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GCSEs

Everything about GCSEs with links to more information

Last updated: 15 July 2009

GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education. GCSEs can be taken in over 45 subjects from English and mathematics to more work-related subjects such as health and social care and manufacturing. Over half a million young people sit GCSE examinations each year.

Aligning applied GCSEs with Diploma principal learning

The need for a transparent and deliverable qualification offer for 14- to 19-year-olds was set out in the Promoting achievement, valuing success: a strategy for 14–19 qualifications white paper published in March 2008. It stated that: 

"Applied GCSEs will remain a distinct offer in the future. However, as we move towards 2013 and Diplomas begin to be established, there are clear benefits in aligning the content of applied GCSEs, where appropriate, with the principal learning content of Diplomas. This will provide a clearer progression route for those learners who chose to move onto further study through a Diploma."

QCDA is exploring the implications of aligning applied GCSEs with Diploma principal learning, both in short term looking at opportunities for co-delivery, and in the longer term when GCSEs are reviewed in the future.

We are holding a series of focus groups across the country and will pay supply cover and standard class travel expenses to people who attend. Places at these events are restricted and will be allocated on a first come first serve basis although further events will be arranged if there is sufficient demand. We are particularly interested in finding out the views of people who are involved in planning and teaching applied GCSEs and / or Diplomas.

The focus groups are taking place on:

  • Monday 8 February 2010 from 2.30- 5.30pm in Newbury at Trinity School, Love Lane, Shaw, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2DU

  • Wednesday 10 February 2010 from 2.30pm - 5.30pm in Harrogate at Harrogate High School, Ainsty Road, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 4AP

  • Thursday 11 February 2010 from 2.00- 5.00pm in Coventry* at Caludon Castle School, Axholme Road, Wyken, Coventry CV2 5BD.

If you would like to attend, please email GCSE@qcda.gov.uk stating your name, contact details and preferred venue. Confirmation and further details will be provided by email.

If you cannot attend one of these events but would like to contribute your views, please email GCSE@qcda.gov.uk.

*Please note that individuals attending this event will need to bring ID and a valid Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.

GCSEs are changing

As part of the reform of 14–19 education, GCSEs are being revised in three phases:

  • New GCSE specifications in most subjects for first teaching from September 2009.
  • New GCSE specifications in English, English language, English literature, ICT and mathematics (and new GCSE mathematics linked pair pilot qualifications) for first teaching from September 2010.
  • New GCSE specifications for science subjects for first teaching in September 2011. These specifications will be accredited and available in centres in autumn 2010.

Taking GCSEs over three years

GCSE qualifications are intended to be taken over two years. Centres may adopt a more flexible approach to delivery, for example by teaching GCSE qualifications over three years, but these centres need to be aware of the implications of the accreditation end date to ensure that students are entered for the appropriate GCSE specification.

Centres should check details of assessment arrangements during the transition from the current specifications to the new specifications with the relevant awarding bodies and ensure that all assessments are completed in line with awarding bodies' published timelines. Awarding bodies cannot transfer credit from current GCSE specifications to new GCSE specifications and it will not be possible for students to combine units from current and new specifications to make up a GCSE qualification.

The accreditation end date of current GCSEs in English, English literature, ICT and mathematics is August 2011. Centres planning to offer GCSE courses in these subjects over three years (starting in September 2009 and completing in summer 2012) should use the key stage 4 programme of study to prepare schemes of work. New GCSE specifications in these subjects will be accredited in autumn 2009 for centres to plan for first teaching from September 2010. Assessments will not be available until late 2010 at the earliest.

The accreditation end date of current GCSEs in science is August 2012. Centres planning to offer GCSE courses in science subjects over three years (starting in September 2010 and completing in summer 2013) should use the key stage 4 programme of study to prepare schemes of work. New GCSE specifications in science will be accredited in autumn 2010 for centres to plan for first teaching from September 2011. Assessments will not be available until late 2011 at the earliest.  

Links for more information and advice

Awarding bodies

There are five awarding bodies that offer GCSEs:

  • AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance)
  • CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessments)
  • Edexcel
  • OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations)
  • WJEC (Welsh Joint Education Committee)

Information about GCSE specifications and assessments is available from these websites.

Regulators

There are three regulators for GCSE qualifications. As regulators, they make sure that GCSE standards are maintained over time.

  • Ofqual (Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator) in England
  • DCELLS (Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills) in Wales
  • CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessments) in Northern Ireland

Information about criteria for GCSE specifications is available from these websites.

Our role

We work with awarding bodies, teachers and subject communities to develop GCSE criteria and support awarding bodies through the process of accreditation of their specifications. Read more about the development of criteria for GCSEs for 2009 onwards..

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