in examinations . After the GCSE reformations, there is less emphasis on coursework and qualifications are awarded either mostly or entirely on exams. These exams may either be terminal exams at the end of Year 11, a series of modular examinations or taken throughout the course, or a combination of the two. Pupils can sometimes resit modular examinations later in the course and attempt to improve their grade.
One positive to Controlled assessment is that it can help to ease the stress of examination because pupils can earn a percentage of their final exam grade earlier in the year. The downside is that this means pupils have a greater workload to complete, sometimes having to produce a large amount of work for a minimal part of the overall grade. For example, in English, a pupil may have to complete 4 pieces of coursework, each over a thousand words long, which individually only account for 5% of the grade. However, this varies between exam boards.
Controlled assessment is usually completed outside of lessons,
however concerns about cheating have meant that more and more is now
being completed in the classroom, under supervision. For many courses,
including those in Economics,
The curriculum and awarding of GCSEs has always been performed by a
number of independent Examination groups , initially under the
supervision of the National Curriculum Council (NCC) and the School
There are now five UK examination boards offering GCSEs:
Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), which consolidated
the: AEB , JMB ,
NEAB , and SEG.
* Oxford, Cambridge and RSA
Pupils receive the results of their GCSEs in the fourth week of August (the week after A Level results). CCEA publish their results on Tuesday, and the other examination boards publish theirs on Thursday. Normally, pupils have to go to their school to collect their results, although Edexcel allow for the option of an online results service.
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There have been comments that the GCSE system is a dumbing down from
the old GCE
In addition, GCSE grades have been rising for many years, which critics attribute to grade inflation . By comparing pupils' scores in the YELLIS ability test with their GCSE results within a period of approximately 20 years, Robert Coe found a general increase in results which ranges from 0.2 (Science) to 0.8 (Maths) of a GCSE grade. Only slightly more than half of pupils sitting GCSE exams achieve the 5 A* to C grades required for most forms of academic further education.
One of the important differences between previous educational qualifications (and the earlier grading of A-levels) and the later GCSE qualifications was supposed to be a move from norm-referenced marking to criterion-referenced marking. On a norm-referenced grading system, fixed percentages of candidates achieve each grade. With criterion-referenced grades, in theory, all candidates who achieve the criteria can achieve the grade. A comparison of a clearly norm-referenced assessment, such as the NFER Cognitive Ability Test or CAT, with GCSE grading seems to show an unexpected correlation, which challenges the idea that the GCSE is a properly criterion-based assessment.
The incorporation of GCSE awards into school league tables, and the setting of School level targets, at above national average levels of attainment, has been criticized. At the time of introduction the E grade was intended to be equivalent to the CSE grade 4, and so obtainable by a candidate of average/median ability; Sir Keith Joseph set Schools a target to have 90% of their pupil obtain a minimum of a grade F (which was the ‘average’ grade achieved in the past), the target was eventually achieved nationally approximately 20 years later. David Blunkett went further and set schools the goal of ensuring 50% of 16-year olds gained 5 GCSEs or equivalent at grade C and above, requiring schools to devise a means for 50% of their pupils to achieve the grades previously only obtained by the top 30%, this was achieved with the help of equivalent and largely vocational qualifications. Labelling Schools failing if they are unable to achieve at least 5 Cs, including English and Maths at GCSE, for 40% of their pupils has also been criticised, as it essentially requires 40% of each intake to achieve the grades only obtained by the top 20% at the time of the qualifications introduction.
In recent years, concerns about standards has led some public schools
to go as far as to complement GCSEs with IGCSEs within their
curriculum, and to take their pupils straight to A-level or the BTEC .
Other public schools, such as the
Manchester Grammar School
In recent years, there were a number of complaints that GCSEs and GCE A-levels were marked unfairly (teachers and pupils also have the option to question exam results by signing up for re-marking procedures should they feel results don't reflect a pupil's ability and expectations or if, after having reviewed a (copy) of the exam script, detect a marking error), following a decision to change the grade boundaries. Recently for the first time in the entire history of the exams the proportion of all GCSEs awarded an A*-C grade fell.
Moreover, the publication of "soft" subjects (e.g. Critical Thinking, General Studies etc.) and "academic" subjects (e.g. Mathematics, Sciences, Languages) for GCSEs and A-Levels by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge has created an ongoing educational debate where, on the one hand, many educational experts would support this "division of importance" whereas, on the other hand, many head teachers would not only disagree but actually "oppose a move to solely traditional academic GCSE (and A-Level) subjects".
Also, the OECD has expressed its concerns over potential grade inflation of GCSEs and A-Levels in the UK in a published report where the OECD put forward the theory that exam boards may be competing for candidates by lowering standards to secure more entries despite the British government overseeing exam standards.
Gender bias is another area of concern. Department of Education data shows that the relative performance gap between boys and girls widened significantly under GCSEs, compared with O-levels.
