Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic
qualification, generally taken in a number of subjects by pupils in
secondary education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each GCSE
qualification is in a particular subject, and stands alone, but a
suite of such qualifications (or their equivalents) are generally
accepted as the record of achievement at the age of 16, in place of a
leaving certificate or baccalaureate qualification in other
Studies for GCSE examinations generally take place over a period of
two or three academic years (depending upon the subject, school, and
exam board), starting in
Year 9 or
Year 10 for the majority of
students, with examinations being sat at the end of Year 11. The GCSE
was introduced as a replacement for the former O-Level (GCE Ordinary
Level) and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) qualifications.
1.1 Previous qualifications
1.2 Introduction of the GCSE
1.3 Changes since initial introduction
1.3.1 Introduction of the A* grade
1.3.2 2000s reforms
1.3.3 2010s reforms
2 Examination boards
3 Structure and format
3.1.1 Core subjects
3.1.2 Other subjects
3.2 Grades and tiering
3.2.1 Letter grades
3.2.2 Numerical grades (2017 onwards)
3.3 Assessment types
3.3.1 Modular and linear GCSEs
3.3.2 Coursework and controlled assessment
3.4 Exceptional and mitigating circumstances
5 Comparison with other qualifications
5.1 Within the UK
5.2 In other territories
6 Criticism and controversy
6.1 Grade disparity
6.2 Subject decline
6.3 Grade inflation
6.4 Errors and mistakes
7 See also
10 External links
Before the introduction of GCSEs, students took exams towards CSE or
O-Level certificates, or a combination of the two, in various
subjects. The CSE broadly covered GCSE grades C-G or 4-1, and the
O-Level covered grades A*-C or 9-4, but the two were independent
qualifications, with different grading systems. The separate
qualifications had been criticised for failing the bottom 42% of
O-Level entrants who failed to receive a qualification, and the
brightest CSE entrants who were not able to be differentiated as to
their true ability.
General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level, or O-Level,
was graded on a scale from A to E, with a U (ungraded) grade below
that. Before 1975, the grading scheme varied between examination
boards, and were not displayed on certificates. Officially, the grades
before 1975 were simply "pass" and "fail".
The Certificate of Secondary Education, or CSE, was graded on a
numerical scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the best, and 5 being the
worst passing grade. Below 5 there was a U (ungraded) grade, as well.
The highest grade, 1, was considered equivalent to an O-Level C grade
or above, and achievement of this grade often indicated that the
student could have followed the more academically challenging O-Level
course in the subject to achieve a higher qualification. As the two
were independent qualifications with separate syllabi, a separate
course of study would have to be taken to "convert" a CSE to an
O-Level in order to progress to A-Level.
A previous attempt to unite these two disparate qualifications was
attempted in the 1980s, with a trial "16+" examination in some
subjects, awarding both a CSE and an O-Level certificate, before the
GCSE was introduced.
Introduction of the GCSE
GCSEs were introduced in 1988  to establish a national
qualification for those who decided to leave school at 16, without
pursuing further academic study towards qualifications such as
A-Levels or university degrees. They replaced the former CSE and
O-Level qualifications, uniting the two qualifications to allow access
to the full range of grades for more students.
Upon introduction, the GCSEs were graded on a letter scale, from A to
G, with a C being set as roughly equivalent to an O-Level Grade C, or
a CSE Grade 1, and thus achievable by roughly the top 25% of each
Changes since initial introduction
Over time, the range of subjects offered, the format of the
examinations, the regulations, the content, and the grading of GCSE
examinations has altered considerably. Numerous subjects have been
added and changed, and various new subjects are offered in the modern
languages, ancient languages, vocational fields, and expressive arts,
as well as
Introduction of the A* grade
In 1994, the A* grade was added above the grade A, to further
differentiate attainment at the very highest end of the qualification.
This remained the highest grade available until 2017.
Between 2005 and 2010, a variety of reforms were made to GCSE
qualifications, including increasing modularity and a change to the
administration of non-examination assessment.
From the first assessment series in 2010, controlled assessment
replaced coursework in various subjects, requiring more rigorous
exam-like conditions for much of the non-examination assessed work,
and reducing the opportunity for outside help in coursework.
