The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) was introduced in 1986 with first examinations in 1988. It is the principal means of assessing pupil attainment at the end of compulsory secondary education. The GCSE is offered by the awarding bodies, which are independent commercial enterprises.

There are three main awarding bodies:

  • Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)
  • Edexcel, and Oxford
  • Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR).

The GCSE examinations are set according to nationally agreed criteria that provide guidance on syllabus content. All GCSE syllabuses used in maintained schools must be formally approved by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). A quality assurance framework ensures standards are maintained between awarding bodies and syllabuses year on year.


Learners (of all ages) are eligible for full funding to take GCSE English and Maths qualifications if they do not currently possess these qualifications at A* – C regardless of what other prior qualifications they hold. If a Learner needs to ‘retake’ their GCSE English and Maths because they did not achieve an A* – C grade the Learner must not just resit the examination but also undertake the necessary learning.

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