Another incident includes a GCSE Maths exam paper where there were complaints about a question later named in the media as the 'Hannah's sweets' question. Users of Twitter complained that they found the question difficult and/or unintelligible, which was reported on several media websites. However, after the situation calmed down, several teachers, experts, and students delivered the solution to the question via the media.
In another case, concerning the 2016 GCSE biology exam, students took
to twitter to complain about the apparent lack of
More recently, the May 2017
English literature exam (under the
regulation of OCR) implied that
Tybalt , a villainous, fictional
character in '
Romeo and Juliet
HISTORY AND FORMAT
GCSEs were first introduced in 1988 to establish a national
qualification for school-leavers who decided to leave school at 16 and
not to pursue further academic studies and qualifications such as
A-Levels or university degrees. They were introduced to replace former
British educational credentials such as the CSE (Certificate of
Secondary Education) and the O-Level qualifications, which had been
criticised for failing the bottom 42% of
Note: Historically an:
* O Level A TO C grades were awarded to the top ~50-58% of each O-Level cohort, comprising the top 25-30% of 16-year-olds * CSE Grade 1 was awarded to the top ~10% of each CSE cohort, comprising the next ~50-55% of 16-year-olds, in common subjects. * CSE Grade 4 was awarded to candidates of average / median ability.
Only very rough comparisons can be made between grades awarded in the O Level / CSE system and GCSE system at different times. However, the following table represents a very approximate estimate of how they might be compared. For example: on average, the new grade 9 corresponds approximately to the top two-thirds of the A* grade:
Approximate equivalencies for GCSE/O-Level/CSE grades GCSE GRADE O LEVEL GRADE CSE GRADE
Post-2015 Post-1994 Post-1988 Pre-1988 Pre-1988
9 A* A A 1
6 B B B
C C C
3 D D D 2
E E E 3
F F U 4
G G 5
U U U U
* GCSE grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) – certificate and qualification awarded and considered a 'good pass' * GCSE grades 9 to 1 (A* to G), O-Level A to E, CSE 1 to 5 – certificate and qualification awarded * GCSE grade U, O-Level grade U, CSE grade U – no certificate or qualification awarded
* ^ 9–1 grades phased in after GCSE reformation, depending on subject * ^ A*–G grades last used before the completion of GCSE reformation, depending on subject * ^ In the past, each exam board had its own grading system (some used letters, others numbers), with grades only given to schools and not recorded on students' certificates
The subjects offered, format, regulation, content and grading of the
GCSE examinations has altered considerably over time, with numerous
additional subjects now being offered in the: modern languages,
ancient languages, vocational, and expressive art arenas, along with a
The A* grade was introduced to distinguish the very top end of
achievement, although the threshold for achieving an A* has varied
considerably over the past, coming down as low as 47% in an AQA
Initially, most exams had two tiers: Higher, offering grades A to E (A* to E), and Basic, offering Grades F to G. The Higher tier was later modified to cover grades A* to D, while the Basic tier was renamed Foundation and now covered grades C to G. In addition, an 'allowed' Grade E was introduced to the Higher tier for candidates narrowly missing a Grade D.
For many years, Maths was an exception, having three tiers: Higher (grades A* to C), Intermediate (grades B to E) and Basic/Foundation (grades D to G). However, Maths then moved to the standard two-tier system.
An alternative GCSE format was the Vocational GCSE (VGCSE), which
encouraged pupils to take the work-related route and included courses
GCSE examinations in state education are taken officially in the summer, though many schools take mocks beforehand. GCSE examination results are received on a specified date in the summer, and due to this, the examinations are always taken near the end of the academic year (unless in private education). GCSEs are externally marked examinations, taken between April and July - unless a pupil has specific reasons to be entitled to an extension of permitted time.
There were further changes to the English GCSEs. Instead of the current system where (virtually) all pupils take English and the vast majority also take English Literature, pupils will take English Language and English Literature together or just English on its own, which will effectively be a hybrid of the other two GCSEs.
The youngest pupil to gain a GCSE is home-educated
Arran Fernandez ,
who took GCSE
The leading examining body, AQA (formally known as the Assessment and
Qualifications Alliance) had proposed amendments to the present format
of GCSEs and it has said the marking system is the purpose of its
changes and these are intended to revise the method used for grading
the examinations set at GCSE level. The improvements that the
government in the
The executive manager and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Office
of Qualifications and
Modular VS Linear Controversy:
The Conservative Party under
David Cameron initiated
reforms for A Levels and GCSEs to change from the current modular to a
linear structure. British Examination Boards (
Edexcel , AQA and OCR
) regulated and accredited by the government of the United Kingdom
responded to the government's reform announcements by modifying
syllabi of several
A Level and GCSE subjects. However, the Labour
Party and in particular the
Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt
announced that it will halt and reverse the reforms and maintain the
modular A-Level and GCSE system. In addition, the Labour Party,
Tristram Hunt and the current modular GCSE and A-Level system are
supported and promoted by the
The declining number of pupils studying foreign languages in the UK has been a major concern of educational experts for many years. Paul Steer, the Exam Board Chief of the British exam board OCR recently expressed that "unless we act soon, even GCSE French and German could face the chop".