Under the Conservative government of David Cameron, and Education
Secretary Michael Gove, various changes were made to GCSE
qualifications. Before a wide range of reforms, interim changes were
made to existing qualifications, removing the January series of
examinations as an option in most subjects, and requiring that 100% of
the assessment in subjects from the 2014 examination series is taken
at the end of the course. These were a precursor to the later
From 2015, a large-scale programme of reform began, changing the
marking criteria and syllabi for most subjects, as well as the format
of qualifications, and the grading system.
Under the new scheme, all GCSE subjects are being revised between 2015
and 2018, and all new awards will be on the new scheme by summer 2020.
The new qualifications are designed such that most exams will be taken
at the end of a full 2-year course, with no interim modular
assessment, coursework, or controlled assessment, except where
necessary (such as in the arts). Some subjects will retain coursework
on a non-assessed basis, with the completion of certain experiments in
science subjects being assumed in examinations, and teacher reporting
of spoken language participation for English GCSEs as a separate
Other changes include the move to a numerical grading system, to
differentiate the new qualifications from the old-style letter-graded
GCSEs, publication of core content requirements for all subjects, and
an increase in longer, essay-style questions to challenge students
more. Alongside this, a variety of low-uptake qualifications and
qualifications with significant overlap will cease, with their content
being removed from the GCSE options, or incorporated into similar
GCSE examinations in English and mathematics were reformed with the
2015 syllabus publications, with these first examinations taking
places in 2017. The remainder will be reformed with the 2016 and 2017
syllabus publications, leading to first awards in 2018 and 2019,
Qualifications that are not reformed will cease to be available. The
science reforms, in particular, mean that single-award "science" and
"additional science" options are no longer available, being replaced
with a double award "combined science" option (graded on the scale 9-9
to 1-1 and equivalent to 2 GCSEs). Alternatively, students can take
separate qualifications in chemistry, biology, and physics. Other
removed qualifications include a variety of design technology
subjects, which are reformed into a single "design and technology"
subject with multiple options, and various catering and nutrition
qualifications, which are folded into "food technology". Finally,
several "umbrella" GCSEs such as "humanities", "performing arts", and
"expressive arts" are dissolved, with those wishing to study those
subjects needing to take separate qualifications in the incorporated
These reforms do not directly apply in Wales and Northern Ireland,
where GCSEs will continue to be available on the A*-G grading system.
However, due to legislative requirements for comparability between
GCSEs in the three countries, and allowances for certain subjects and
qualifications to be available in Wales and Northern Ireland, some 9-1
qualifications will be available, and the other changes are mostly
adopted in these countries as well.
Historically, there were a variety of regional examination boards, or
awarding organisations (AOs), who set examinations in their area. Over
time, as deregulation allowed schools to choose which boards to use,
mergers and closures led to only 5 examination boards remaining today.
Assessment and Qualifications Alliance
Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), which absorbed the
following boards: AEB, JMB, NEAB, and SEG.
Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR), which absorbed the
Oxford and Cambridge, MEG, and RSA exam boards.
Pearson Edexcel, which absorbed the LREB, BTEC, and ULEAC boards.
Welsh Joint Education Committee
Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC or CBAC), the main examining
board in Wales.
Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA), the
examining board and regulator in Northern Ireland.
The examination boards operate under the supervision of
Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) in England,
Qualifications Wales in Wales, and the CCEA in Northern Ireland.
In England, AQA, OCR, and Pearson operate under their respective
brands. Additionally, WJEC operate the brand Eduqas, which develops
qualifications in England. CCEA qualifications are not available in
In Wales, WJEC is the only accredited awarding body for GCSEs in the
public sector, and thus no other board formally operates in Wales.
However, some qualifications from the English boards are available as
designated qualifications in some circumstances, due to not being
available from WJEC.
In Northern Ireland, CCEA operates as both a board and a regulator.
Most qualifications from the English boards are also available, with
the exception of English language and the sciences, due to
requirements for speaking and practical assessment, respectively.
