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Everything You Need to Know About GCSEs

GCSEs are a common fixture in the education system today, but that wasn’t always the case. The education system has been in a constant state of evolution since it was established. For many people, the qualifications that are in play today weren’t what they studied during their time in school.  

Before GCSEs were introduced, qualifications like CSEs, O-Levels and GCEs were all used to depict the level of knowledge young people had acquired in Secondary Education. So, when were GCSEs introduced? These academic qualifications were launched in September 1986.

Though, even for people who are familiar with the concept of GCSEs, since their introduction in the late 1980s they too have evolved. So, it’s understandable for people of any age to be a little unsure as to what these qualifications exactly entail, the GCSE grade equivalents, and how important it is for you to obtain them today. 

To help clear things up, we’ve answered some of the most common questions and queries surrounding GCSEs, such as 'when were GCSEs introduced?'. So, you know exactly the next step to take in your learning journey.  

What is GCSE Course? 

GCSE stands for the General Certificate of Secondary Education, and its purpose in education is to provide an academic qualification in a particular subject like Maths, English and Science.  

Students will start officially studying for GCSE exams in either Year 9 or 10, depending on the school they attend, and the subject studied. The exams will be taken at the end of Year 11.  

Students tend to take 5 GCSEs at Key Stage 4, enabling them to achieve qualifications in the core subjects English, Maths and Science, as well as two subjects of their choosing. Though, this varies depending on the school.   

Over the years there have been substantial changes to the GCSE concept. Now, more subjects are on offer, existing subjects have been altered, exam formats, regulations and the grading of GCSE exams have all altered considerably. 

GCSEs are typically studied by 14-16-year-olds, but you can complete a GCSE to get qualified in a subject of interest at any age.  


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When Were GCSEs Introduced?

Before the discussion of GCSE grade equivalents began, many of us were asking 'when were GCSEs introduced?' Well, the first GCSE was launched in September 1986. These Level 2 qualifications replaced CSE and O-Levels, bringing the two together to provide a fuller range of grades.

How Important Are GCSEs? 

GCSEs provide the first formal record of your academic ability and potential. Many people assume they are only important for getting you into college, but they actually play a huge part in your life afterwards. It may be difficult to accept this when taking a Maths revision test, but the content you learn can be applied to everyday life!

GCSE qualifications are the minimum requirement and a barrier to entry for most roles and university courses. This makes them arguably the most important qualifications you can do because A Levels will only get you so far without strong passes in the core GCSE subjects. 

GCSEs act as an educational gateway, unlocking access to higher education and further fields of study. They provide the footing of whichever career you decide to pursue but it’s important to note their value isn’t completely clear cut.  

Universities set their own entry requirements, which can vastly differ depending on the institution. Employers can also be subjective, with many external factors affecting recruitment. So, if you don’t have GCSEs, all isn’t lost.  

How Long is a GCSE Course? 

The length of GCSE courses depends on the capacity in which you choose to study them. In a traditional school setting, you take a number of these at once so they will take 2-3 years to complete depending on the school and subjects studied.  

If you’re wondering ‘how long is a GCSE course at college?’ you can take adult GCSE courses in evening classes, study them part or full-time in a college setting. This again dictates the amount of time you will spend studying.  

Full-time students can complete standard GCSE programmes over two years or GCSE short courses which are completed in just one year. Part-time GCSE courses will take longer, as will evening courses, though the exact length will depend on the individual college programme.  

If you are looking for a faster option, read on. 

Are There Any Online GCSE Courses? 

Hands down the quickest way to complete GCSEs is through online GCSE courses. With online GCSE courses, the materials for the entire course are accessible online once you enrol. So, you can move on to the next modules of your course as soon as you’re ready.  

This differs from traditional and college-based GCSE courses as you don’t work through the course materials at the same pace as your classmates. Music to the ears of anyone who prefers studying alone and those wanting to reach their academic goals quicker.  

You have two years to complete online GCSE courses, however, completion is possible in as little as 6 months!  

What GCSE Courses Are There? 

There are a host of online GCSE courses available to study, with learndirect you can complete GCSEs in: 

  • Biology 
  • Business Studies 
  • Chemistry 
  • Economics 
  • English Language  
  • English Literature 
  • History 
  • Mathematics 
  • Physics 
  • Psychology 
  • Sociology 

See the full list of learndirect’s GCSE offering, including all course variations on our GCSE course page.  

