There are multiple exam boards that set and award GSCEs to pupils in state schools across the UK.
All exam boards follow Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) guidelines to regulate standards but exam format and content varies between boards.
Schools have to choose which exam board they will use for each subject. Decisions can be based on the number of papers, weightings of units and ratios of written exams to non-exam assessment.
AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) currently accounts for more than half of the GCSEs taken each year.
AQA is a registered charity, independent of the government, and is managed by a board of trustees. All revenue is reinvested back into the charity, funding educational research and supporting various charitable initiatives.
The name AQA officially came about in April 2000 as the result of a merger between the Associated Examining Board (formed in 1953 to provide the new General Certificate of Education qualification to all secondary schools) and the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board (NEAB), creating the largest exam boards in England.
AQA offers qualifications in around 60 different subjects, and within these subject areas there are a variety of specifications and qualification levels. The core subjects of Maths, English and Science are offered, as well as numerous languages, humanities subjects, ICT-related areas of study, and PE and arts-based subjects.
The core subjects of Maths, English and Science are covered, as well as numerous languages, humanities, ICT-related areas, PE and creative subjects. AQA also offers Applied General and Level 1, 2 and 3 qualifications in a variety of skills-based subject areas such as business, science, catering, and general skills, as well as independent extended projects.
Edexcel – its name being a portmanteau of “education” and “excellence” – is one of the largest awarding bodies in the UK alongside AQA and is the qualification brand name for publishing and education company Pearson. Edexcel was originally formed in 1996, following the merger of the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) and the University of London Examinations and Assessment Council (ULEAC), which administered GCSEs and A-levels.
Although it was initially established as a charitable organisation, Edexcel is now owned by Pearson and is the only privately owned exam board in the UK.
The company is overseen by a board, which regulates standards and monitors the overall running of the company.
It offers a variety of courses and qualifications for 14- to 19-year-olds, but is largely used for GCSE and A level qualifications in the UK (as well as some vocational qualifications, including NVQs and Functional Skills).
Edexcel offers qualifications in around 50 subject areas, including the core subjects of maths, English and science.
OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA) sets and assesses GCSEs, A-levels and a wide range of vocational courses. It is one of the main exam boards used in the UK but is also part of Europe’s largest assessment agency, operating in more than 150 different countries.
OCR was established in 1998 following the merger of UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate) and RSA (exam boards offering vocational qualifications since the 1850s).
Operating as a charity, OCR is governed by an executive team, which ensures the management and day-to-day running of assessment, operations, products and sales and marketing.
OCR offers GCSEs and A-levels in more than 40 subjects, including the core subjects of Maths, English and Science, but also a range of languages, humanities and creative arts subjects.
It also offers more than 450 vocational qualifications, spanning fields of industry including business, ICT, health and social care, and media.