Structure and format
Students usually take at least 5 GCSEs in Key Stage 4, in order to
satisfy the long-standing headline measure of achieving 5 A*-C grades,
including English and mathematics. The exact qualifications taken by
students vary from school to school and student to student, but
schools are encouraged to offer at least one pathway that leads to
qualification for the English Baccalaureate, requiring GCSEs in
English language, English literature, mathematics, 2 science GCSEs, a
modern or ancient language, and either history or geography.
The list of currently available GCSE subjects is much shorter than
before the reforms, as the new qualifications in England all have core
requirements set by the regulator, Ofqual, for each subject. In
addition, there are several subjects where only one board offers
qualifications, including some that are only available in one country
of the UK for that reason. The following lists are sourced from the
exam board websites.
These are the requirements for achieving the English Baccalaureate
headline measure in league tables, from 2017 onwards. The
Baccalaureate itself does not garner a certificate for students. Other
subjects, especially religious studies, computer science, or physical
education, may be compulsory in some schools as these subjects form
part of the
National Curriculum at Key Stage 4.
English: both English language and English literature
Science: either of these two options:
Combined Science (worth 2 GCSEs)
3 of the following: Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer Science
Languages: one GCSE in a modern or ancient language:
Modern languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German,
Greek, Gujarati, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Panjabi, Persian,
Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu
Ancient languages: Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Latin
Humanities: History or Geography
Sciences and Mathematics:
Humanities and Social Sciences:
Business and Enterprise:
Design and Technology:
Design and Technology
Food Preparation & Nutrition
Art and Design
Northern Ireland (CCEA) only:
Agriculture and Land Use
Business and Communication Systems
Construction and the Built Environment
Government and Politics
Health and Social Care
Journalism in the Media and Communications Industry
Learning for Life and Work
Leisure, Travel and Tourism
Motor Vehicle and Road User Studies
Moving Image Arts
Wales (WJEC/CBAC) only:
Information and Communication Technology
Welsh (compulsory in Welsh schools):
Welsh Language (first language)
Welsh Literature (first language)
Welsh Second Language
Grades and tiering
GCSEs are awarded on a graded scale, and cross two levels of the
Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF): Level 1 and Level 2. These
two levels roughly correspond, respectively, to foundation and higher
tier in tiered GCSE qualifications. Level 1 qualifications constitute
GCSEs at grades G, F, E, and D or 1, 2, and 3. Level 2 qualifications
are those at grades C, B, A, and A* or 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
The tiering of qualifications allows a subset of grades to be reached
in a specific tier's paper. Formerly, many subjects were tiered, but
with the mid-2010s reform, the number of tiered subjects reduced
dramatically, including the removal of tiering from the GCSE English
specifications. Untiered papers allow any grade to be achieved.
Coursework and controlled assessment tasks are always untiered.
In the past, mathematics qualifications offered a different set of
tiers, with three. These were foundation tier at grades G, F, E, and
D; intermediate tier at grades E, D, C, and B; and higher tier at
grades C, B, A, and A*. This eventually changed to match the tiers in
all other GCSE qualifications.
The evolution of grades, and a rough comparison between them is as
Approximate equivalences for GCSE, O-Level and CSE grades
from 2017 a
from 2019 b
Wales from 1994
England, NI 1994–2019 c
GCSE grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) – Certificate
and qualification awarded. At GCSE, considered a 'good pass', and
awards a qualification at Level 2 of the RQF.
GCSE grades 9 to 1 (A* to G) – Certificate
and qualification awarded. At GCSE, awards a qualification at Level 1
of the RQF.
U: ungraded/unclassified – no certificate
or qualification awarded
^a 9–1 grades phased in by subject between 2017 and 2019 in
^b New A*–G grades in
Northern Ireland from 2019
^c A*–G grades as used in Wales since 1994, and in England and
Northern Ireland between 1994 and 2019
^d Before 1975, each exam board had its own grading system (some
used letters, others numbers). Grades were only given to schools and
not recorded on students' certificates
When GCSEs were first introduced in 1988, they were graded on a letter
scale in each subject: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G being pass grades, with
a U (unclassified) grade below that which did not qualify the student
for a certificate.
These grades were initially set such that a GCSE grade C was
equivalent to an O-Level grade C or a CSE grade 1, though changes in
marking criteria and boundaries over the years mean that this
comparison is only approximate.