The best online GCSE courses for you will depend entirely on the higher level qualifications you want to obtain and the career path you wish to enter. This is why it’s always advised to research these ahead of enrolling on online GCSE courses. 


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Why Did the Grading System for GCSEs Change? 

When they were first introduced, GCSE courses were graded in letters. A, B, C, D, E, F and G were set as pass grades, and the letter U was given for an ‘unclassified’ grade. This did not qualify you for a certificate. 

A C grade in this system was known as the standard pass and the minimum requirement for most jobs and degrees. In later years, the A* grade was added as the highest level, to show that you had performed exceptionally in your subject.  

From 2017, these grades were reformed, and GCSEs have since been assessed on a 9-point scale, with many people having to learn GCSE grade equivalents. This system uses the numbers 9 through to 1, with 9 being the highest pass grade. A grade 4 now replaces the previous grade C and, just like the old system, a U signifies an unclassified grade that falls below the minimum pass mark. 

The reason for this change was to bring in more differentiation at the top end of the grading scale. It should help sixth forms, colleges, universities and employers better understand what level young people are working to. It also more closely aligns England with the top performing education jurisdictions around the world. So, once you have got to grips with what a grade 2 GCSE equivalent is and a GCSE grade 3 equivalent.

I Failed my GCSEs – What are My Options? 

If you didn’t get what you wanted on GCSE results day, you can resit them in a number of ways, depending on your preference.  

If you don’t mind going back into class, you can enrol to resit your GCSEs in a local school or college. With this option, you will be bound to a set timetable and have to attend classes with other GCSE students. 

If going back to class isn’t something you want to do, you can resit GCSEs through online GCSE courses instead. 

I’ve Never Studied GCSEs – What are My Options? 

If you don’t have GCSEs, you could see if the qualifications you do have stand up in place of these for your higher level course, degree, or work opportunity.  

Many institutions and employers accept alternative Level 2 qualifications in place of GCSEs. So, don’t panic if you’re working from the old system.  

If you don’t currently have any qualifications, or the right grades, and you need to get some under your belt quickly, Functional Skills courses can provide swift alternatives. When studied at Level 2, you can get the equivalent of a C/4 at GCSE in English, Maths and ICT.  

Can I Apply for Uni Courses with No GCSE Grades? 

Traditionally, universities would request a certain combination of GCSEs and A Levels as entry requirements for their degrees. The courses you would need to study would ideally complement the subject you were hoping to take.  

However, as the education system evolved, so too did the way you could access a degree. A lot of degree courses are now more flexible in the GCSE subjects they take, though Maths and English are still the most requested. Should you need to get the grades for these quickly, learndirect offer Maths and English courses for adults online.  

In addition to this, many universities now consider other elements in their applications. Character traits like resilience and tenacity, along with prior experience, can be highly desirable in educational institutions. 

Can You Do an Access Course Without GCSEs? 

Access to Higher Education Diplomas are an increasingly popular way to meet university entry requirements. They go in place of three individual A Levels, and can be studied over two years but they are typically completed within 9-12 months. This makes them an incredibly efficient way to get on track to university level study.  

To get started on an Access to Higher Education Diploma, you don’t need to have GCSEs or equivalent Level 2 qualifications. However, when you go to apply to university, you will.  

There’s no need to panic though. At learndirect, many of our students will study Level 2 Functional Skills courses alongside their Access to Higher Education Diploma. These Functional Skills courses can be completed in a matter of weeks, so they won’t overwhelm you as you work towards meeting university entry requirements.   

How Much is a GCSE Course? 

Again, this depends on the capacity in which you study your GCSE courses. If you go back into a classroom, the course fees need to cover the cost of the teacher's wage and the classroom in which the lessons are delivered.  

If you opt for online GCSE courses, there are far fewer costs involved, which often make online versions of the courses much cheaper.  

You can find the cost of the online GCSE courses provided by learndirect on our website.  

Enrol Online Today! 

By now, you should have some of your questions answered, from 'when were GCSEs introduced?' to 'why did the grading system for GCSEs change?'. If GCSEs are essential to your career or academic progression, learndirect can provide you with a swift and cost-effective way to get qualified. From GCSE Maths online courses to English, Science and many other subject areas, you can get the knowledge and grade you need for your next move.  

Find out more by speaking with our Course Executives today. They will answer all the questions you have and help you take the next steps to enrol. 

Call them now on 01202 006 464 or contact them online.  

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