From September this year, new GCSEs in English (language and literature) and maths will be taught in schools in England, culminating in a final exam in the summer of 2017 which will be assessed and graded differently. 

From September 2016 and 2017 further new GCSEs will be introduced, as the government is overhauling its system and its curriculum. This means that, confusingly, if your son or daughter is in Year 8, 9, or 10, they will be sitting a mixture of old and new GCSE qualifications. 

The new GCSE changes include:

  • courses designed in a linear fashion for two years of study, with no modules and no opportunities to take exams throughout the GCSE period. Exams will only be allowed to be taken at the end of the two-year period. 
  • grades of 9-1, with 9 being the highest grade possible. This is to allow for greater differentiation between students, make GCSEs equivalent to the standards of exams in top performing countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and help distinguish the new GCSE from previous versions. Grade 5 on the new scale will be considered the top grade for a pass -  equivalent to a low B or high C under the present system. A U grade will still be available for those who fail to meet the requirements of a 1. 
  • predominantly exam-based assessment with more demanding content. However, if essential skills of a subject can only be examined through other forms of assessment they will still be implemented, for example the speaking component in English language, and practical exams such as art, dance and drama. 
  • no single science option after 2016 so all students will have to do at least two GCSEs. 
  • tiering (the practice of having different exams or assessment for different ability groups) will only be available when one set of assessments cannot assess students across the full ability range in a valid and manageable way, or where there are content requirements specific to the higher tier only.

Further subjects will see new GCSEs introduced over the following two years:

Courses changing in 2015 with GCSE results in 2017Courses changing in 2016 GCSE results in 2018Courses changing in 2017 with GCSE results in 2019
English language ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin) ancient history
English literature art & design astronomy
maths biology business 
  chemistry classical civilisation
  citizenship studies design & technology
  computer science economics
  dance electronics
  double science engineering
  drama film studies
  food preparation & nutrition  geology 
  geography infromation and communication technology
  history media studies
  modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish) psychology
  music sociology
  physics statistics 
  physical education  
  religious studies  

Specific changes to GCSE maths include new topics, such as ratio and proportion, and the expectation to learn mathematical formulas by heart. The syllabus will feature a third more content and will require pupils to answer “real world problems”, including financial maths. Due to this increase in content, schools have been encouraged to provide at least one extra maths lesson a week to accommodate the changes.

Related Information

Specific changes to GCSE English include 20% of marks for written exams to be allocated to accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar. Coursework has been cut, and there is more emphasis on end-of-year exams. English literature will no longer be compulsory, and will include an unseen text and the study at least one Shakespeare play, a Victorian novel and modern British fiction or drama since 1914. Poetry is also set to become a bigger part of the GCSE syllabus from 2015, with pupils required to study at least 15 poems by at least five different poets. Spoken language skills will be assessed and reported separately with students receiving a separate result for this which they can indicate in their UCAS application. 

What GCSE changes have already been made?

You may have already heard that GCSEs have had a revamp. This is true! In September 2012, linear GCSEs were introduced to replace modular assessment. The first cohort of pupils will sit their exams in Summer 2014 with no chance of sitting exams in January or March. This means that students can’t take the same test twice in one year or re-sit separate units until they achieve the desired grade. Furthermore, league tables now only take into account a pupil’s first GCSE attempt. 

Additionally, due to new league tables that only take into account a pupil’s first attempt, the effectively rules out schools entering pupils early for GCSEs. 

Subjects such as history and geography have also already been made tougher, allowing pupils to demonstrate their knowledge of the whole syllabus during exams. 

The written component of an exam has become more important, while teacher-assessed speaking and listening exercises don’t count towards an overall grade. 

A small number of additional marks - contributing approximately 5% overall in some papers - now reflect the quality of a pupil’s spelling, punctuation and grammar in written exams, such as English literature, geography, history and religious studies. 

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From September 2016 pupils will only be able to take double science or separate sciences at GCSE. Photograph:

What about the EBacc?

Additionally, from September, all pupils starting secondary school will have to study English, a language, maths, science, and history or geography, working towards the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). The EBacc is not a qualification in itself, but a performance measure for schools, awarded when students secure a grade C or above at GCSE level across a core of these five academic subjects. The Government hoped that the introduction of this measure offered more pupils the chance to take a broad core of more traditional academic options which have generally been harder to score top grades in. The EBacc was first introduced in 2010 by the then education secretary Michael Gove, however they become compulsory from September.

What about Northern Ireland and Wales?

To make things even more confusing, Northern Ireland and Wales are implementing their own GCSE changes. 

In Northern Ireland, revised GCSEs will be taught from September 2017 and the changes to these qualifications will focus largely on content. They will keep the A*-G grading scale. 

In Wales, neww and revised GCSEs will be taught from September 2015 in English language, Welsh language, maths - numeracy, maths, English literature and Welsh literature.

The new GCSEs in English language and Welsh language will provide a greater focus on literacy and the function aspects of language. In both GCSEs, oracy, reading and writing skills will contribute to the overall grade and these individual aspects will be reported on certificates.

There are further changes taught from September 2016 in the humanities, modern foreign languages and science, with the whole of the GCSE science suite reviewed to ensure there is a relevant and coherent suite of sciences GCSEs available to students.

Wales will keep the A*-G grading scale.