What Are CSE Qualifications Equivalent To?

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The history of education in the UK is definitely complicated, with many different exams, grading systems, and qualifications. Qualifications that are no longer offered today also need their modern-day equivalents, so that people who achieved those qualifications can still find work or progress in education if they want to. One such qualification is the CSE: what actually does it mean to have a CSE qualification now?

CSE stands for Certificate of Secondary Education. In terms of the grading system, a CSE grade 1 is equivalent to a GCSE grade 4-9 (a CSE grade 1 covers O-Level grades A, B, and C, so the exact GCSE grade equivalent will vary). CSE grades 2-3 are equivalent to GCSE grades 3-1 (fail), and CSE grades 4-5 are equivalent to GCSE grade U (fail). In terms of qualification level, a CSE grade 1 is equivalent to a Level 2 qualification, the same as GCSEs grade 4-9. CSE grades 2-5 have no modern qualification level equivalent.

If you’re still confused about the ins and outs of the CSE, don’t worry – this article has you covered! Keep reading to find out what a CSE qualification is and what they equate to today.

What is a CSE qualification?

As found on the Pearson Qualifications website, linked here, a CSE (which stands for Certificate of Secondary Education) was a qualification that was offered by schools from 1965 until 1986.

Before 1965, students leaving school were not awarded any official certification of their level of education (unlike today, where you need your GCSEs or equivalent to be able to enter higher education or employment).

The CSE was then introduced, meaning students sat a formal exam and received a certificate that served as proof of their level of education (like today).

The GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) was introduced after the CSE in 1986. CSEs and O-Levels were merged with the new GCSE certification courses so that GCSEs became the only official education certification.

If you would like to read more about the GCSE and what it stands for, I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article.

Do CSE qualifications still exist?

No, CSEs no longer exist in the form of being able to sit the course and exam for them.

CSE qualifications are still a valid qualification in themselves though, i.e., students who only sat CSEs will not have to sit GCSE exams to ‘renew’ their qualification.

You cannot use your old CSE grades to progress into higher education or employment, however. CSEs were graded differently to how modern GCSEs are graded, so higher education institutions and employers will convert your CSE grade into their modern equivalent to maintain one fair standard.

What is the new equivalent of a CSE qualification?

CSEs grades ranged from grades 1-5 and were equated to O-Levels (another predecessor to GCSEs). Their equivalents are shown in the table below:

CSE grade Meaning (at O-Level) Equivalent
Grade 1 Grades A, B, or C GCSE grade 4-9
Grade 2 Grade D GCSE grade 3-U (fail)
Grade 3 Grade E
Grade 4 Grade U (fail)


Grade 5

You can read all about CSEs, their equivalents, and more on this page of the AQA Exam board website. Alternatively, if you need some more assistance navigating the GCSE grading system, this Think Student article has all you need to know.

According to the government website, linked for you here, a CSE grade 1 is a Level 2 qualification. Any GCSE passing grade (Grades 4-9) is also a Level 2 qualification, so a CSE grade 1 and a GCSE pass are about equivalent.

Can you still access your CSE qualifications?

The answer to this question varies by your location.

CSE exams used regional exam boards, which merged and became the four major exam boards students use today: AQA, Pearson Edexcel, OCR and WJEC.

You can find out on the Pearson website, linked here, whether these four exam boards may still hold your CSE qualifications.

However, keep in mind that the exam board you sat your CSEs under may not have merged, so the modern exam boards may not have your CSE records.

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