The regulators in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have traditionally worked with five awarding organisations (AOs), AQA, CCEA, OCR, Pearson (Edexcel) and WJEC, on the development, accreditation and monitoring of GCSE and GCE qualifications used in schools in the UK.

There has been increasing divergence in policy between England and Wales and Northern Ireland over the last couple of years which has meant that this tradition of three country working has had to change.

Legislation requires that qualifications offered in Northern Ireland are comparable to those offered in England and Wales so the regulators will continue to work together to achieve this. The Minister has determined that an open market for GCSE and GCE qualifications in Northern Ireland will be retained.

Summary of what is happening in England/Wales and Northern Ireland


A reform of GCSE and GCE qualifications is underway. Four Awarding Organisations (AOs) will operate in England – AQA, OCR, Pearson and Eduqas (WJEC). Reformed qualifications will be introduced for first teaching over a three year period from 2015–2017. GCSEs will be linear with assessments taken at the end of the course. GCEs will also be linear and AS qualifications will be a stand-alone qualifications which will not contribute to the overall A level grade.


A process to develop revised and new GCSE and GCE qualifications is underway. There will only be one AO operating in Wales – WJEC. The GCSE and GCE qualifications will be introduced over the same three year period as in England from 2015–2017. GCSE qualifications will be unitised and linear. GCE qualifications will be offered only in the summer and AS qualifications will continue to contribute to the overall A level grade – contributing 40 percent of the marks for the A level.

Northern Ireland

All five AOs that currently offer GCSE and GCE qualifications in Northern Ireland will continue to do so. These qualifications will be available for first teaching in schools here from September 2015 and will be introduced over a three year period. There may be policy differences which mean that some qualifications designed in England and Wales will not be accredited for use in schools here, for example any GCSE English Language that does not include marks for Speaking and Listening and science A levels that do not include marks for practical assessments.

CCEA AO will be revising their suite of A levels for first teaching in September 2016. These A levels will be unitised, offered only in the summer series and AS will contribute 40 percent to the overall mark for the subject.

CCEA AO will revise their suite of GCSEs for first teaching in September 2017.

For more detailed information, see QualsNI

Fundamental Review of Qualifications

CCEA Regulation was commissioned by the Minister for Education, Mr John O'Dowd MLA to carry out a review of GCSE and A Level qualifications.

A report was submitted to the Minister on 28 June 2013. More information on the work of the Review is available in GCSE and A Level Review Project.

Structural Changes to A Levels – May 2013

In May 2013, the Minister for Education announced a number of structural changes to A Levels. CCEA Regulation published a circular outlining these changes to schools.


S/IF/38/13 - May 2013 - A Level Reform
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