Curriculum Information


A levels and AS levels

Properly, the ‘Advanced General Certificate of Education’

(GCE – not to be confused with GCSE)

These are currently split into two stages: the AS (Advanced Subsidiary – which is also a qualification in its own right) and the A2.

AS-levels are typically made up of two or three units in each subject.  

A2s have a further two or three units which then make up the whole A-level.  At AS both are graded on a five-point scale from A to E, with U (unclassified) being a failure to make the grade.

At A2 there is an additional A* grade which candidates achieve if they score an average of 90% in each of their A2 units.

Applied A-levels and AS-levels

Applied A levels have the same grading as traditional A-levels

Applied A levels are specific to the sector they are related to and are worth two A levels.  These Double Awards consist of a minimum of six and maximum of eight compulsory units and a maximum of six optional units, designed to be taken over two years.  Currently many of the units are portfolio or coursework units but there are also some externally examined units.


The ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’, introduced in 1988 to replace O-levels, was largely revamped in 2001 with new “specifications” for most subjects. They are taken by most students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the fifth year of secondary school. There are more than 50 subjects in all, with individual students usually taking up to a dozen. About six million results are being published in 2003

GCSEs are graded from A* down to G, with U for those not making the grade. But not everyone can get every grade. In most subjects, the exams have two tiers aimed at students with differing levels of ability.

The “higher” tier is targeted at those expected to achieve grades A* to D, while the “foundation” tier is targeted at grades C to G.

If you have taken the foundation tier you cannot get more than a grade C no matter how well you do. Mathematics has three tiers while some subjects, such as history, art and religious studies, are not tiered.

You cannot tell in the published results – or on students’ certificates – which route was taken.

There are also GCSE Short Courses, equivalent to half GCSEs, in some subjects. These are also graded A* to G and U.