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  • Writer's pictureDr. Belinda van der Westhuizen and Ian Strydom

UK and International Examination Boards

Are you homeschooling and confused about GCSE, IGCSE's, O-Levels, A-Levels, ICE, CAIE, OCR, AQA and all the other ABCs out there? Read this history to get some background. Contact us at Wingu Academy if you are still confused. It is a minefield.

Examination boards in the United Kingdom (sometimes called awarding bodies or awarding organisations) are the examination boards responsible for setting and awarding secondary education level qualifications, such as GCSEs, and A Levels qualifications, to students in the United Kingdom.

Until the mid-1990s, academic exam boards and vocational accreditors were run very much as separate organisations. In more recent times, this distinction has been removed, with all the term 'awarding bodies' now being used.

Broadly speaking, the UK has always had two separate school systems: one for England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and one for Scotland. As a result, two separate sets of exam boards have been developed. Here we will focus on the exam boards stemming from the United Kingdom.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland have several exam boards, with schools and colleges able to freely choose between them on a subject-by-subject basis. Currently, there are five exam boards available to state schools:

• AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance)

• CCEA (Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment)

• OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations)

• Pearson, under its Edexcel brand

• WJEC (Welsh Joint Education Committee), under its WJEC and Eduqas brands

Though the exam boards have regional roots within the UK, they now operate across larger areas. The three boards based in England – AQA, OCR and Edexcel – offer all their qualifications across England with a smaller number in Wales (where no 'homegrown' qualification is available) and Northern Ireland (where the qualifications meet the regulator's requirements). The Wales-based WJEC offers qualifications in Wales (mostly under its WJEC brand), England (nearly always under its Eduqas brand) and Northern Ireland (under either brand). Most exam boards offer a range of qualifications, though not all boards offer every qualification in every subject.

Schools and colleges have a completely free choice between the boards, and most schools use a mixture of boards for their GCSE qualifications, with a similar mixture existing at A Level.


Exam boards have been around as long as there have been qualifications offered by schools. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge each had their own exam board and a joint board they ran together. The qualifications offered were of the boards' own creation. local board.

I will focus here on the boards founded by the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, and of Pearson Institute since they are the more well known in South Africa.

• 1836. Royal charter gave the University of London powers to conduct exams. The University of London Extension Board was founded in 1902 (later becomes Edexcel in 1996)

• 1857: University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations (founded by the University of Oxford)

• 1858: University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES, founded by the University of Cambridge)

• 1873: Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board (founded by the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge)

GCE (O Level and A Level)

In 1951, the General Certificate of Education (GCE) was introduced. It was split into two stages: Ordinary Level (O Level, taken at 16) and Advanced Level (A Level, taken at 18).


In 1965, the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) was introduced. It was aimed at the 80% 16-year-old students who did not take O Levels and, until that point, had left school with no qualifications. CSEs were administered on a local basis with local boards offering the qualifications.


To create a more egalitarian system, the O Levels and CSE (but not the A Level) were replaced by the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) in 1986. As O Levels and CSEs had used different exam boards (except in Wales and Northern Ireland), new 'examining groups' were created. In England, the four examining groups were consortia of regional GCE and CSE exam boards, while in Wales and Northern Ireland they were the existing boards, making six boards in total:

• London East Anglian Group (formed by the University of London School Examinations Board, the London Regional Examination Board and the East Anglian Examinations Board)

• Midland Examining Group (MEG, formed by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, the Southern Universities' Joint Board, the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board, East Midland Regional Examinations Board and the West Midlands Examinations Board)

• Northern Examining Association (NEA, formed by the Joint Matriculation Board, the Associated Lancashire Schools Examining Board, the North Regional Examinations Board, the North West Regional Examinations Board and the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Examinations Board)

• Northern Ireland Schools Examination Council

• Southern Examining Group (SEG, formed by the Associated Examining Board, the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations, the South-East Regional Examinations Board, South Western Examinations Board and Southern Regional Exams Board)

• Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC)

As CSEs were no longer offered, the CSE boards effectively ceased to operate as independent boards and instead became part of their larger examining groups (some were even taken over by larger members of their groups, such as the South East Regional Examinations Board, which was acquired by the Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations in 1985 to form the Oxford School Examinations Board; and the South-East Regional Examinations Board and South Western Examinations Board, which merged with the AEB in 1985 and 1987 respectively). The GCE boards, however, retained a degree of autonomy, as they still offered A Levels independently.

