Primary and secondary education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, primary education lasts for 6 years. It is compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 11.

Secondary education in England, Wales en Northern Ireland lasts for 7 years. Students complete the following 2 stages:

Cambridge International offers the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma as an alternative to the GCE A levels in the United Kingdom. There are international variants of British qualifications as well, for example international GCE AS levels and A levels. See International GCSE/O level/AS and A level.

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)

Students conclude lower secondary education with exams for a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). They take their exams via an examining board.

  • : 5 years.
  • Content: students themselves select their exam subjects, and also decide how many subjects they want to take exams in. The number of examination subjects per pupil ranges usually between 5 and 10. English is always a compulsory subject.
  • Function of the diploma: access to upper secondary education (General Certificate of Education AS levels or A levels) and secondary vocational education.
  • Diploma: General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).

We compare a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) obtained with a result of D to G or 3 to 1 for 6 subjects to a diploma.

We compare a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) obtained with a result of A* to C or 9 to 4 for 6 subjects to at least a VMBO-T diploma.

Please note: 'at least a VMBO-T diploma' means that the diploma has a higher level than a VMBO-T diploma, but a lower level than a diploma. The level of the diploma lies between a VMBO-T diploma and a HAVO diploma.

General Certificate of Education (GCE) AS levels and A levels

Students conclude upper secondary education with exams for a General Certificate of Education (GCE) advanced subsidiary levels (AS levels) or advanced level (A levels). They take their exams via an examining board.

  • Duration: 1 year (AS levels), 2 years (A levels).
  • Content: students themselves select their subjects, and also decide how many subjects they want to take exams in. Students can choose from 2 different levels:
    • advanced subsidiary levels (AS levels); or
    • advanced levels (A levels).
      AS levels involve approximately half the study hours compared with A levels. In addition, AS level exams are at a lower level than A level exams. A levels usually involve exams in 3 subjects, because British universities typically require 3 relevant A levels for admission.
  • Function of the diploma:
    • GCE AS levels: in principle, direct access to higher education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is not possible with only AS levels.
    • GCE A levels: access to higher education.
  • Diploma: General Certificate of Education (GCE) advanced subsidiary levels (AS levels) or advanced level (A levels).

The evaluation of a GCE AS levels or GCE A levels will always take into account the results students have obtained for both the GCE and the GCSE:

We compare the combination of GCSEs and GCE AS levels to a HAVO diploma if:

  • the GCSE was obtained with a result of A* to C or 9 to 4 in at least 4 subjects;
  • the GCE was obtained with a result of A* to C for at least 2 AS levels;
  • the 2 AS levels were attained in relevant subjects;
  • these GCSE and GCE results were obtained in 6 different subjects; and
  • 2 of these 6 different subjects are (preferably) English and mathematics.

We compare the combination of GCSEs and GCE A levels to a HAVO diploma if:

  • the GCSE was obtained with a result of A* to C or 9 to 4 in at least 4 subjects;
  • the GCE was obtained with a result of D or E for at least 2 A levels;
  • the 2 A levels were attained in relevant subjects;
  • these GCSE and GCE results were obtained in 6 different subjects; and
  • 2 of these 6 different subjects are (preferably) English and mathematics.

We compare the combination of GCSEs and GCE A levels to a diploma if:

  • the GCSE was obtained with a result of A* to C or 9 to 4 in at least 3 subjects;
  • the GCE was obtained with a result of A* to C for at least 3 A levels in relevant subjects;
  • these GCSE and GCE results were obtained in 6 different subjects; and
  • 2 of these 6 different subjects are English and mathematics.

Cambridge Pre-U Diploma

Cambridge International offers the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma as an alternative to the GCE A levels in the United Kingdom. Although Cambridge International will discontinue Cambridge Pre-U. The last exams will be June 2023 (with a resit in June 2024).

  • Duration: 2 years.
  • Content: a choice of 27 Cambridge Pre-U Principal subjects. To obtain the diploma students must pass 4 components, including 3 Principal Subjects and the Global Perspectives and Research (GPR) course. Alternatively, they can combine a number of Principal Subjects and GCE A levels. Students will obtain a Cambridge International Pre-U Certificate for each additional subject that they pass.
  • Diploma: Cambridge Pre-U Diploma.

International GCSE/O level/AS and A level

There are international variants of British qualifications as well, such as:

Cambridge International is the examing board for international secondary education.

In terms of level, these qualifications are comparable to the regular GCSEs and the GCE AS levels and A levels.