The GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is the first public examination in UK schools and is taken at age 16 prior to end of the school year in which pupils may leave education (although now 60% do not). It replaced the old GCE and CSE systems where GCEs were seen as academic and CSEs as second-rate. The grades A to C in GCSE are regarded as equivalent to GCE standard passes. Five passes at GCSE is the formal (although by no means generally enforced) minimum standard for matriculation i.e. it is supposedly an minimum basis (with the addition of 2 Advanced Level Passes obtained at age 18) for University entry.
Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996