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Changes to early entry at GCSE

From 29 September 2013, only a student’s first entry to a GCSE examination will count in their school’s performance tables.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Students writing

The Secretary of State for Education has announced that, with effect from 29 September 2013, only a student’s first entry to a GCSE examination will count in their school’s performance tables.

For those who have already completed a GCSE, the performance tables will still record their best result from either their previous attempt or from the next time they sit that GCSE. Those who have not yet taken a GCSE will have their first GCSE taken after 29 September 2013 count in performance tables.

This change is being made to address the significant increase in early entry in recent years. In summer 2013, 23% of maths entries (170,537 entries) and 10% of English entries (70,134) were from students who were not yet at the end of their key stage 4 study. Overall, entries from 15-year-olds increased by 39% from 2012 to 2013.

The Secretary of State has previously described early entry as a “damaging trend that is harming the interests of many pupils”, adding:

The evidence shows that candidates who enter early perform worse overall than those who do not, even after resits are taken into account.

It seems likely that candidates are being entered before they are ready, and ‘banking’ a C grade where their performance at key stage 2 would suggest that if they had continued to study the subject and taken the GCSE at the end of year 11 they could have achieved a top grade.

This is of particular concern in maths, where there is high progression from A*/A grade at GCSE to A level, but low progression from grades B and C.

In addition, I believe that this speaks more generally of a narrowed curriculum, focused not on sound subject teaching as a basis for successful progression, but on preparation to pass exams.

Changes from September 2013

From 29 September 2013 a pupil’s first entry in a particular subject will count towards the school’s performance tables.

For those who have already completed an eligible qualification (summer 2013 or previously), the performance tables (and associated data, such as that held on RAISEonline) will still record their best result from either their previous attempt or from the next time they sit a qualification in that subject. Those who have not yet taken an eligible qualification in the subject will have their first eligible qualification taken after 29 September 2013 count in performance tables.


These changes apply to GCSEs, level 1/level 2 certificates (sometimes referred to as IGCSEs), BTECs and other qualifications, where those would ‘discount’ against GCSEs in performance tables. The first entry across the subject, regardless of qualification type, will be the one that counts. Not all level 1/level 2 certificates count in performance tables and unregulated IGCSEs do not count. That position is unchanged.

Details of the way in which the changes will apply to BTEC qualifications can be found on the BTEC website.

Where qualifications are currently discounted against each other, the earlier of the 2 sets of results will be counted in performance tables.

Exception discounting – English measures

Results for English measures in performance tables are calculated using ‘exception’ discounting. This will continue to be the case. For example:

  • a pupil takes English GCSE in November 2013 and English language and English literature GCSEs in June 2014: the November 2013 English result would count in performance tables
  • a pupil takes English language GCSE in November 2013, retakes it in June 2014 and takes English literature GCSE in June 2014: the November 2013 English language result would count alongside the June 2014 English literature result
  • a pupil takes English language GCSE in November 2013 and English GCSE in June 2014: the English language result is the one that counts in performance tables, although no result will be entered in the tables unless the pupil was also entered for English literature

More information on ‘discounting’ can be found via RAISEonline.

Mathematics measures – mathematics ‘linked pair’

Pupils need to take, and achieve a grade, in both qualifications (methods and applications). The highest grade then counts in performance measures. So a C in methods and a U in applications means the C counts as the maths result for performance tables purposes. We are not changing this position, provided the pupil does not retake either of the qualifications.

If a pupil resat either of the 2 linked pair GCSEs, the first attempt at that qualification would be taken into account (alongside the grade from the other qualification) in determining the grade that counts in performance measures, with the highest of the 2 being recorded as the maths grade.

The linked pair qualification will discount against a normal maths qualification, so if a pupil took one of the linked pair qualifications in November 2013 and the general maths GCSE in June 2014, the linked pair grade would be entered in the tables (provided they also entered the other linked pair qualification). If the pupil did not also achieve a grade in the other linked pair qualification no grade would be entered in the performance tables.

‘X’ grades

As is currently the case, ‘X’ grades do not count towards performance tables. If a student receives an ‘X’ grade and then retakes the exam and achieves a grade, the latter grade is the one which will be included in the performance tables.

Entries in the same series

Where exams are scheduled for the same day, the best result will continue to count. Schools will need to think carefully about whether this is in the best interests of their pupils. The Department for Education will continue to collect data on entry patterns, and will share that data at a school level with Ofsted.

In cases where exams are scheduled for different days, even if they are in the same series, only the first entry will count in the tables.

In cases where qualifications have more than one exam paper, we will use the date of the first paper as the one which determines its entry date.

Private entries

Where an exam is sat privately, this will continue to count in the performance tables for the school at which the student is on roll. Schools will need to engage students and parents in constructive discussions on this issue where they feel a private early entry is inappropriate.

This will also apply where students sit exams at exam centres other than their school’s. That is, where a student attends a school but sits an exam at another school’s exam centre, we will still count the results on the performance tables of the school where the pupil is on roll.

Subjects covered

These changes will apply initially (for performance tables published in January 2015, relating to exams taken in the summer of 2014 or earlier) to the following subjects only: English (English, English language, English literature), mathematics, science (core and additional science, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science), history, geography and modern foreign languages. For performance tables published in January 2016 and subsequently the changes will apply to all subjects.

Examinations planned for November 2013 and summer 2014

Schools that have already planned for pupils to do early entry either in November or summer 2014 will have to think hard about whether they still think that is right for the pupil.

If schools decide they wish to withdraw students from November examinations, they should contact their exam board.

If schools are confident that pupils will achieve well even when entered early and that early entry is therefore in the interests of the pupil, they should not need to make any changes to entry plans. Any pupil who does enter early from this point on will still be able to retake if they receive a disappointing result. That result will not count towards the performance tables for their school, even if it is an improvement on their earlier entry, but pupils will still be able to use their best result to support applications to further and higher education, or for employment.

More information about early entry can be found in the department’s report into early GCSE entry and the Ofsted report on early GCSE entry.

Published 30 September 2013
Last updated 18 November 2013 + show all updates
  1. Clarification on early entry dates and updated information on the treatment of BTECs.

  2. Updated to clarify which GCSEs will count towards school performance tables. Ensures the article addresses the most frequent questions we have received since the announcement.

  3. First published.