In 1984, the Department of Education and Science announced that from 1988 a new and unified system of examinations would be introduced in England and Wales (not Scotland) essentially for children in the 16-plus age group (that is, at the end of compulsory full-time education), although others could take it as well. Named the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), it was designed to replace the General Certificate of Education Ordinary level (GCE O-level) and the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE). GCE O-level, dating from 1951, was designed for pupils in the top 20 percent of the ability range, who then were mainly at grammar schools with the intention of moving on through the sixth form to GCE Advanced level (A-level).
   Though many secondary modern schools entered their abler students for GCE O-levels, the demand for examinations better suited to a wider range of capacities and aptitudes led in 1965 to the introduction of CSE. Results were graded on a fivepoint number scale, with grade 1 equivalent to grade C, regarded as ‘pass’ on the GCE five-letter scale from A down to E. The overlap was not entirely satisfactory, and CSE never acquired the prestige and acceptance of O-level even at the point of notional equivalence, let alone at lower levels. In comprehensive schools, running two examination systems caused difficulties. These, it was hoped, would be avoided by introducing GCSE for all students.
   GCSE results are graded on a seven-letter scale from A to G, which incorporates ratings from both GCE and CSE. Like its predecessors, GCSE functions on the basis of a range of single-subject examinations, each assessed individually. Schools and pupils select subjects according to preference within the framework of the National Curriculum. The Department of Education and Science delegates the running of GCSE to regional examining boards and groups. Efforts have been made to devise appropriate syllabuses and marking schemes for the different subjects and to find objective criteria, so that instead of being graded on predetermined statistical norms, students are rewarded for positive achievements in examinations and course work (the proportion of which was regulated after complaints). GCSE seeks to involve teachers, under external moderation, in pupil assessment.
   Further reading
    Department of Education and Science (1985) General Certificate of Secondary Education: A General Introduction, London: HMSO.
    Mobley, M. et al. (1986) All About GCSE, London: Heinemann.

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