Infrequently, X and Q grades are awarded. X indicates that a course
was not completed in full, and thus that an appropriate grade cannot
be calculated. The Q (query) grade is a temporary grade that requires
the school to contract the examining body. These latter two grades are
both usually provisional, and are replaced with a regular grade once
any issues have been resolved. X grades are also sometimes used for
other purposes, on rare occasions, such as to indicate that an
examiner found offensive material or hate speech within a student's
responses. In some cases, this may lead to the student losing all
marks for that paper or course. These grades are most common in
subjects which discuss ethical issues, such as biology, religious
studies, and citizenship.
In 1994, an A* grade was added, above the initial A grade, to indicate
exceptional achievement, above the level required for the A grade.
Under the letter grade scheme, foundation tier papers assess content
at grades C to G, while higher papers assess content at grades A* to
C. In foundation tier papers, the student can obtain a maximum grade
of a C, while in a higher tier paper, they can achieve a minimum grade
of a D. If a higher tier candidate misses the D grade by a small
margin, they are awarded an E. Otherwise, the grade below E in these
papers is U. In untiered papers, students can achieve any grade in the
This scheme is being phased out in England, but remains in Wales and
Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the A* grade has been adjusted
upwards with the introduction of the numerical scheme in England, such
that an A* is equivalent to a new English grade 9. They also added a
C* grade to line up with the grade 5 in the English scheme, for
Numerical grades (2017 onwards)
From 2017 in England (and in Wales and
Northern Ireland on
qualifications from the English boards), some GCSEs are now assessed
on a 9-point scale, using numbers from 9 to 1, and, like before, a U
(unclassified) grade for achievement below the minimum pass mark.
Under this system, 9 is the highest grade, and is set above the former
A* classification, equivalent to the new Northern Irish A* grade. The
former C grade is set at grade 4, with grade 5 being considered a
"good pass" under the new scheme.
Although fewer qualifications have tiered examinations than before,
the tiering system still exists. At foundation tier, the grades 1, 2,
3, 4, and 5 are available, while at higher tier, the grades 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, and 9 are targeted. Once again, if a higher tier student misses
the grade 4 mark by a small margin, they are awarded a grade 3., and
controlled assessment and coursework tasks are untiered.
Ofqual showing statistics about GCSE entries in 2016.
5.24 million people took a GCSE in that year.
GCSE results are published by the examination board in August, for the
previous exam series in April to June of the same year. They are
usually released one week after the A-Level results, in the fourth
week of August, with CCEA results on Tuesday and the other boards'
results on Thursday. Some boards and schools release results online,
although many still require students to attend in person to collect
their results from the centre they sat exams at.
These results then go on to inform league tables published in the
following academic year, with headline performance metrics for each
UK GCSE Grades Awarded (%'age)
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
Modular and linear GCSEs
In the past, many GCSE qualifications were available as modular
qualifications, where some assessment (up to 60% under the 'terminal
rule') can be submitted prior to the final examination series. This
allowed for students to take some units of a GCSE before the final
examination series, and thus gave indication of progress and ability
at various stages, as well as allowing for students to resit exams in
which they didn't do as well, in order to boost their grade, before
receiving the qualification.
Various qualifications were available as both modular and linear
schemes, and schools could choose whichever fit best for them.
Under the Conservative government of David Cameron, and Education
Secretary Michael Gove, reforms were initiated which converted all
current GCSEs from 2012 (for assessment from 2014) to de facto linear
schemes, in advance of the introduction of new specifications between
2015 and 2018 (for first assessment from 2017 to 2020). These new
rules required that 100% of the assessment in a GCSE be submitted in
the final examination series, at the same time as applying for
certification of the full qualification. The examination
boards complied by modifying the syllabi of the remaining GCSE
qualifications to remove modular components. subjects.
Both modular and linear assessment have been politically contentious,
and the opposition Labour Party UK, and particularly the former MP
Tristram Hunt stated that it was their policy that such reforms be
halted and reversed, maintaining modular assessment in both GCSEs and
A-Levels. The modular scheme is supported by the
Oxford and the
University of Cambridge.
