What is Secondary Education Certificate

The Certificate of Secondary Education was a school leaving qualification awarded between 1965 and 1987 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It was introduced to provide a qualification available to all schoolchildren distinct from the GCE that were aimed at the more able pupils, mostly those at grammar and independent school aiming for places at a university. Before the introduction of the CSE, the majority of those schoolchildren at secondary modern schools did not take O-Level examinations and so left school without any qualifications at all. However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, counties frequently had introduced their own examinable qualifications for the bulk of Secondary Modern School pupils who left in ‘Form Four’. For example, the county of Monmouthshire in Wales awarded the Monmouthshire Certificate in Education. There were five pass grades in its grading system ranging from grades 1 to 5, with grades 2 to 3 being recognised with equivalence to the three lowest O-Level pass grades. Achieving CSE grade 1 was equivalent to achieving an O level in the subject where the student may have reasonably gained an A, B or C grade had they taken an O-level course of study in the same subject. Gaining a CSE Grade 1 therefore implied that that student should have followed an O level course in that subject. It should be noted however, that the range of courses for CSE was wider than that for the O-level and included many vocational subjects, such as car maintenance which were not available at O-level. As the comprehensive schools replaced secondary modern schools in the 1970s pupils could increasingly take a mixture of CSEs and O-levels until finally the examinations were merged with the new GCSE certification courses.