Biology Gcse No Coursework

If you wish to train to become a teacher in the UK, you will need certain qualifications before you start. You will need English and Maths GCSEs (or equivalent) at grade C or better. This is true whatever subject you plan to teach and whatever level you teach at.

You will also need a grade C in a Science GCSE subject – Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Combined Science – if you hope to teach at primary or early secondary level (Key Stages 2 or 3).

Other requirements are more well-known, for instance that you will need a UK first degree if you wish to embark on an PGCE qualification and you will also need specialised qualifications in subjects that you hope to teach.

But it is the basic GCSE qualifications which often prove a stumbling-block for adults who decide to make a career-switch and become teachers. They have studied Maths, Science and English at school, of course, but failed to obtain a GCSE grade C in one or more of these subjects, for whatever reason. If they are to fulfil their dream of becoming teachers, they must find a way to “catch up” and secure the grades that they missed out on at school.

How do I get the qualifications I need?

Fortunately, help is at hand. Oxford Open Learning is the perfect port of call for any adult who needs to gain the compulsory GCSEs required for teacher training. Even if you need to balance study with full-time employment or major family commitments, Oxford Open Learning can offer a course which is exactly tailored to your needs, offering individualised support at a very reasonable price.

You can study as quickly or as slowly as you wish, aiming for specific exams (normally taken in June) and take those exams at an exam centre which is both local and accessible.

Many students already have a grade E or a grade D in the subject(s) that they require for teacher training purposes and our tutors are trained to identify the topics which are most in need of improvement if the candidate is to move up to a grade C or better and also to fine-tune a refresher programme to cover topics that may have been studied some years ago and all but forgotten. The comprehensive course materials are designed to cover all the topics on the GCSE specifications in sufficient detail. There are plenty of tutor-marked assignments to ensure that you have reached the necessary standard to score a grade C (or any other agreed target) this time around.


Those who aspire to embark on teacher training require a grade C at GCSE or an equivalent qualification. The most obvious equivalent is the IGCSE (or International GCSE) which is very similar to the “regular” GCSE in most respects, but which differs in one key aspect. Whereas most GCSEs, including the GCSEs in English and all the science subjects, require coursework and controlled assessment, IGCSEs do not. IGCSEs are available which do not include coursework at all and assessment is solely by means of the final written examinations.

This is ideal for adults and distance learners who stand outside the “ordinary” UK school system. Once you have left school, it is very difficult to produce coursework which satisfies the rules for controlled assessments, e.g. in terms of the supervision of the research and drafting processes. It is much easier to prove that you possess the necessary skills by means of final, written examinations.

Thus in English and each of the science subjects, Oxford Open Learning courses are linked to the IGCSE specifications set by Edexcel, one of the UK’s main examining boards. Such IGCSEs are acceptable to all of the UK’s teacher training colleges and throughout the higher education system – indeed, they may be said to provide an even more thorough academic preparation for A-levels (and beyond) as well as various career channels.

It is possible to take a Maths GCSE without coursework or controlled assessment (through final exams only) so, in the case of Maths, Oxford Open learning offers a choice – GCSE or IGCSE. Please consult our Student Advisers if you are uncertain which one of these is best suited to your individual circumstances.

Oxford Open Learning is proud of its role in helping you achieve Qualified Teacher Status.

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"GCSE" redirects here. For other uses, see GCSE (disambiguation).

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification, generally taken in a number of subjects by pupils in secondary education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each GCSE qualification is in a particular subject, and stands alone, but a suite of such qualifications (or their equivalents) are generally accepted as the record of achievement at the age of 16, in place of a leaving certificate or baccalaureate qualification in other territories.

Studies for GCSE examinations generally take place over a period of two or three academic years (depending upon the subject, school, and exam board), starting in Year 9 or Year 10 for the majority of students, with examinations being sat at the end of Year 11. The GCSE was introduced as a replacement for the former O-Level (GCE Ordinary Level) and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) qualifications.


Previous qualifications[edit]

Before the introduction of GCSEs, students took exams towards CSE or O-Level certificates, or a combination of the two, in various subjects. The CSE broadly covered GCSE grades C-G or 4-1, and the O-Level covered grades A*-C or 9-4, but the two were independent qualifications, with different grading systems. The separate qualifications had been criticised for failing the bottom 42% of O-Level entrants who failed to receive a qualification, and the brightest CSE entrants who were not able to be differentiated as to their true ability.