Coursework and controlled assessment
In some subjects, one or more controlled assessment or coursework
assignments may also be completed. These may contribute either a small
or large proportion of the final grade. In practical and performance
subjects, they generally have a heavier weighting to reflect the
difficulty and potential unfairness of conducting examinations in
In the past, these were available in a variety of subjects, including
extended writing in English, the sciences, business, and foreign
languages; practical assessment in the sciences and technology
subjects; and speaking assessments in languages. Since the 2010s
reform, the availability has been cut back, with mostly only design
and technology subjects and performing arts retaining their controlled
assessment contributions. In English, the spoken language assessment
has been downgraded to an endorsement which is reported separately on
the English certificate, not contributing to the grade. In the
sciences, practical exercises are a required part of the
qualification, but are not directly assessed, being only endorsed the
a teacher's statement.
The balance between controlled assessment and examinations is
contentious, with the time needing to be set aside for coursework
sessions being seen as a burden on the school timetable. However, the
use of controlled assessment allows for the marking of some work
outside of examination season, and can ease the burden on the student
to perform well on the day of the examination.
Exceptional and mitigating circumstances
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
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.)
Any of the above must be approved by the exam board concerned. Other
forms of help are available with agreement by the examination board,
but the above are the most common.
If a student is ill or an unforeseen circumstance occurs that may
affect their performance in an examination, they can apply for special
consideration from the examination board, to prevent the negative
impact of the event on their grade. The procedures vary depending on
how much the student has completed, but in the case of sitting an
examination, they may receive a percentage increase on their grade to
reflect this, or a consideration of their coursework and other
assessment alongside their predicted grades, to calculate a fair grade
based on their other attainment.
GCSEs, BTECs or other Level 2 qualifications are generally required in
order to pursue Level 3 qualifications such as A-Levels or BTEC
Extended Diplomas beyond the age of 16.
The requirement of 5 or more A*–C or 9-4 grades, including English
and mathematics, is often a requirement for post-16 qualifications in
sixth form colleges or further education colleges after leaving
secondary school. Where the subject taken post-16 has also been taken
at GCSE, it is often required that the student achieved a grade C, 4,
or 5 as a minimum at GCSE.
Most universities, in addition to their post-16 requirements, seek
that their candidates have grades of C or 4 or higher in GCSE English
and mathematics. Many of those who achieve below this standard will
later retake GCSE English and mathematics to improve their grade. The
November examination series exists for this purpose, to allow a faster
path to gain these grades than waiting until the following summer's
main series. Leading universities often take into account performance
at GCSE level, sometimes expecting applicants to have a high
proportion of A and A* grades.
Comparison with other qualifications
Within the UK
GCSEs in England, Wales, and
Northern Ireland are part of the
Regulated Qualifications Framework. A GCSE at grades G, F, E, D, 1, 2,
or 3 is a Level 1 qualification. A GCSE at C, B, A, A*, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,
or 9 is a Level 2 qualification. A U, X, or Q grade does not award a
qualification. Level 2 qualifications are much more sought-after, and
generally form minimum requirements for jobs and further study
The BTEC is another Level 1/2 qualification available in the same
territories as the GCSE, and is graded at 5 levels. At Level 2,
comparable to A*, A, B, and C respectively are the Distinction*,
Distinction, Merit, and Pass. A BTEC at Level 1 is simply marked as
"Level 1", with no subdivision. Below that level, a U is awarded, as
Other qualifications at this level include Cambridge Nationals, Key
Skills, and Functional Skills.
The comparable qualifications in Scotland are the National 4 and
National 5 awards (formerly Standard Grades and/or Intermediates).
In other territories
Current and former British territories:
The education systems of current and former British territories, such
as Gibraltar, and Nigeria, also offer the qualification, as
supplied by the same examination boards. Other former British
colonies, such as
Singapore and Zimbabwe, continue to use the O-Level
qualification. The international version of the GCSE is the IGCSE,
which can be taken anywhere in the world and includes additional
options relating to coursework and the language the qualification is
pursued in. All subjects completed in the fifth of the European
Baccalaureate are generally equivalent to the GCSEs subjects.