GCSEs have been reformed and altered significantly ever since they have been introduced. The main differences after the reformed exams are a new grading system of 9 to 1 with 9 being the highest grade, representing the top half of current grade A*. Assessment is mainly based on exams, with little or no coursework. The exams are developed to be 'more demanding' and 'better preparation for work'. Changes are coming into effect in phases.
The 'phase 1' of the GCSE reformations incorporates the subjects of English language, English literature and Mathematics.
The 'phase 2' of the GCSE reformations concerns ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin), art and design, biology, chemistry, citizenship studies, computer science, dance, double science, drama, food preparation and nutrition, geography, history, modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish), music, physics, physical education and religious studies.
The 'phase 3' of the GCSE reformations includes ancient history, astronomy, business, classical civilisation, design and technology, economics, electronics, engineering, film studies, geology, media studies, most other modern foreign languages (such as Mandarin Chinese or Bengali) psychology, sociology and statistics.
Finally, the 'phase 4' of the GCSE reformations regards the remaining modern foreign languages (Gujarati, biblical Hebrew, Persian, Portuguese and Turkish).
SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
For pupils with learning difficulties, an injury/repetitive strain injury (RSI) or a disability, help is offered in these forms:
* Extra time (the amount depends on the severity of the learning difficulty, such as dyslexia , disability, injury or learning in English as a second language provided that the pupil has been studying in the UK for not more than 2 years) * Amanuensis (somebody types or handwrites as the pupil dictates; this is normally used when the pupil cannot write due to an injury or disability) * A word processor (without any spell checking tools) can be used by pupils who have trouble writing legibly or who are unable to write quickly enough to complete the exam * A different format exam paper (large print, Braille, printed on coloured paper, etc.) * A 'reader' (a teacher/exam invigilator can read out the words written on the exam, but they cannot explain their meaning) * A different room (sometimes due to a disability a pupil can be placed in a room by themselves or with selected others; this also happens when an amanuensis is used, so as not to disturb the other candidates. All exam rooms are covered by separate dedicated invigilators.)
All of the above must be approved by the exam board concerned. There are other forms of help available, but these are the most commonly used. Pupils working below GCSE level may take a different qualification altogether in one or more subjects. The Entry Level Certificate , in particular, is designed for this purpose. There are also other qualifications which can be taken such as BTECs , which are specially designed for pupils with learning difficulties and other special needs.
Enquiries for re-marking of GCSE examinations:
Pupils and Teachers have the option to enquire re-marking of a pupil's GCSE exams if they feel the result does not reflect the pupil's expectation and/or ability or, after having reviewed a copy of the pupil's exam script, they detect a marking error.
THE UK GENERAL CERTIFICATE OF SECONDARY EDUCATION IN COMPARISON TO THE US HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA
As the more academically rigorous A Levels awarded at Year 13 are
expected for university admission, the high school diploma alone is
generally not considered to meet university requirements. Pupils who
wish to study in the
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) recommends
that in addition to a high school diploma, grades of 3 or above in at
least two, or ideally three,
Many of the subjects in this list are not available in every school.
* English Language
* English Literature
* Welsh or Welsh Second Language (in all state schools in Wales)
* Many Welsh schools offer Welsh Literature along with the language course
* Irish in Irish-medium schools in Northern Ireland
* One GCSE:
Several other science based GCSEs are available to pupils in many
schools. These include GCSE
* Religious Education (short or full course) and ICT are often compulsory, depending on the school.
* Afrikaans * Arabic * Bengali * Cantonese * Mandarin * Dutch
* Modern Greek
* as a first language or as a second language
* Italian * Japanese * Maltese * Malay * Manx * Punjabi * Persian * Polish * Portuguese * Russian * Somali * Spanish * Tamil * Telugu * Turkish * Urdu
* as a first language or as a second language (compulsory in Wales)
* Parametric CAD
* Electronic Products
* Food and Nutrition
* Child Development
PEOPLE AND SOCIETY-RELATED SUBJECTS
* International General
Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE),
which is offered with or instead of O Levels internationally
GCE Advanced Level
* GCE Ordinary Level (International) (O-Level)
* Certificate of Secondary Education (United Kingdom) (CSE)
* General Certificate of Education (GCE), which comprises O Levels and A-levels
* School certificate (SC), predecessor to the GCE O-Level and CSE qualifications
* ^ L R Hand. "Education Vocabulary - Learn English Vocabulary".
Retrieved 14 June 2015.
* ^ "GCE O-Level". SEAB.
* ^ "GCSEs - The Official Guide to the System" (PDF). Ofqual.
* ^ "GCSE National subject grade percentages". Bstubbs.co.uk.
* ^ "Entry requirements for