What is a High School Diploma in the UK?

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When people think of finishing secondary school, some may think of a diploma – a certificate of some sorts – showing their accomplishments in subjects. Other people think of their GCSE results as a type of diploma. However, this can be cause for confusion as students may hear numerous variations of what high school diplomas actually are.

A high school diploma in the UK doesn’t actually exist. UK secondary schools do not provide them for the leaving Year 11 students, however, there are equivalents of high school diplomas within the UK. UK secondary schools provide students with GCSEs instead of a high school diploma.

If you would like to know more about this topic, read more about it below.

Is a high school diploma an American concept?

Certainly, while other countries do use diplomas to recognise that students have finished their secondary education, the use of the phrase “high school diploma” is more exclusively American.

A high school diploma (or degree) is a North American school-leaving qualification that is given to students upon completion of high school. The high school diploma is generally received after an academic course of study lasting four years (from grade 9 to grade 12).

Usually, a high school diploma shows the acceptable pass grades earned on a state examination and a completion of a combination of coursework meeting the correct criteria for a particular stream of study.

Although you can get a diploma in the UK, this is not quite the same thing. For more information on UK diplomas, have a look at this Think Student article.

However, other countries also have school leaving qualifications. In the UK this may be the General Certificate of Education (GCE) – which is the A-Level – Business Technology Education Council (BTEC), or other equivalent qualifications. Even though both diplomas and the UK GCEs and BTECs signify the end of education in schools/colleges, they both take different requirements to complete (a high school diploma is more like GCSE awards, but still different).

To read more about American high school diplomas, check out this article from Which School Advisor.

Are GCSE awards the same as a high school diploma?

In short, while they are similar, they really aren’t the same. Both signify an end of secondary education, and both require students to sit examinations.

What differs GCSE awards/results from high school diplomas, however, is that GCSE results don’t have any requirements to be given (other than doing the GCSEs obviously), but high school diplomas are only awarded based on accordance with the provincial or local state government.

Not everyone who goes through the US high school education system receives a diploma, but those who do have a better chance of getting into a better job or university. But everyone who sits the GCSE examinations gets their rewards, but not necessarily a chance at a better job or university if their grades don’t meet requirements.

US students “earn” their diplomas based on varying jurisdiction and standards from state to state, such as earning a certain number of credits or meeting the required number of years of education. On the other hand, UK secondary schools instead don’t do that, as employers look at GCSE results (unlike employers in the US who look at the diplomas). Both diplomas and GCSE results fulfil similar functions, however, they are not each other’s equivalent, because GCSE results are of varying accomplishment.

To roughly convert GCSE results to see if students would be eligible for diplomas if they were in the US (from the typical five to ten GCSE results students receive), every five passes – a C or 6 – is roughly one high school diploma.

To read more about the differences and similarities between GCSEs and high school diplomas, as well as how to convert them, check out this article by eHow.

What is the equivalent of a high school diploma?

A lot of jobs will state one of the requirements as being a “High School Diploma or Equivalent”. This just means that you either own a high school diploma or hold a High School Equivalency (HSE).

These documents are basic certification that create many pathways and opportunities: many employers and internships require them. To read more about what HSEs mean with employers, this article from Salarship may be helpful.

Below are some of the equivalents to a high school diploma (HSEs):

  • You have completed a 12th grade education in another country (Year 13 in the UK).
  • You have an equivalency from an accredited institution.
  • You have a home-school certificate.
  • You own a GED (General Education Development certificate).

To read more about what HSEs mean in general, this article from Study Data Science may be helpful.

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