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How your GCSE grades could affect your choices at 16

How GCSEs are assessed and graded

GCSEs are graded 1-9 (9 is the highest).  Grade 4 is accepted as a pass for most Level 3 college courses and a 5 is regarded as a strong pass.

What are the most important GCSE subjects? 

Maths and English are the most important subjects as they are a requirement for most courses, apprenticeships, jobs and university degrees. You will usually need at least a grade 4 and above in Maths and English before you can get into these. With a grade 4 and above in Maths and English you will have a much greater number of opportunities open to you.

Some sixth forms and most colleges offer a range of Maths and English courses for students who need to retake one or both of these subjects after 16.

Whether you go into an apprenticeship, sixth form or college you will need to continue to study Maths and English alongside what else you are doing until you are 18 or achieve a grade 4.

How GCSE grades can affect what qualifications you can do at 16

You may need to have a certain number of GCSEs at a specific grade to apply to sixth form and this can vary from school to school depending on what courses they offer.

Sixth forms that offer academic courses such as A levels may require specific grades and these vary. For instance they may require 5 GCSEs grade 6 and above and at least grade 6 and above in the subject you want to study at A level. 

These days, many sixth form and sixth form colleges offer a range of different pathways that include more practical vocational courses alongside A level - these may require lower entry requirements, for example

  • 4 GCSEs grade 5 and above for a combined programme of A level and vocational subjects such as BTEC or Cambridge Technicals
  • 4 GCSE grade 4 for practical and vocational subjects such as BTEC or Cambridge Technicals.

Check out which sixth forms are near you and find out what they are offering and their entry requirements.

What can you do if you're expecting mainly GCSE grades below grade 4?

The good news is that there are lots of choices available for you, even if you might struggle to get grade 4s in your GCSEs. There are practical and vocational courses offered by FE colleges which are offered at all levels – no matter what grades you start with. For instance there are Level 1 qualifications which may not have any specific GCSE requirements through to Level 2 qualifications that may require 4 GCSEs at grade 3 and above. You will have to do Maths and English at the right level for you alongside your course until you gain a grade 4 in the subject.

Find out which FE colleges are near where you live.

Find out more about practical and vocational qualifications here.

Why getting your GCSEs can help you earn more money

Government research shows that if you get 5 GCSEs grade 4 - 9 including English and Maths you will earn over £80,000 more in your life time than someone who hasn't. 

Employers want people with good Maths and English GCSEs. 

The government has made it a requirement that a young person who hasn't yet achieved a grade 4 (old grade C) or above in Maths and English will need to continue to do them, as part of whatever course or training they do, until they are 18. 

Higher GCSE grades may lead to better paid and advanced apprenticeships.

  • The level of apprenticeship you start at 16 years old, will depend largely on your GCSE grades especially in Maths and English.
  • If you have 4 GCSEs grade 4 and above, including Maths and English, you might be able to start on a Level 3 Advanced apprenticeship, compared to a Level 1 or 2 Intermediate apprenticeship if you do not. However, for some apprenticeships everybody has to start on a Level 2 Intermediate apprenticeship to build up their knowledge and skills in that job area.
  • The salaries for Level 3/advanced apprenticeships tend to be higher than intermediate Level 1/ 2 apprenticeships.
  • Find out more about apprenticeships.

Start to explore information and get an idea of your future choices.

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