The General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary Level, or O-Level, was graded on a scale from A to E, with a U (ungraded) grade below that. Before 1975, the grading scheme varied between examination boards, and were not displayed on certificates. Officially, the grades before 1975 were simply "pass" and "fail".

The Certificate of Secondary Education, or CSE, was graded on a numerical scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the best, and 5 being the worst passing grade. Below 5 there was a U (ungraded) grade, as well. The highest grade, 1, was considered equivalent to an O-Level C grade or above, and achievement of this grade often indicated that the student could have followed the more academically challenging O-Level course in the subject to achieve a higher qualification. As the two were independent qualifications with separate syllabi, a separate course of study would have to be taken to "convert" a CSE to an O-Level in order to progress to A-Level.

A previous attempt to unite these two disparate qualifications was attempted 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.

Introduction of the GCSE[edit]

GCSEs were introduced in 1988 [1] 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. They replaced the former CSE and O-Level qualifications, uniting the two qualifications to allow access to the full range of grades for more students.

Upon introduction, the GCSEs were graded on a letter scale, from A to G, with a C being set as roughly equivalent to an O-Level Grade C, or a CSE Grade 1, and thus achievable by roughly the top 25% of each cohort.

Changes since initial introduction[edit]

Over time, the range of subjects offered, the format of the examinations, the regulations, the content, and the grading of GCSE examinations has altered considerably. Numerous subjects have been added and changed, and various new subjects are offered in the modern languages, ancient languages, vocational fields, and expressive arts, as well as Citizenship courses.[2]

Introduction of the A* grade[edit]

In 1994, the A* grade was added above the grade A, to further differentiate attainment at the very highest end of the qualification. This remained the highest grade available until 2017.

2000s reforms[edit]

Between 2005 and 2010, a variety of reforms were made to GCSE qualifications, including increasing modularity and a change to the administration of non-examination assessment.

From the first assessment series in 2010, controlled assessment replaced coursework in various subjects, requiring more rigorous exam-like conditions for much of the non-examination assessed work, and reducing the opportunity for outside help in coursework.

2010s reforms[edit]

Under the Conservative government of David Cameron, and Education Secretary Michael Gove, various changes were made to GCSE 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. These were a precursor to the later reforms.[3]

From 2015, a large-scale programme of reform began, changing the marking criteria and syllabi for most subjects, as well as the format of qualifications, and the grading system.[4][5]

Under the new scheme, all GCSE subjects are being revised between 2015 and 2018, 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). Some subjects will retain coursework on a non-assessed basis, with the completion of certain experiments in science subjects being assumed in examinations, and teacher reporting of spoken language participation for English GCSEs as a separate report.

Other changes include the move to a numerical grading system, to differentiate the new qualifications from the old-style letter-graded GCSEs, publication of core content requirements for all subjects, and an increase in longer, essay-style questions to challenge students more. 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. The remainder will be reformed with the 2016 and 2017 syllabus publications, leading to first awards in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Qualifications that are not reformed will cease to be available. The science reforms, in particular, mean that single-award "science" and "additional science" options are no longer available, being replaced with a double award "combined science" option (graded on the scale 9-9 to 1-1 and equivalent to 2 GCSEs). Alternatively, students can take separate qualifications in chemistry, biology, and physics. Other removed qualifications include a variety of design technology subjects, which are reformed into a single "design and technology" subject with multiple options, and various catering and nutrition qualifications, which are folded into "food technology". Finally, several "umbrella" GCSEs such as "humanities", "performing arts", and "expressive arts" are dissolved, with those wishing to study those subjects needing to take separate qualifications in the incorporated subjects.[6]

These reforms do not directly apply in Wales and Northern Ireland, where GCSEs will continue to be available on the A*-G grading system. However, due to legislative requirements for comparability between GCSEs in the three countries, and allowances for certain subjects and qualifications to be available in Wales and Northern Ireland, some 9-1 qualifications will be available, and the other changes are mostly adopted in these countries as well.[7]

Examination boards[edit]

Historically, there were a variety of regional examination boards, or awarding organisations (AOs), who set examinations in their area. Over time, as deregulation allowed schools to choose which boards to use, mergers and closures led to only 5 examination boards remaining today.

  • Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), which absorbed the following boards: AEB, JMB, NEAB, and SEG.
  • Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR), which absorbed the Oxford and Cambridge, MEG, and RSA exam boards.
  • Pearson Edexcel, which absorbed the LREB, BTEC, and ULEAC boards.
  • Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC or CBAC), the main examining board in Wales.
  • Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA), the examining board and regulator in Northern Ireland.

