In Northern Ireland they start in Year 11 and examinations are sat either at the end of that year or at the end of Year 12, as Northern Irish pupils begin school one year earlier.
The GCSE was introduced as a replacement for the former O-Level (GCE Ordinary Level) and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) qualifications.
Before a wide range of reforms, interim changes were made to existing qualifications, removing the January series of examinations as an option in most subjects, and requiring that 100% of the assessment in subjects from the 2014 examination series is taken at the end of the course. Under the new scheme, all GCSE subjects were revised between 20, and all new awards will be on the new scheme by summer 2020.
The new qualifications are designed such that most exams will be taken at the end of a full 2-year course, with no interim modular assessment, coursework, or controlled assessment, except where necessary (such as in the arts).
There was a previous attempt to unite these two disparate qualifications in the 1980s, with a trial "16 " examination in some subjects, awarding both a CSE and an O-Level certificate, before the GCSE was introduced.
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GCSEs were introduced in 1988 to establish a national qualification for those who decided to leave school at 16, without pursuing further academic study towards qualifications such as A-Levels or university degrees.
Alongside this, a variety of low-uptake qualifications and qualifications with significant overlap will cease, with their content being removed from the GCSE options, or incorporated into similar qualifications.
GCSE examinations in English and mathematics were reformed with the 2015 syllabus publications, with these first examinations taking places in 2017.
This remained the highest grade available until 2017.
The youngest pupil to gain an A* grade was Thomas Barnes, who earned an A* in GCSE Mathematics at the age of 7.