There is a new English GCSE for students studying in England, with key changes to both the English Language and English Literature qualifications. The new GCSE is being taught from September 2015, with first examinations in 2017. Students who are now in year 11 are the first cohort to be studying for the new English GCSE. 

Understandably there has been some uncertainty for pupils and parents about what has changed and how the changes will affect those taking the new exams. In this post we’ve set out all you need to know about the changes to GCSE English. 


  • Overall the changes are designed to make GCSE English more demanding and challenging for pupils of all abilities. 
  • The hope is that this will bring the English qualification into line with some of the highest performing education systems in the world. 
  • Content in the new GCSE Language and Literature will be less predictable and provide a more rigorous assessment. 
  • All assessment will be through external exams at the end of the course
  • The new 9-1 grading system will be used (see our blog post on GCSE reforms for more detail on the changes to the grading system). 
  • The first exams for the new look courses will be in summer 2017
  • Schools are encouraged (through the new school accountability system) to enter students for English Literature as well as Language. 

English Language

  • The exams will assess 50% reading (answering critical and comprehension questions based on a range of texts) and 50% writing (producing excellent, clear text that makes an impact on the reader). 
  • There will be no ‘set texts’. Instead, pupils will need to read a ‘wide range’ of texts from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries to prepare for the exams. 
  • Significantly more marks are being given for using a range of vocabulary, sentence structures, and having excellent spelling, grammar and punctuation. Indeed, 20% of the available writing marks will be for these areas. 
  • Speaking and listening assessments will be reported separately and will not be counted in the final grade. 

English Literature

  • There is much more of a focus on ‘classic’ British literature. Students will study ‘full texts’ in detail – so there will be no short story collections as there were in previous GCSEs. 
  • Everyone will study: Shakespeare, a 19th century novel, a selection of poetry written since 1789 (including Romantic poets) and fiction/ drama from the British Isles written since 1914. 
  • Exams must now include unseen texts (usually poetry) and must assess some comparison between texts. 

Some of the detail of thechanges to English GCSEs can seem a bit technical, so please do get in touch if you have any questions. Just visit the ‘contact us’ page on our website. 

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