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GCSEs from 2015


GCSE reform

The Department for Education (DfE) are reforming the content of GCSEs to make them more challenging so students are better prepared for further academic or vocational study, or for work. 

New GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths will be taught in schools in England from September 2015, with the first results issued in August 2017.  Further subjects will see new GCSEs introduced over the following two years.

What new GCSEs will look like
The main features of the new GCSEs are: 

  • A new grading scale of 9 to 1 will be used, with 9 being the top grade. This will allow greater differentiation between students and will help distinguish the new GCSEs from previous versions. 
  • Assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills. 
  • There will be new, more demanding content, which has been developed by government and the exam boards. 
  • Courses will be designed for two years of study – they will no longer be divided into different modules and students will take all their exams in one period at the end of their course. 
  • Exams can only be split into ‘foundation tier’ and ‘higher tier’ if one exam paper does not give all students the opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities.
  • Resit opportunities will only be available each November in English language and maths.

The changes they are introducing are:  

  • the English language GCSE will require better reading skills and good written English 
  • the English literature GCSE will encourage students to read, write and think critically; it will assess students on challenging and substantial whole texts and on shorter unseen texts
  • the mathematics GCSE will provide greater coverage of areas such as ratio, proportion and rates of change; it will require all students to master the basics, and will be more challenging for those aiming to achieve top grades 
  • science GCSEs will cover new content, including the human genome, life cycle analysis and space physics, and they will be more mathematically challenging
  • the history GCSE will require students to study more historical periods; it will cover three eras - medieval, early modern and modern - and will concentrate more on British history
  • the geography GCSE will require students to use maths and statistics, and will concentrate more on UK geography; it will also require students to carry out at least two pieces of fieldwork
  • languages GCSEs will be more demanding and most exam questions in modern languages will be asked in the respective foreign language
  • the art and design GCSE will emphasise creativity and drawing; the DfE will remove the concept of ‘endorsed’ and ‘unendorsed’ courses and replace it with a series of separate art and design titles
  • the computer science GCSE will require students to understand mathematical principles and concepts such as data representation, Boolean logic and different data types; students will also have to understand the components of computer systems, and write and refine programs
  • the dance GCSE will include new theory and will require students to appreciate and analyse professional works 
  • the music GCSE will require students to read and write staff notation, understand chord symbols and analyse unfamiliar music
  • the physical education (PE) GCSE will emphasise the use of data to evaluate physical activity; students will be assessed in 3 different activities, including at least one team sport - a list of sports and activities that schools can offer as part of the new GCSEs is available
  • the drama GCSE will require students to understand texts and performance in their social, cultural and historical context; students must study at least 1 performance text in depth and at least two extracts
  • the food preparation and nutrition GCSE will teach students about the scientific and nutritional properties of ingredients - this knowledge will help them prepare and cook healthy meals
  • the religious studies GCSE requires students to study two religions; it also gives them the opportunity to study the philosophy and ethics of religion, including learning about non-religious beliefs

For a visual time line of events produced by the DfE, please click here

to be taught from:
First results will
be issued in:
September 2015Summer 2017English language 
English literature 
September 2016Summer 2018geography 
combined science 
modern foreign languages
(French, German, Spanish) 
ancient languages 
religious studies 
food preparation and nutrition 
art and design 
physical education 
computer science 
citizenship studies
September 2017Summer 2019All other GCSE subjects, including design and technology,
that are taught from this point will be new, with the current
ones withdrawn. Exam boards will have to meet new rules
for content and design when deciding which subjects to offer.
More information on available subjects will follow.

The DfE have designed a brief presentation to explain to parents the reforms. Click here to download the powerpoint

Grade descriptors for GCSEs graded 9 to 1 explained here