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Ofqual - Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation

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Information for:

GCSEs

In 1986, GCE O level and CSE were merged to form a single system of examining post-16 learners. The GCSE, which stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, is now the main school-leaving qualification in England. GCSEs are available in over 50 subjects and more than 6.5 million are awarded each year.

GCSEs can be studied alongside other qualifications, such as GCSEs in vocational subjects, other vocational qualifications; National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs); various information and communication technology (ICT) qualifications; or as part of a Diploma. The official student guide to GCSEs explains all about GCSEs, what choices there are, what happens in the exams, and what options are available afterwards — it even gives useful advice about revision.

GCSEs are usually sat by 15 to 18 year olds in schools or colleges, but they are open to anyone who wants to gain a qualification. Occasionally, an awarding organisation and the regulator’s lead reviewer might consider that there is a particular reason why a GCSE should not be available to a certain age group — in which case the awarding organisation must complete and submit our GCSE proposal form to explain why this is so.

In 2007, following a major review, GCSEs were revised and updated. The aim was to make sure that standards were being maintained and that assessments continued to stretch and challenge learners. It also provided an opportunity to adjust the criteria to encourage innovative teaching, learning and assessment. At the same time, it allowed GCSEs to be checked against government’s 14-19 curriculum changes and revised where necessary to complement the new Diplomas.

The first teaching of the new GCSEs began in September 2009. The new criteria incorporate controlled assessments. You can find out more about controlled assessments here.

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