The examination boards operate under the supervision of Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) in England, Qualifications Wales in Wales, and the CCEA in Northern Ireland.

In England, AQA, OCR, and Pearson operate under their respective brands. Additionally, WJEC operate the brand Eduqas, which develops qualifications in England. CCEA qualifications are not available in England.

In Wales, WJEC is the only accredited awarding body for GCSEs in the public sector, and thus no other board formally operates in Wales. However, some qualifications from the English boards are available as designated qualifications in some circumstances, due to not being available from WJEC.

In Northern Ireland, CCEA operates as both a board and a regulator. Most qualifications from the English boards are also available, with the exception of English language and the sciences, due to requirements for speaking and practical assessment, respectively.[8]

Structure and format[edit]

Students usually take at least 5 GCSEs in Key Stage 4, in order to satisfy the long-standing headline measure of achieving 5 A*-C grades, including English and mathematics. The exact qualifications taken by students vary from school to school and student to student, but schools are encouraged to offer at least one pathway that leads to qualification for the English Baccalaureate, requiring GCSEs in English language, English literature, mathematics, 2 science GCSEs, a modern or ancient language, and either history or geography.


The list of currently available GCSE subjects is much shorter than before the reforms, as the new qualifications in England all have core requirements set by the regulator, Ofqual, for each subject. In addition, there are several subjects where only one board offers qualifications, including some that are only available in one country of the UK for that reason. The following lists are sourced from the exam board websites.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Core subjects[edit]

These are the requirements for achieving the English Baccalaureate headline measure in league tables, from 2017 onwards. The Baccalaureate itself does not garner a certificate for students. Other subjects, especially religious studies, computer science, or physical education, may be compulsory in some schools as these subjects form part of the National Curriculum at Key Stage 4.

  • English: both English language and English literature
  • Mathematics
  • Science: either of these two options:
    • Combined Science (worth 2 GCSEs)
    • 3 of the following: Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer Science
  • Languages: one GCSE in a modern or ancient language:
    • Modern languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Panjabi, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu
    • Ancient languages: Classical Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Latin
  • Humanities: History or Geography

Other subjects[edit]

  • Sciences and Mathematics:
    • Astronomy
    • Geology
    • Psychology
    • Statistics
  • Humanities and Social Sciences:
    • Ancient History
    • Citizenship Studies
    • Classical Civilisation
    • Religious Studies
    • Sociology
  • Business and Enterprise:
  • Design and Technology:
    • Design and Technology
    • Electronics
    • Engineering
    • Food Preparation & Nutrition
  • Arts:
    • Art and Design
    • Dance
    • Drama
    • Film Studies
    • Media Studies
    • Music
  • Other:
  • Northern Ireland (CCEA) only:
    • Agriculture and Land Use
    • Applied ICT
    • Business and Communication Systems
    • Child Development
    • Construction and the Built Environment
    • Contemporary Crafts
    • Digital Technology
    • Further Mathematics
    • Government and Politics
    • Health and Social Care
    • Home Economics
    • Hospitality
    • Irish
    • Journalism in the Media and Communications Industry
    • Learning for Life and Work
    • Leisure, Travel and Tourism
    • Motor Vehicle and Road User Studies
    • Moving Image Arts
  • Wales (WJEC/CBAC) only:
    • Information and Communication Technology
    • Welsh (compulsory in Welsh schools):
      • Welsh Language (first language)
      • Welsh Literature (first language)
      • Welsh Second Language

Grades and tiering[edit]

GCSEs are awarded on a graded scale, and cross two levels of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF): Level 1 and Level 2. These two levels roughly correspond, respectively, to foundation and higher tier in tiered GCSE qualifications. Level 1 qualifications constitute GCSEs at grades G, F, E, and D or 1, 2, and 3. Level 2 qualifications are those at grades C, B, A, and A* or 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

The tiering of qualifications allows a subset of grades to be reached in a specific tier's paper. Formerly, many subjects were tiered, but with the mid-2010s reform, the number of tiered subjects reduced dramatically, including the removal of tiering from the GCSE English specifications. Untiered papers allow any grade to be achieved. Coursework and controlled assessment tasks are always untiered.

