Regulating GCSEs, AS and A levels: guide for schools and colleges

About GCSEs, AS and A levels

General information about GCSEs, AS and A levels, and how we regulate them

Roles and responsibilities

Department for Education

The Department for Education has responsibility for curriculum and teaching. It has set and published the subject content for all reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels.

For legacy GCSEs, AS and A levels, the subject content was developed and maintained by QCA.

Ofqual

Ofqual decides (using a process called ‘recognition’) which organisations can offer GCSEs, AS and A levels. It also sets the rules for assessing the subject content.

We do not regulate schools or colleges and so we do not place any requirements directly on them. But some of our rules for the exam boards affect the way they must interact with schools and colleges and the obligations exam boards place on them. This reflects the important role schools and colleges play in making sure the qualifications system works effectively and fairly.

Exam boards

We have approved 4 exam boards to award GCSEs, AS and A level qualifications:

Exam boards develop and award GCSEs, AS and A levels, based on the subject content and following Ofqual’s rules about assessment.

For some aspects of the qualification system, the exam boards adopt common ways of working. This makes it easier for schools and colleges and can help secure a qualification system that is fair to all, regardless of the exam board used. When the exam boards work together in this way they generally do so through the Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ), their membership body.

Ofqual’s rules for GCSEs, AS and A levels

We set a number of rules that apply to GCSEs, AS and A levels. Some apply to all regulated qualifications; others are specific to GCSEs or to AS and A levels. All our rules are published on our website.

Qualification specifications

One of our rules requires exam boards to publish a specification for each qualification. The specification must set out a range of information, including:

  • the knowledge, skills and understanding which will be assessed, giving a clear indication of their coverage and depth
  • how it will be assessed
  • how it will be graded
  • any sample assessment materials and their mark schemes

Entries

We do not set rules on how exam boards handle entries from schools and colleges. They have their own arrangements and set their entry deadlines.

To help them with their planning, the exam boards may ask schools and colleges for early indications of their expected entries. We encourage schools and colleges to give exam boards this information as this should help the system run efficiently and effectively.

Subject-specific requirements on schools and colleges

Exam boards must tell schools and colleges about any subject-specific requirements. There are, for example, additional requirements on schools and colleges to submit to exam boards statements about the provision of opportunities for and/or participation in:

  • practical work in GCSE, AS and A level science and geology
  • astronomical observation in GCSE astronomy
  • fieldwork in GCSE, AS and A level geography
  • citizenship action in GCSE citizenship activities
  • live theatre performances in GCSE drama, and AS and A level drama and theatre

Accrediting GCSEs, AS and A levels

Exam boards can only award GCSEs, AS and A levels if we have accredited them.

We only accredit qualifications when we are confident the exam board can comply with the requirements for the qualification on an on-going basis.

Reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels

Reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels are being introduced in phases. The first reformed qualifications were introduced for first teaching from September 2015, with the remaining qualifications introduced (or being introduced) in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The table below shows which reformed qualifications students in different years will take.

Year group GCSE AS and A level
Students starting their course in 2015 (Note 1) and taking their exams in 2017 (Note 2) English language
English literature
mathematics
art & design
biology
business
chemistry
computer science
economics
English language
English language and literature
English literature
history
physics
psychology
sociology
Students starting their course in 2016 and taking their exams in 2018 (Note 3) 2015 subjects plus:

art & design
biology
chemistry
citizenship studies
computer science
dance
drama
combined studies
food preparation & nutrition
French
geography
German
classical Greek
history
Latin
music
physical education (Note 6)
physics
religious studies (Note 6)
Spanish
2015 subjects plus:

classical Greek
dance
drama & theatre
French
geography
German
Latin
music
physical education
religious studies
Spanish
Students starting their course in 2017 and taking their first exams in 2019 (Note 4) 2015 and 2016 subjects plus:

ancient history
Arabic
astronomy
Bengali
business
Chinese
classical civilisation
design and technology
economics
electronics
engineering
film studies
geology
Italian
Japanese
media studies
modern Greek
modern Hebrew
PE short course Polish
psychology
Panjabi
Russian
sociology
statistics
Urdu
2015 and 2016 subjects plus:

accounting
ancient history
Chinese
classical civilisation
design & technology
electronics
environmental science
film studies
geology
history of art
Italian
law
mathematics
further mathematics
media studies
music technology
philosophy
politics
Russian
statistics
Students starting their course in 2018 and taking their exams in 2020 (Note 5) All previous subjects plus:

Gujarati
Persian
Portuguese
Turkish
All previous subjects plus:

Arabic
Bengali
Gujarati
modern Hebrew
Biblical Hebrew
Japanese
Panjabi
Persian
Portuguese
Polish
Turkish
Urdu

Notes

  1. These dates assume students will study for their GCSEs over a 2 year period.
  2. AS exams will first be available in 2016.
  3. AS exams will first be available in 2017.
  4. AS exam will be available in 2018. Exams in mathematics will also be available in 2018, to allow students to complete their maths A level in one year and then progress to further maths.
  5. AS exam will be available in 2019.
  6. There will also be a short course option, first exams in 2018.

Resits

Resits in legacy GCSEs, AS and A levels

Exam boards must provide resits for:

  • all legacy AS and A levels in the May or June of the year following the last scheduled entry for the qualifications
  • the legacy GCSE English, English language and mathematics qualifications in summer 2017 (in addition to the resits provided in November 2016)
  • GCSE science and additional science no later than summer 2018

Exam boards do not have to provide resit opportunities in any other legacy GCSEs, although they may decide to so do. So, for example, an exam board might decide to provide students with an opportunity to enter for legacy GCSEs in biology, chemistry and physics (as well as in science and additional science). Schools and colleges should contact their exam boards to find out which GCSE resits they plan to offer.

There are restrictions on who can take the GCSE, AS and A level resits. For GCSEs, only those students who have taken the qualification previously, those who had good reason not to have taken it when planned (such as illness), or who are aged 16 or above on 31 August in the year of the last scheduled sitting can take the resits. For AS and A levels only students who have taken the qualification previously, or those who had good reason not to have taken it when planned (such as illness) can take the resits.

We have published further information about the resit policy.

Resits in reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels

Most exams for reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels take place in May or June each year. That means most students who want to resit a reformed GCSE, AS or A level will need to wait until the following summer to do so.

In GCSE English language and GCSE mathematics, resits are also available in November, but only for students who were aged 16 or above on 31 August of that year.