Are GCSEs Compulsory?

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GCSEs are the first official national exams written by school pupils. For some they are the bane of their existence. Must every high school child write these exams in Year 11? GCSEs are generally always a basic requirement for getting a job, this makes them quite important, but are they compulsory? And can we leave school without specific GCSEs in England?

A pass in Maths and English GCSE is compulsory. This means a grade 4 and above in the 9-1 grade exams. Although passes are not compulsory in any other subject, you must take all the core subjects at the beginning of Year 10. Most pupils usually take either Dual or Triple Science as well as four other options. If you do not pass your Maths and English GCSE, since they are compulsory, you will enrol in a school or college to resit them. You can resit them at any age and as many times as you want, until you pass.

Continue reading this article to find out why this is the case, and to find out more about the necessity of GCSEs.

Can You Leave School Without GCSEs?

You will not be allowed to leave school before writing your GCSE exams. However, you will be able to leave school after you’ve written the exams for all the subjects you are doing. This will usually be all the core subjects as well as your 4 chosen subjects. Failing your GCSE in most subjects, including Science, does not mean you cannot leave school. The only condition is that you must pass the Maths and English GCSE exams.

If you choose to leave school at the end of Year 11, you will not legally be allowed to fully leave education. Even if not at school, you must continue with further education – by law. You will continue with some form of part time education until you turn 18 years old. This can be an apprenticeship or traineeship. Visit this article, also on our website, about options for further education here.

Which GCSEs are Compulsory?

In England, it’s compulsory to take all the core subjects. These are Maths, English and Science. Along with these you will generally take four choice subjects, one of which is usually a modern language. See the subheadings below and visit this more detailed article on our website to find out more about compulsory GCSEs here.

Maths and English

In order to leave school, Maths and English GCSEs are compulsory. You are required to have passed both subjects. This means achieving at least a grade 4 in the 9-1 syllabus. If you achieve below a 4 you will be required to resist the exam until you pass. This will happen in the Autumn after you receive your results.

There are two English GCSEs for people who’s first language is English. These are English Language and English Literature. English Language is compulsory in all schools however there are a few exceptional schools in which English literature is not required.


Science is a core subject meaning you are required to take it throughout Year 10 and Year 11. However, unlike Maths and English, you are not required to pass. If you fail your Science GCSE you will still be permitted to leave school once you’ve written you GCSE exams.

There are two options available when choosing your Science GCSEs. You can either pick an award called Dual Science or you can pick Single Science. A common misconception is that Dual Science means picking and doing only two of the science.

However, this is not true. In dual science you will learn about all three sciences: biology, physics, and chemistry and you will also be writing an exam in all three subjects. However, the syllabus covers less than the single science syllabuses would. Hence you only do the Paper 1 exam. After your exam you will have gained 2 GCSEs.

Single sciences are also often called triple science. This is because you will gain 3 GCSEs at the end. For triple science, you will write a Paper 1 and Paper 2 exam. You should do triple science if you are planning to go to university and planning to study any science related subject.

GCSE Subject Options

You will choose around 4 subjects in addition to the compulsory core subjects. These may include languages, humanities, social sciences and secondary branches of science. However, these are optional.

You should choose these subjects based on your potential interests. Consider your future career and also talk to your teachers and tutors to find out which subjects would suit you. If you’re having difficulty deciding which subjects to do, visit another one of our articles here. It will help guide you through the options process.

Can You Retake Your GCSEs?

In brief, yes you can. And you can do so as many times as you’d like. You can enrol to retake your GCSEs at a local school or college. If you do so, you will be provided with a timetable and must attend classes on your subjects. At the end of the course, you will be able to re-sit your exams. Check out this article on our website detailing which age you can retake your GCSEs.

How Many Times Can You Retake Your GCSEs?

The amount of times you can resit a GCSE may depend upon the subject. Since a pass in Maths and English GCSE is necessary, you can retake these as many times as you want. You can also resit your Science GCSEs as many times as desired. If you are still uncertain, find out more about how many times you can retake your GCSE exams on our website here.

What Age Do You Take Your GCSEs?

GCSEs are a 2-year award. Students typically begin their GCSE subjects in Year 10. They continue into Year 11 and write the final exams at the end of Year 11, in the summer. Retakes and exceptions are able to sit the exam in the Autumn as well. In Year 10 pupils will generally be between ages 14 and 15. In Year 11, pupils will be between 15 and 16 years old. Find a more detailed guide and explanation on when GCSEs take place on our website here.

However, you can also write your GCSEs if you are older than this. You are allowed to resit your GCSEs at any age you wish to, as many times as you want. Typically, schools don’t allow pupils to write GCSEs any younger than previously mentioned. However, in some exceptional cases a pupil may write a single GCSEs in Year 10. This is one year early. The pupil would be 14 to 15 years old. In some cases, it may also be written in Year 9.

When Do You Choose Your GCSE Options?

Since they begin the source in Year 10, pupils will normally decide their subject choices for GCSEs by the end of Year 9. The school may also require more time for organising timetables and teachers teaching times, so they make the deadline slightly earlier in Year 9.

Alternatively, if a pupil tries out their chosen GCSE subject but does not enjoy it, they will still be able to change. Schools usually allow subject switches until half term of the first term of Year 10. However, sometimes the subject switch that a pupil has requested does not fit into the timetable. In this case they might have to choose between switching a different subject as well or keeping the pro final subject.

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