Certificate of Secondary Education

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The Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) was a subject specific qualification family, awarded in both academic and vocational fields in: England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This qualification should not be confused with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education which is the school leaving qualification in India.[1] Also, in some African and former British colonial countries (such as, for example, Kenya) there is to this day a qualification named Certificate of Secondary Education based on the original and former British variant.[2] Also, the CSE should not be confused with the African qualification CSEE (Certificate of Secondary Education Examination).[3]


Was introduced to provide a family of qualifications available to a broader range of schoolchildren and distinct from the GCE (O-Levels), that were aimed at the academically more able pupils, mostly those at grammar and independent school (rather than secondary modern schools).[4] CSE's were available in both academic and vocational subjects, incorporated controlled assessment, in addition to examination and when examined question were typically offered in a shorter and more structured form than those found on an equivalent O-Level paper.

Before the introduction of the CSE, the majority of schoolchildren at secondary modern schools did not take an externally set end of school examination, and so left school without any nationaly recognised qualification.[4] Though the introduction of the CSE did not, of itself, resolve the issue as the majority still left at the end of the fourth year without sitting an external qualification. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, some counties had introduced their own examinable qualifications for those leaving at the end of the fourth year. For example, the county of Monmouthshire in Wales awarded the Monmouthshire Certificate in Education.

The majority of secondary modern pupils continued to leave without qualifications until the raising of the school leaving age to 16, in 1973, made a fifth year of secondary education compulsory.

A number of GCE and CSE exam boards experimented with offering a combined O-Level and CSE examination, in the 1970s, for borderline candidates. The papers contained questions limited to areas of the syllabus that were common to both an O-Level and CSE.

The range of courses for CSE was wider than that for the O-level and included many vocational subjects, such as car maintenance which were not available at O-level. As the comprehensive schools gradually replaced secondary modern schools, pupils could increasingly take a mixture of CSEs and O-levels until finally the examinations were merged with the new GCSE certification courses.

CSEs and O-levels are the predecessor examinations of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).[4]


There were five pass grades in its grading system ranging from grades 1 to 5. A CSE grade 1 was equivalent to achieving at least a O level C grade, in the same subject, while a 4 was obtainable by someone of average / median ability.[5] Gaining a CSE Grade 1 therefore implied that that student could have followed an O level course in that subject. This often caused frustration for such pupils wishing to progress to A-level, who (due to incompatibilities in the syllabi) would need to take a 1-year O-level conversion course in the Lower Sixth and thus waste a year gaining a qualification they theoretically already held.

Though no formal requirements existed, grades 2 to 3 were possibly set to be equivalent to the two (D and E) lowest O-Level pass grades.

Equivalent United Kingdom qualifications, at the time of comparison[6]
GCSE Grade O Level Grade CSE Grade
1988 1994 Pre-1975 (numeric) Pre-1975 (alphabetic) 1975 onwards 1965 onwards
A A* 1 A A 1
A 2 B
B 3 C B
B 4
C 5 D C
C 6 E
D 7 F D 2
E D 8 G E 3
F E U (ungraded) 4
G F 9 H 5
U (unclassified) U (ungraded)
  • Blue background – certificate and qualification awarded.
  • Red background – no certificate or qualification awarded.
Percentage of School-Leavers in England obtaining 'n' O-level(A-C) or CSE grade 1 pass[7]
individual awards 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8+ 1 or more 5 or more
1982 10.6 11.4 6.8 5.0 4.4 4.4 4.5 4.5 12.7 52.6 26.1
1983 9.6 11.4 7.0 5.3 4.7 4.3 4.5 4.7 12.8 53.8 26.2


The 1978 Waddell Report, when comparing O-Level and CSE entrants stated: "the O Level examination tending to be aimed at the upper 20 per cent of the full ability range and CSE catering for the next 40 per cent",[8] is partially supported by the statistics. For subjects where an equivalent O-level paper existed approximately 36% of the pupils entered for either exam, after 1976, sat the O-Level, the remainder (64%) sat the CSE paper. The proportion taking CSE exams increased following the raising of the minimum school leaving age to 16, in 1973, and the subsequent fall in the proportion sitting nither exam eg.

English O-Level and CSE Mathematics entrants 1976-9[8] [9][10]
Year Pupils O-Level Maths Candidates CSE Maths Candidates Total Candidates  % Maths Papers: O-Level  % Maths Papers: CSE  % Pupils entered for Maths
1974 - - - - - - 74
1976 - 270,297 377,731 631,927 42.8 57.2 -
1977 751,070 217,560 392,020 609,580 35.7 64.3 81.1
1978 768,460 230,660 414,950 645,610 35.7 64.3 84
1979 781,240 245,500 438,220 683,720 35.9 64.1 87.5

Exam Boards[edit]

The CSE syllabi, examinations and awards were made by 14 independent regional boards: Associated Lancashire, East Anglian, East Midlands, Metropolitan, Middlesex, North, North West, Southern, South-east, South-western, Welsh Joint Education Committee, West Midlands, West Yorkshire & Lindsey, Yorkshire.

Unlike GCE and GCSE examinations the participating schools did not have a choice of awarding body, but were required to use the designated local board. Though unlike the GCE and GCSE boards, the CSE exam boards were composed of elected teachers and local authority representatives from each region.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://zeenews.india.com/news/india/cisce-board-icse-10th-results-2015-cisce-org-icse-class-10-th-x-exam-results-2015-to-be-declared-today-at-1130-am_1596913.html
  2. ^ http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/lifestyle/article/2000170771/kitale-school-tradition-bestows-honour-on-all
  3. ^ http://allafrica.com/stories/201302190430.html
  4. ^ a b c "The story of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)". Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Archived from the original on 2007-09-14. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  5. ^ Geddes, Diana (1982-01-27). "Poor marks for maths teaching". The Times (London, England) (61142) (The Times (London, England)). The Times (London, England). Retrieved 12 September 2015. 
  6. ^ Levy, Andrew. "A* to G grades will be abolished in revamp of GCSEs: Exams will given numbers from one to nine while papers based on pupils' ability will also be axed". Mail Online. Daily Mail. Retrieved 28 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "O-LEVEL AND CSE STATISTICS 1982 AND 1983". Millbank Systems. Hansard. Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Waddell, James. "The Waddell Report - School Examinations". Education In England. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1978. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "The Swann Report (1985) - Education for All". Educationengland. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  10. ^ "The Cockcroft Report (1982) - Mathematics counts". Education England. Retrieved 22 August 2015.