This House of Commons Library briefing provides an overview of the extensive reforms to GCSE, AS and A level qualifications undertaken by the Coalition and Conservative Governments.

Download the full report

The Coalition Government undertook significant reform of GCSE, AS and A level qualifications, which has continued under the Conservatives.  The reforms are extensive and include changes to both the subject content and assessment of these qualifications, as well as the qualifications that may be studied.  The reforms have aimed to increase the rigour of the qualifications, with an increased focus on examinations.  This note provides an overview of the development of these reforms, which were first announced in 2010.

The reformed GCSEs are linear, with all assessments normally taken at the end of the course, and have reformed course content.  There are no longer higher and foundation tiers, and a new grading scale that uses the numbers 1 – 9 to identify levels of performance, with 9 being the top level, will be introduced for students receiving their results in reformed GCSEs from June 2017.  Grade 4 will be considered a ‘standard’ pass, and Grade 5 a ‘strong pass’.

Additionally, exams will take place only in the summer, apart from English, English language and mathematics, where students who want to re-take these subjects will be able to do so in November.

AS and A level course content is being also reformed.  Additionally, AS and A levels are to be ‘decoupled’, so that AS levels are taken as qualifications in their own right, and that any student wishing to take an A level after doing an AS level would be reassessed on the AS level material.  AS qualifications and A levels will be assessed at the end of the course, and in principle be exam-only.

Reformed course content has been published for many subjects, with the introduction of the revised material being staggered between September 2015 and September 2017.

The Library standard note on the National Curriculum review carried out under the Coalition Government, SN/SP/6798, provides related information.

This note applies to England only.

  • Commons Research Briefing SN06962
  • Author: Robert Long
  • Topics: Schools

Download the full report