In the Republic of Ireland, the Junior Certificate is a comparable
In the United States, the high school diploma is required for entry to
college. In the UK, this is considered to be at the level of the GCSE,
awarded at Year 11. For college and university admissions, the
high school diploma may be accepted in lieu of the GCSE if an average
grade better than D+ is obtained in subjects with a GCSE
As A-Levels are generally expected for university admission, the high
school diploma is not considered enough for university entry in the
Advanced Placement programmes or
International Baccalaureate are
considered equal to the A-Level, earn points on the UCAS tariff, and
may therefore be accepted in lieu of A-Levels for university entry in
the UK by US students. The
SAT Reasoning Test
SAT Reasoning Test and SAT Subject Tests,
or the ACT may also be considered in an offer for university entry.
Criticism and controversy
Statistics released by London’s Poverty Profile found overall GCSE
attainment in London to be greater than the rest of England. 39% of
pupils in Inner London and 37% in Outer London did not get five GCSEs
at A* to C, compared with 42% in the rest of England. Also,
according to an ITV News report, UK students tend to outperform Jersey
students on GCSE examinations.
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.
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".
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".
There have been comments that the GCSE system is a dumbing down from
the old GCE O-Level system (as it took the focus away from the
theoretical side of many subjects, and taught pupils about real-world
implications and issues relating to ICT and citizenship).
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
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
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[not in citation given]
to A-Level or the BTEC. Other public schools, such as the
Manchester Grammar School, are replacing the GCSEs with IGCSEs in
which there is an option to do no coursework. The new Science
syllabus has led to many public schools switching to the
Errors and mistakes
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.
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 Biology content in
More recently, the May 2017 English literature exam (under the
regulation of OCR) implied that Tybalt, a villainous, fictional
character in 'Romeo and Juliet' was not a Capulet. This serious flaw
in the question confused many of the students. OCR accepted
responsibility and claimed no pupil would be disadvantaged. The
question was worth 40 marks. This has led to doubt about the
competence of the board who had 3 years to set the paper.
Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE),
which is offered with or instead of O-Levels internationally
GCE Advanced Level; commonly referred to as "A-Levels", these are the
next set of exams that most pupils take and are more in depth and
Business and Technology Education Council; referred to as "BTEC",
other next set of course few pupils take
Ordinary Level (International) (O-Level)
Ordinary Level (United Kingdom)
Ordinary Level (Sri Lanka)
Ordinary Level (Singapore)
Cambridge International O-Level subjects
Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE)
Certificate of Secondary Education (United Kingdom)(CSE)
General Certificate of Education (GCE), which comprises O-Levels and
School certificate (SC), predecessor to the GCE O-Level and CSE
School Certificate (United Kingdom)
School Certificate (Australia)
School Certificate (New Zealand)
^ Brooks, Ron (2014) [First published 1991]. "A decade and more of
debate". Contemporary Debates in Education: An Historical Perspective.
New York: Routledge. pp. 21–23. ISBN 978-0-582-05797-5.
^ Tytler, David (August 25, 1988). "GCSE examiners 'very impressed'
after results study". The Times (London, England) (63169): 6.
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^ "GCSE 2012 French/German/Spanish Specification" (PDF). ocr.org.uk.
May 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2017.
^ "Get the facts: GCSE reform - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved
^ "Here's what the new GCSE grades mean". The Independent. 2017-08-22.
^ "Completing GCSE, AS and A level Reform - GOV.UK". www.gov.uk.
^ "Statement from the qualification regulators on changes to GCSEs, AS
and A levels" (PDF). ccea.org.uk. August 2017. Retrieved 27 November
2017. first1= missing last1= in Authors list (help)
^ Weir, Peter (28 June 2016). "ORAL STATEMENT ON GCSE QUALIFICATION
MARKET AND GRADING - 28 JUNE 2016" (PDF). education-ni.gov.uk.
Retrieved 27 November 2017.
^ "First teaching from 2015 and 2016 Pearson qualifications".
qualifications.pearson.com. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ "First teaching from 2017 Pearson qualifications".
qualifications.pearson.com. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ "First teaching from 2018 Pearson qualifications".
qualifications.pearson.com. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ "WJEC GCSE Qualifications". wjec.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ "Qualifications". www.aqa.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ "Qualifications". www.eduqas.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ "Latest news and information on the GCSE reform programme - OCR".
ocr.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ CCEA (2014-02-12). "General Certificate of Secondary Education
(GCSE)". ccea.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ CCEA (2017-07-31). "A Guide to Changes in GCSE Grading".
ccea.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-29.
