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Note that this page is talking about government requirements. Some colleges will have additional requirements beyond those imposed by the government.


The government states that students attending 16-19 further education programmes (eg at college), who do not have GCSE English and Maths at Grade 4 / C or above, or a specified alternative qualification at the same level, must attend classes in those subjects as part of their educational programme. This is part of the funding requirements for those programmes. International GCSEs (IGCSEs) are listed in the government guidelines as acceptable equivalents to GCSE for this purpose.

What are the government funding requirements?[]

From the government guidance page

"Students must study maths and/or English as part of their programme in each academic year. This applies to students:

  • aged 16 to 18 and 19 to 25 with an education, health and care (EHC) plan who do not hold a GCSE grade 9 to 4, A* to C (a standard pass grade) or equivalent qualification in these subjects
  • doing a programme of 150 hours or more, which started on or after 1 August 2014

This requirement is a condition of funding for all students on 16 to 19 study programmes, or who start on T Levels from academic year 2022 to 2023, and is part of the funding regulations."

Why do we have these funding requirements?[]

The rationale behind this funding requirement was the independent Wolf report into post-16 education, which recommended that Further Education (FE) colleges continued to provide maths and English teaching to students who were not yet capable of a good pass.

A student without GCSE/IGCSE maths and English can still go to college, BUT they will have to continue working towards them while at college to be eligible for funding.

The requirements were updated on 13 February 2019 and this page has been amended to reflect this.

Alternatives to GCSE/IGCSE English and maths: Functional Skills[]

If a student does not have GCSE/IGCSE English and maths, or they have a GCSE or IGCSE pass at grade 2 or below, they can study towards Functional Skills Level 2 in English and/or maths. Once they achieve FS Level 2, they no longer have to continue studying maths and English to meet the funding requirements. (However, note that some colleges will expect students to continue studying towards GCSE English/maths, even if they have met the funding requirements with level 2 Functional Skills qualifications)

If a student has GCSE or IGCSE Grade 3 then they need to study towards GCSE Grade 4 or higher.

If a student has GCSE or IGCSE Grade 4 or higher, or any of the other alternative qualifications specified, then they do not have to continue studying English and maths.

Note that the requirement for those with no GCSE, or a GCSE grade 2 or lower, was changed on 13 February 2019. Before this, everyone had to study towards GCSE grade 4 or higher.

What do colleges and sixth forms need to know about IGCSEs?[]

While most colleges will accept IGCSEs without question, some colleges are not up-to-date with the latest guidance and/or do not understand that IGCSEs are equivalent to GCSEs.

If your child has IGCSE maths and English, but the college is not accepting these, you can show them the "prior attainment" section of the government guidance on funding and English and maths at 16-19 which states that IGCSEs meet the prior attainment conditions for funding.

"International GCSEs, regulated or unregulated, or equivalent level 1/ level 2 certificates in maths and English all count as equivalent to GCSEs for the purposes of recognising prior attainment in the 16 to 19 maths and English condition of funding. Students who hold these qualifications in maths and English at GCSE grade 9 to 4 or A* to C will not have to continue their study of these subjects."

Note that sometimes confusion arises with colleges because the funding guidance also mentions 'Qualifications approved for teaching to 16-19 year olds'. These are the courses that colleges are allowed to teach, and this is different from the list of qualifications accepted for prior attainment.

This is the section that can confuse some colleges. (The 'notes on individual qualification types', which is a sub-section of 'Qualifications approved for teaching':

"international GCSEs no longer meet the condition of funding; however, they do continue to count as equivalent to GCSEs for the purposes of recognising prior attainment

holding the International Certificate in Christian Education (ICCE) exempts a student from further study in maths and English; when students have achieved an ICCE, institutions can record an exemption for holding an overseas equivalent qualification."

This only means that the college cannot receive funding if they teach IGCSE maths or English. However, as mentioned earlier, IGCSE maths and English do meet the prior attainment requirement for funding. If your child already has IGCSE maths and English they qualify for funding and do not have to continue to study those subjects.

Which is better for funding requirements: English Language or English Literature?[]

The government says that a pass in either English language OR English literature meets the funding requirements.

See 16-19 Funding Guidance - Prior Attainment.

The table on that page shows that even if you have a low grade, or no grade, in English language, if you have a grade 4 or above (grade C) in English literature then you have met the condition.

Occasionally you will come across a Further Education college whose staff are unaware of this - in which case, please just direct them to the Department for Education guidance linked above.

In general, an English language GCSE/IGCSE qualification is more widely acknowledged/required for jobs and careers. If a home educated student is opting for only one English qualification, there might be circumstances where it is preferable to opt for English language rather than English literature GCSE/IGCSE.

Studying English and maths qualifications through home education[]

For further information see:

English Language

English Literature


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