Though the boards were regional, schools were entirely free to pick which board they did their GCSE qualifications with and could mix and match between subjects.

When the Certificate of Achievement (now the Entry Level Certificate, a qualification below GCSE level) was introduced, the GCSE examining groups were responsible for administering the qualification.

Creation of the current boards

It was not long before the GCE (A Level) boards and GCSE examining groups began to formally merge or enter into even closer working relationships. This made sense, as it allowed merged boards to offer both GCSE and A Level qualifications and the boards were working together to offer the GCSE qualifications anyway. Many boards also took the opportunity to merge with vocational exam boards, as vocational qualifications became more common in schools. The government encouraged this, as they wanted to simplify the system by having fewer exam boards.


All five members of the Northern Examining Association merged in 1992 to form NEAB. In 1994, the Oxford Schools Examinations Board sold its GCSE functions to the Associated Examining Board, who renamed themselves AEB/SEG (OSEB's A Level functions went to UCLES). NEAB, AEB/SEG and the vocational City & Guilds formed the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) in 1997, with the AEB/SEG and NEAB formally merging into AQA in 2000 (City & Guilds chose to remain independent, but closely cooperates with AQA). AQA is run as an educational charity.


The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) took over the Southern Universities' Joint Board in 1990 and the Midland Examining Group (MEG) in 1993. When the Oxford Schools Examinations Board was abolished in 1995, its A Level functions were transferred to UCLES (its GCSE functions went to AEB/SEG). In the same year, UCLES also took over the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board (OCSEB). UCLES then merged all its A Level boards together to form the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council (OCEAC). This left UCLES offering A Levels under the OCSEB name, GCSEs under the MEG name and some vocational qualifications under the UODLE name. This situation continued until 1998, when UCLES took over the vocational Royal Society of Arts Examinations Board. Following the merger, it chose to use the name Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR) for all its UK qualifications. OCR is now the only major exam board owned by a university and is still run by the University of Cambridge, through its Cambridge Assessment division.

Cambridge Assessment also controls CIE, a predominately international exam board. CIE started offering some qualifications to English, Welsh and Northern Irish state schools in 2008, though it later withdrew from this market when the reformed GCSEs and A Levels (examined 2017 onwards) were introduced.In 2017 Cambridge International Examinations became Cambrdige Assesment International Education.


The University of London School Examinations Board merged with the London and East Anglian Group to form the University of London Examinations & Assessment Council (known as London Examinations or ULEAC) in 1991 In 1996, London Examinations merged with the vocational BTEC to form the Edexcel Foundation (the legal entity called London Qualifications). Though it originally ran as an educational charity like AQA, the Foundation was taken over by Pearson in 2003 (and renamed simply Edexcel), making it the only British exam board to be run by a profit-making company. Pearson acquired a 75% stake in Edexcel, before taking over the remaining 25% in 2005.

Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) (informally known as simply Cambridge and formerly known as CIE, Cambridge International Examinations) is a provider of international qualifications, offering examinations and qualifications to 10,000 schools in more than 160 countries.

The board of education is a division of Cambridge Assessment, the trading name of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), founded in 1858 as a not-for-profit non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge.

Cambridge offers primarily school-leaving qualifications for university entrance such as the Cambridge International General Certificate of Education – Advanced Level (Cambridge International GCE A-Levels). In addition, Cambridge provides Key Stage examinations for primary and secondary schools internationally.

Cambridge qualifications are recognised for admission by all UK universities as well as universities in the United States (Stanford and all Ivy League universities), South Africa Canada, European Union, Middle East, West Asia, New Zealand and many more.

Join Wingu Academy to start your journey towards the International GCSE and AS/A-Level qualification today!


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