In the past, mathematics qualifications offered a different set of tiers, with three. These were foundation tier at grades G, F, E, and D; intermediate tier at grades E, D, C, and B; and higher tier at grades C, B, A, and A*. This eventually changed to match the tiers in all other GCSE qualifications.

The evolution of grades, and a rough comparison between them is as follows:

GCSE GradeO-Level GradeCSE Grade
from 2017 a
Northern Ireland
from 2019 b
Wales from 1994
England, NI 1994–2019 c
1988–19931975–1987 d1965–1987
  • Notes:
    •      GCSE grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) – Certificate and qualification awarded. At GCSE, considered a 'good pass', and awards a qualification at Level 2 of the RQF.
    •      GCSE grades 9 to 1 (A* to G) – Certificate and qualification awarded. At GCSE, awards a qualification at Level 1 of the RQF.
    •      U: ungraded/unclassified – no certificate or qualification awarded
    • ^a 9–1 grades phased in by subject between 2017 and 2019 in England
    • ^b New A*–G grades in Northern Ireland from 2019[17]
    • ^c A*–G grades as used in Wales since 1994, and in England and Northern Ireland between 1994 and 2019
    • ^d Before 1975, each exam board had its own grading system (some used letters, others numbers). Grades were only given to schools and not recorded on students' certificates

Letter grades[edit]

When GCSEs were first introduced in 1988, they were graded on a letter scale in each subject: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G being pass grades, with a U (unclassified) grade below that which did not qualify the student for a certificate.

These grades were initially set such that a GCSE grade C was equivalent to an O-Level grade C or a CSE grade 1, though changes in marking criteria and boundaries over the years mean that this comparison is only approximate.

Infrequently, X and Q grades are awarded. X indicates that a course was not completed in full, and thus that an appropriate grade cannot be calculated. The Q (query) grade is a temporary grade that requires the school to contract the examining body. These latter two grades are both usually provisional, and are replaced with a regular grade once any issues have been resolved. X grades are also sometimes used for other purposes, on rare occasions, such as to indicate that an examiner found offensive material or hate speech within a student's responses. In some cases, this may lead to the student losing all marks for that paper or course. These grades are most common in subjects which discuss ethical issues, such as biology, religious studies, and citizenship.

In 1994, an A* grade was added, above the initial A grade, to indicate exceptional achievement, above the level required for the A grade.

Under the letter grade scheme, foundation tier papers assess content at grades C to G, while higher papers assess content at grades A* to C. In foundation tier papers, the student can obtain a maximum grade of a C, while in a higher tier paper, they can achieve a minimum grade of a D. If a higher tier candidate misses the D grade by a small margin, they are awarded an E. Otherwise, the grade below E in these papers is U. In untiered papers, students can achieve any grade in the scheme.

This scheme is being phased out in England, but remains in Wales and Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the A* grade has been adjusted upwards with the introduction of the numerical scheme in England, such that an A* is equivalent to a new English grade 9. They also added a C* grade to line up with the grade 5 in the English scheme, for comparison purposes.

Numerical grades (2017 onwards)[edit]

From 2017 in England (and in Wales and Northern Ireland on qualifications from the English boards), some GCSEs are now assessed on a 9-point scale, using numbers from 9 to 1, and, like before, a U (unclassified) grade for achievement below the minimum pass mark. Under this system, 9 is the highest grade, and is set above the former A* classification, equivalent to the new Northern Irish A* grade. The former C grade is set at grade 4, with grade 5 being considered a "good pass" under the new scheme.

Although fewer qualifications have tiered examinations than before, the tiering system still exists. At foundation tier, the grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 are available, while at higher tier, the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are targeted. Once again, if a higher tier student misses the grade 4 mark by a small margin, they are awarded a grade 3., and controlled assessment and coursework tasks are untiered.


GCSE results are published by the examination board in August, for the previous exam series in April to June of the same year. They are usually released one week after the A-Level results, in the fourth week of August, with CCEA results on Tuesday and the other boards' results on Thursday. Some boards and schools release results online, although many still require students to attend in person to collect their results from the centre they sat exams at.[18]

These results then go on to inform league tables published in the following academic year, with headline performance metrics for each school.


Source: Joint Council for General Qualifications via Brian Stubbs.
Note: In the final year DES statistics for O-Levels are available, and across all subjects, 6.8% of candidates obtained a grade A, and 39.8% and A to C.

UK GCSE classifications

Infographic from Ofqual showing statistics about GCSE entries in 2016. 5.24 million people took a GCSE in that year.

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