How many GCSEs do you need to get into sixth form?

Getting into sixth form requires meeting certain GCSE requirements that vary between different schools and colleges. Overall, most sixth forms will want students to achieve at least 5 GCSEs at grades 9-5 (A*-C) including English and maths. The specifics depend on the subjects you want to study at A Level and the entry criteria of your chosen sixth form.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to some common questions about GCSE requirements for sixth form:

  • For academic A Level subjects, most sixth forms want at least 5 GCSEs at grades 9-5 (A*-C) including English and maths.
  • For more vocational Level 3 courses, the requirements may be lower – around 4 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C).
  • Higher grades are usually required in the specific subjects you want to study at A Level.
  • Some competitive schools or courses may require 7+ GCSEs at grades 9-7 (A*-A).
  • Resits may be available in sixth form to improve your English and maths grades if you didn’t achieve a grade 4/5.
  • Each sixth form will publish its own entry requirements – check carefully what grades they want for each subject.

Typical GCSE Requirements

While each school or college sets its own entry criteria, these are typical GCSE requirements for getting into sixth form:

  • At least 5 GCSEs at grades 9-5 (A*-C)
  • Including English and maths at a minimum of grade 4/5
  • Meeting subject-specific grade requirements for your chosen A Levels (usually a 6 or 7)

This means as a general rule, you’ll need to be achieving mostly B and A grades in your GCSEs to meet sixth form requirements. A minimum of a grade 5 in English and maths is usually essential.

Let’s look in more detail at why sixth forms have these typical requirements:

5 GCSEs at Grades 9-5 (A*-C)

Most sixth forms want students to have a good range of GCSE passes to show they have solid academic foundations. This usually means achieving at least 5 GCSEs at grades 9-5 (A*-C).

Students who only achieve 1-4 GCSEs at the new grade 5/A* standard may struggle with the step up to advanced level study. Gaining those five 9-5 grades demonstrates you have the ability to cope with A Level-style learning across a range of subjects.

English and Maths Minimum Grade 4/5

Scoring at least a grade 4 or 5 in both English language and maths GCSE is an essential requirement for virtually all sixth forms.

A pass in English demonstrates good written communication skills for essay writing and studying complex texts. Maths shows you have essential numeracy skills and logical thinking for subjects like science.

Some very competitive colleges may want a minimum of a grade 6 or even 7 in these subjects. If you achieve a grade 3 or below, you may be able to retake English and maths alongside your A Levels.

Subject-Specific GCSE Requirements

As well as the overall requirements, sixth forms will also set specific minimum GCSE grades needed for each of the A Level subjects you want to study.

Usually you’ll need at least a grade 6/B or grade 7/A in that subject at GCSE. This proves you have strong existing knowledge to cope with the step up to advanced level.

So for example, to study:

  • A Level Biology – Grade 7/A in GCSE Biology or Grade 7/A in GCSE Double Science
  • A Level English Literature – Grade 6/B in GCSE English Literature
  • A Level History – Grade 6/B in GCSE History

Check carefully for the subject-specific requirements in the sixth form’s published entry criteria.

Requirements for Vocational Level 3 Courses

If you plan to study vocational and applied subjects at Level 3, the GCSE requirements may be slightly lower than for A Levels.

Typical requirements for BTEC, Cambridge Technicals and other vocational courses are:

  • 4 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C)
  • English and maths minimum grade 4 (C)

However, this can still vary between sixth forms. Check the criteria for BTEC or vocational courses separately.

Higher Requirements for Competitive Schools

Some highly selective state sixth forms and private/independent schools may have higher GCSE requirements.

For example, they may want:

  • 7+ GCSEs at grades 9-7 (A*-A)
  • Grade 7/A minimum in English and maths
  • All Grade 8/9 in subjects you wish to study

This is not typical, but does apply for some very competitive sixth forms. The top grades demonstrate high academic ability to cope with intensive A Level study.

GCSE Resits and Retakes

If you narrowly miss the sixth form’s requirements, resitting English and/or maths GCSE may be an option. Some sixth forms will make resitting mandatory if you didn’t initially get at least a grade 4.

Resits allow you to try improving your GCSE grades. Usually you would take exams in the November or following summer series.

However, support for resits varies between schools. Some may not allow students to join sixth form unless they already meet the grade criteria.

Examples of GCSE Requirements for Specific Sixth Forms

To give an idea of real-life sixth form entry requirements, here are some examples:

Example 1: Large State Sixth Form College

GCSE requirements:

  • 5 GCSEs at grades 9-5 (A*-C) including English and maths
  • Minimum grade 6/B in subjects to be studied at A Level

So for A Level Biology, Chemistry, History and Spanish, you’d need:

  • Grade 6/B in GCSE Biology
  • Grade 6/B in GCSE Chemistry
  • Grade 6/B in GCSE History
  • Grade 6/B in GCSE Spanish

Plus GCSE English and maths at grade 5/C minimum.

Example 2: Smaller Sixth Form Attached to Secondary School

GCSE requirements:

  • 5 GCSEs at grade 5/C or above, including English and maths
  • Minimum grade 6/B in subjects to be studied at A Level

So the same grades needed in your chosen A Level subjects, but the minimum overall requirement is 5 grade 5s rather than all grade 6-9s.

Example 3: Selective Private Sixth Form College

GCSE requirements:

  • 7 GCSEs at grades 8-9 (A*-A)
  • Grade 7/A minimum in GCSE English and maths
  • Grade 9/A* in subjects to be studied at A Level

Much higher grades needed, including all 9/A* in your chosen A Level subjects. This reflects the very competitive entry criteria at some private colleges.

Consider GCSE Equivalents

In some cases, vocational qualifications like BTECs and OCR Cambridge Nationals can count towards sixth form GCSE requirements. But this does vary between sixth forms.

Generally, two vocational qualifications at merit or distinction can substitute for one GCSE. So BTEC Science could replace your GCSE in that subject for example. But always check specifically what the sixth form accepts.


While entry requirements differ, achieving around 5 GCSEs at grades 9-5 (A*-C) including English and maths will keep your options open for sixth form entry.

Aim for at least a grade 6/B in the subjects you plan to take at A Level. Resits may be an option if you narrowly miss the grades first time.

Check carefully for each sixth form’s published criteria. But meeting these typical requirements will put you in a good position to continue onto advanced level study.

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