The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academically rigorous, internationally recognised qualification awarded in a specified subject, generally taken in a number of subjects by pupils in secondary education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over two years (three years in certain schools).
The GCSE and its international counterpart the IGCSE form the basis of entry requirements into post 16, '6th form' study - to A' Level or IB Diploma studies.
Recently the GCSE exam has been in a period of flux with some quite radical changes, notably a move from a "modular approach" to a "linear one". In a modular approach a course is split into different units, or modules, with an exam at the end of each unit. In the new linear system, exams are taken at the end of a two year period - much like the older O' Level exams.
In the exams there are fewer ‘bite-sized’ questions and more essay-style questions.
There are fewer course options in the new Science GCSEs: Most students will either take the new Combined Science course (worth two GCSEs) or three separate GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Finally coursework and controlled assessment will disappear from most subjects, apart from practical ones such as art, dance and drama.
All new GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths, were launched in September 2015, with the first qualifications due to be awarded in August 2017. These subjects will be graded between 1-9, with 9 being the highest grade awarded.
It is hoped that this new grading will introduce greater differentiation between high performing students and will also mark out the new GCSEs from their older counterparts.
Schools in a country can do both GCSEs and its international counterpart, the IGCSE.
In many countries outside the UK, IGCSE is used predominantly for languages and humanities.
However curriculum changes are making some schools - in both the UK and elsewhere - reconsider the international qualification.
In the UK that is because IGCSEs will no longer be considered or accepted for school league tables.
Internationally some schools, notably those with a large UK student population, have expressed concerns about the ability to transfer back to the UK given the increasing divergence between the two qualifications.