^ "Edexcel's online results service". Edexcel. Retrieved
^ "GCSE National subject grade percentages". Bstubbs.co.uk. Retrieved
^ a b "GCSE reforms". Edexcel.com. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] Changes to A levels - The Department for
Education". Education.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 30 April
2014. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ a b "Latest news and information on the GCSE reform programme -
OCR". Ocr.org.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
Edexcel A levels". Edexcel.com. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "Labour pledges to halt A-Level reforms". Teachingtimes.com.
Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "Oxford academics cast doubt on GCSE claims". Tes.co.uk. Retrieved
14 June 2015.
^ "Oxford admissions head sounds warning over exam changes". Times
Higher Education. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "Cambridge urges schools to enter students for AS-levels". BBC News.
Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "Entry requirements for Accounting and Finance
Bath". Bath.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 27 May 2013.
Retrieved 17 June 2013.
University Department of Computer Science Undergraduate
courses". Cs.bris.ac.uk. 2013-02-26. Retrieved 2013-06-17.
^ "Department of Economics - Departmental admissions criteria 2013 -
How to apply - Undergraduate - Study - Home". .lse.ac.uk. 2012-10-01.
^ "Entrance Requirements -
University of Oxford". Ox.ac.uk. Retrieved
^ L R Hand. "Education Vocabulary - Learn English Vocabulary".
Learningenglish.de. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "GCE O-Level". SEAB.
^ a b "International Qualifications for entry into college or
university in 2013" (PDF). Arts.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 October
^ "Info for US Families". Chavegnes International College. Retrieved
11 October 2017.
^ Trust for London and New Policy Institute. "Education".
Londonspovertyprofile.org.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "UK students outperforming Jersey GCSE students". ITV News.
Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ National Archives. "Department for Education" (PDF). Department for
Education. Department for Education. Archived from the original (PDF)
on 1 April 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
^ "Exam board chief: 'Unless we act soon, even GCSE French and German
could face the chop'". Tes.co.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ "Heads 'oppose move to traditional academic GCSE subjects' - BT".
Home.bt.com. 2015-08-26. Retrieved 2015-12-23.
^ "Were O-Levels Harder Than GCSEs?". Laura McInerney. Retrieved 5
^ Robert Coe, Changes in Standards at GCSE and A-Level: Evidence from
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^ "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 27 Feb 2006 (pt 136)".
Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ House of Commons Education and Skills Third Report 2003 retrieved 27
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setting in the secondary school: finding appropriate methods of data
collection and analysis". Leeds.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 October
^ Geddes, Diana (1982-01-27). "Poor marks for maths teaching". The
Times (London, England) (61142). The Times (London, England). The
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branded a 'nonsense' amid changes". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 13
^ Malnick, Edward. "GCSE performance tables: Number of failing schools
doubles in a year". The Telegraph. The Telegraph. Retrieved 13
^ "The Independent - 404". The Independent. London. Retrieved 14 June
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News. 25 October 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
^ Garner, Richard (29 September 2007). "Majority of private schools
'ditched at least one GCSE'". The Independent. London. Retrieved 14
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^ Alex Bellos. "How to solve the maths GCSE question about Hannah's
sweets that went viral Science". The Guardian. Retrieved
^ Reporter, Staff (2016-05-20). "This is the GCSE biology exam that
caused thousands of students to complain". International Business
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^ Espinoza, Javier (17 May 2016). "Students left 'fuming' over GCSE
biology exam that contained questions about drunk 15-year-olds".
Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
^ Association, Press (17 May 2016). "GCSE exam pupils baffled by
'business studies' question in biology paper". Theguardian.com.
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^ "Fury over GCSE biology exam that had 'no biology' in it".
Metro.co.uk. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
The Guardian, 25 August 2005, "It really is that bad" – GCSE
The Guardian, 3 September 2005, "Top independent school to ditch GCSE
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