Understanding qualifications and subjects

Here you can find general information to explain how qualifications and subject options support your child's further education and employment opportunities.

If you have any specific questions about your child's education, you will need to speak to their teachers.

Our exams and qualifications

We offer a broad range of academic qualifications including GCSEs, IGCSEs, A-levels, the Extended Project Qualification and the AQA Baccalaureate. Our qualifications are typically for students aged around 14–19 years old who attend school or college full-time.

Home-schooled or mature students can take some of our qualifications as 'private candidates'. You can see what is offered to private candidates on the qualification pages.

We also offer a small number of work and life skills qualifications.

Please read about us for more information on who we are and what we do.

Understanding qualifications

UK qualifications

Ofqal, our regulator, has comprehensive summaries on each of the qualifications offered in the UK. If you are moving to the UK, you may be interested in reading the Department for Education website for further information.

Understanding old and new qualification results

The types of qualifications offered in the UK have changed over the years and some have been replaced, for example, O-levels are now GCSEs. For an explanation of old and new qualification results, please see our Certificates page.

Marking and grading

To see who does what to mark and grade exams, read Ofqual's About marking and grading.

You can read more about results and post-results in Results day

The national curriculum


The Department for Education sets the national curriculum for UK schools and colleges. The national curriculum is a set of subjects to be taught in schools so students learn the same things to the same standards.

Academies, free schools and private schools don't have to follow the national curriculum but must teach a broad set of subjects, including English, Maths, Religion and Science.

Compulsory subjects

For most schools English, Maths and Science are compulsory for students in year 9, or Key Stage 4.

You can see the full list of these for both GCSE and A-level on the Department for Education website.

Non-compulsory subjects

Generally, as your child moves into year 9, their teachers will ask them to choose subjects for their GCSE exams for the following year. The timing of this selection depends on each school and will usually be in the school calendar.

If your child continues onto AS or A-level study, they will again select a set of subjects to take for these exams. They can keep their current options or change into different subjects to suit their needs.

If your child's school/college doesn't offer exams in a specific subject, you may wish to investigate enrolling them as a private candidate with a different school/college.

How to pick options

When choosing or deciding to drop options, it may help your child to:

  • speak to the teachers at their school/college about what options are available
  • browse our subject specifications to see what they will be learning
  • consider college or university course requirements.

Special programmes and projects

We offer special project programmes, such as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) that may be of interest to students who wish to broaden their study.

We also look after students who need a little more support through our Unlocking Potential mentoring programme with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.