Uh-Oh, I Have No GCSEs, What Can I Do?


  1. What are GCSEs?
  2. I have no GCSEs, what can i do?
  3. What happens if you fail your GCSEs?
  4. Do you need GCSEs to go to college?
  5. Courses that don’t require GCSEs
  6. Apprenticeships that don’t require GCSEs
  7. Do you need GCSEs to get a job?


“Help! I have no GCSEs, what can I do?” Admittedly, no one relishes the prospect of fouling their GCSEs but it needn’t spell out disaster. 

If you are concerned that you might not pass your GCSEs, now is the time to get to grips with the realities of what happens if you fail GCSE exams and the options it leaves you with. Read on for a helpful guide to the best next steps if you fail your GCSEs. ✍️exam-people

What are GCSEs?


The General Certificate in Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification taken by students as part of the National Curriculum in the UK schools in Scotland use the largely equivalent Scottish Qualifications Certificate instead.

Between the ages of 14 and 16, students achieve separate GCSE qualifications in every school subject they choose to study (e.g. Mathematics, English, Science, History, Geography, Art etc). Studies for GCSE examinations take place over a period of two or three academic years, starting in Year 9 or Year 10, with examinations being sat at the end of Year 11.

The GCSE qualification was introduced in 1986 to replace the old system – GCE O-level and Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) examinations – which had been criticised for being segregated and two-tiered. The main aims of the GCSE were to improve the quality of education and to raise standards of attainment by stretching and stimulating pupils throughout the ability range. 👍

With the majority of students leaving school after the age of 16 in the 80s, GCSEs originally acted as a school leaving certificate. However, a lot has changed in the intervening years – namely, the workforce has become less involved in industrial production and more engaged in knowledge work, services, communication and innovation. 

So, these days, GCSEs are supposed to demonstrate a student’s achievement across a range of subjects, indicate whether they have sufficient understanding for further study in a subject, provide information to employers or higher education bodies about their competence as well as indicate the success of their schools in their teaching efforts. 🤓


I have no GCSEs, what can I do?


First of all, it is important to seek emotional support if you have failed your exams or achieved lower grades than you had hoped. Remind yourself that this is far from the end of the road and you have plenty of options to consider in terms of the next steps including:

#1 Resit or retake your GCSEs

#2 Take some Functional Skills courses

#3 Do an apprenticeship or traineeship

#4 Go straight into employment

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options below.


What happens if you fail your GCSEs?


Regardless of what you hope to do in terms of a career or employment, you will have a much easier journey if you do manage to pass English and Maths at GCSE level as an absolute minimum. But what to do if you fail your GCSEs? In the first instance, there are two options to consider. 

The first option is to resit the exams. Every GCSE subject can be taken twice with the best result counting as the final result. Most schools will allow you to study for your re-sits while also working towards your A-levels, so you won’t have to worry about falling behind. 📚

The second option is to ask for a remark. It’s worth noting that there is no guarantee that your mark will improve in fact, it could even go down so this route should only be considered if you and your parents and teachers feel confident that your paper has been marked incorrectly. 

As the grading system for GCSE exams changed ahead of exams in 2017 – moving from A* to G to a numerical system of 9 to 1 – and COVID-19 had its own impacts on the grading methodology, you might like to take a look at our “GCSE Grades Explained” article so that you can remind yourself of “what grade you need to pass GCSE exams?”. 🎒


Do you need GCSEs to go to college? 


According to the Centre for Education Research and Policy, in 1982 the proportion of sixteen-year-olds staying on in full-time education was 47 per cent; by 2009, this proportion had almost doubled to 88 per cent. Therefore, far from being merely a school leaving certificate, the GCSE is now seen as an entry requirement for further study and is, for many, the first step towards further education. 📓

So, how many GCSEs do you need to go to college? Most college admission teams want to see a minimum of five GCSEs – including English Language and Maths – at grade 4 or above. Meanwhile, sixth forms tend to have slightly higher entry requirements, looking for at least six GCSE examination results achieving at least a grade 4.

So, passing at least five GCSEs including Maths and English is certainly the easiest way to get into college. However, there is still another way to get into college with no GCSEs at all – more on that below. 👇


Courses that don’t require GCSEs


But, mum, can I go to college without GCSEs? If you have no GCSEs and you don’t want to resit them or ask for a remark you may still be able to get into college by taking a couple of Functional Skills courses – available in ICT, Maths, and English.

English and Maths are considered to be essential skills for everyday life and the basic foundation subjects required by educators and employers alike in order to participate and progress. 🧮

Functional Skills are recognised GCSE alternative qualifications, with a Level 2 being equivalent to a GCSE grade 4. Introduced in 2007 to boost the UK's literacy and numeracy, Functional Skills qualifications were developed to upskill the nation's workforce

Course materials tend to be broken down into units and subjects, with learning assessments along the way to test understanding of the topics studied.

The best part about Functional Skills courses is they only take a few weeks to complete. After enrolment and a couple of entry assessments, you will be able to work through the online or in-person training, be guided through some practice exam papers and then end the course with an exam. 

If you need anything higher than a grade 4 to get into your preferred college, however, this option will not meet your requirements.


Apprenticeships that don’t require GCSEs


Sometimes, some students find that they are just not cut out for the traditional academic environment. Perhaps relationships with teachers have worn thin and you no longer feel supported or comfortable in your school space. Or, perhaps you have undertaken GCSE resits and still not been able to successfully pass the exams. All is not lost, there are alternative options to consider. 

You’ll be pleased to learn that it is totally possible to do an apprenticeship with no GCSEs. Intermediate Apprenticeships, usually lasting between one and two years, are programmes that combine work and study. You will gain practical training on the job, develop key skills and attend a college to study towards a recognised qualification – all while earning a salary. 🙌

A successfully completed Intermediate Apprenticeship is equivalent to having 5 GCSE passes. From there, you could embark on an advanced level Apprenticeship or look to enrol at college or university if you decide you still want to pursue further or higher education.

Another good option to consider is a traineeship – a short course that provides real-life work experience as part of it. Typically seen as a precursor to doing a full apprenticeship or going straight into a full-time job – traineeships are a good option if you have struggled academically, and have no desire to continue in the education system. 🧑‍🔧

Traineeships help prepare young people aged 16 to 24, or 25 with an education, health and care plan for employment or an apprenticeship. They must include at least 70 hours of work experience placement and can last from 6 weeks up to 1 year, but most last less than 6 months.

While you won’t get paid, your travel and food expenses may be reimbursed and you may also get the help you need to improve your mathematical and English skills. 👨‍🏫


Do you need GCSEs to get a job?


So, can you get a job without GCSEs? And if so, what jobs can you get without GCSEs? As discussed above, although you may struggle to secure a job with no GCSEs at all, undertaking an apprenticeship or traineeship is a great way to take a step away from the purely academic school setting and begin to get some real, hands-on experience in a professional setting. 👔

These training pathways have been designed to support young people with limited qualifications to further their skill base, equipping you to go on to get jobs with no GCSEs. 

There are traineeships and intermediate apprenticeship schemes in more than 1,200 jobs across a huge range of industries, including:

  1. Customer service
  2. Retail
  3. Administrative and clerical
  4. Hair and beauty
  5. Construction and engineering
  6. IT
  7. Art and design
  8. Hospitality and catering
  9. Sport and fitness

Through these schemes, you can access plenty of jobs that don’t require GCSEs. So, no matter how well you do in your exams, there is no need to panic. There are plenty of options to consider and pathways through life. Good luck!