Our heritage

Our heritage

children sitting exams in the past

Cambridge Assessment was established as the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) by the University of Cambridge in 1858. We were set up to administer local examinations for students who were not members of the University of Cambridge, with the aim of raising standards in education. We also inspected schools. Today, we develop and deliver examinations and tests in 170 countries.

There have been many changes to the education system over the years but the ethos that sparked the creation of our organisation still drives our work today; we continue to strive for the on-going improvement to assessment systems and methodologies used around the world to ensure learners access the benefits of their education.

The timeline below gives a brief outline of our history but for more detailed information please view our Archives area. The Archive Service holds a number of records from across the Group and from some of the organisations which have formed the Group over the course of our history.

  1. 1857

    The University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations (UODLE) was established and the first examinations were held in July 1858. ‘Local’ indicated that candidates could sit external examinations at centres local to their homes without having to travel to the examination board.

  2. 1858

    UCLES, The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate was formed to set school leaving examinations for non-members of the university. The Syndicate comprised thirteen university academics (one as Secretary) who would set regulations, write question papers, preside over examinations, mark scripts and make the awards. The examinations were held in December to avoid conflict with the Oxford Examinations in July and the first centres were in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Grantham, Liverpool, London and Norwich.

  3. 1862

    It was decided that the Syndicate’s remit be extended to offer inspections to schools as part of the examination programme offered by the University of Cambridge.

  4. 1864

    The first overseas examinations were held by UCLES in Trinidad where six candidates took the Cambridge Senior Examinations.

  5. 1868

    After a successful trial in 1863 by candidates from the North London Collegiate School and a subsequent petition to the University, girls were officially allowed to enter for the Cambridge Local Examinations on the same basis as boys.

  6. 1869

    The Higher Local Examinations were introduced, initially for women over eighteen who wished to become teachers. Although the HLE was discontinued in 1922 it had, by then, spawned the Certificate of Proficiency in English, the longest surviving of all UCLES examinations.

  7. 1873

    The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge set up the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board (OCSEB) to examine ‘first-grade’ schools and meet the needs of public school students destined to go to university.

  8. 1886

    UCLES acquired its own building, Syndicate Buildings on Mill Lane, Cambridge for the administration of examinations and local lectures programme. The Local Lectures offered evening education to adult workers and was part of the Syndicate’s work until 1925; a role now carried out by the Institute of Continuing Education.

  9. 1913

    The Certificate of Proficiency in English, now part of the ESOL suite of examinations, made an inauspicious beginning as part of the Certificates of Proficiency in Modern Languages and Religious Knowledge. Only three candidates entered for the first CPE examination.

  10. 1918

    The first national examinations were introduced along similar lines to the Cambridge ‘Locals’. They were certificate based school leaving examinations called the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate, requiring candidates to pass examinations in a range subjects to gain a certificate. The new examinations soon replaced the Cambridge Preliminary, Junior and Senior examinations for UK candidates while these ‘locals’ began to develop into specific ‘Overseas’ examinations.

  11. 1939

    The Lower Certificate in English was introduced as a complement to the Certificate of Proficiency in English. The LCE proved particularly popular during the second world war and extra examinations were set for prisoners of war and service personnel.

  12. 1943

    The Norwood Committee, which included the UCLES Secretary, published a Report on Curriculum and Examinations in Secondary Schools, introducing the General Certificate in Education at Ordinary and Advanced Level.

  13. 1951

    GCE O and A Level examinations were introduced as single subject examinations and replaced the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate for UK candidates. The SC and HSC continued to be sat by overseas candidates and strong regional variations, tailored to local literature, geography, history and currency began to develop.

  14. 1955

    The total number of entries for the main examinations conducted by the Syndicate exceeded 100,000.

  15. 1964

    The West African Examinations Council became the first region to complete its ‘localisation’ programme and, following training from UCLES, it began to set and manage its own school examinations.

  16. 1985

    Midland Examining Group was set up as a group of GCE and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) boards to administer a new 16+ examination to candidates within its region.

  17. 1987

    The General Certificate of Secondary Education, a hybrid of O Level and CSE was introduced as the new single subject examination for all 16 year olds. The Midland Examining Group alone attracted 1.6 million subject entries.

  18. 1988

    The first GCSE examinations took place and the IGCSE, an international version of the GCSE, was launched by UCLES. Although the O Level was retained, the first IGCSE courses received over 3,000 candidate entries.

  19. 1990

    The English Language Testing Service was re launched as the International English Language Testing Service. IELTS, a collaborative and innovative test, developed rapidly and was available in 105 countries by 1993.

  20. 1992

    The Queen’s Award for Export achievement was won by UCLES. By this year over 60% of UCLES work was outside the UK and candidate entries worldwide exceeded one million.

  21. 1995

    UCLES merged with the Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations and the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board. The Southern Universities Joint Board and the East Midlands Regional Examining Board (a former CSE Board) had joined with UCLES the previous years. These mergers represented a government move to reduce the number of UK examination boards by consolidation.

  22. 1998

    A final merger with the RSA Examinations Board led UCLES to a restructure into three distinct examination boards: Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR), Cambridge International Examinations and Cambridge ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

  23. 2005

    UCLES adopted the name 'Cambridge Assessment' as a reflection of its wider role in educational assessment and its Cambridge base and origins.

  24. 2008

    At the 150th anniversary of the organisation, Cambridge Assessment set and marked over 8 million examinations in 150 countries worldwide.

  25. 2010

    The first full set of examination results for Cambridge Pre-U were awarded. The Pre-U is Cambridge International Examination’s alternative to A Levels.

  26. 2011

    The Government’s recognition of educational expertise led to the appointment of the Group Director of Assessment Research and Development as Chair of the National Curriculum Review Expert Panel.

  27. 2012

    Changes to school performance measures had a huge impact upon vocational qualification design. Cambridge Nationals for 14-16 year olds were launched to replace OCR Nationals and Cambridge Technicals were introduced for students aged 16 plus.

  28. 2013

    To coincide with the 100 year anniversary of Cambridge English exams, University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations changed its name to Cambridge English Language Assessment.

  29. 2017

    In 2017 Cambridge Assessment announced that its international exam boards changed their names in order to become more aligned with the Group. Cambridge English Language Assessment is now known as Cambridge Assessment English, while Cambridge International Examinations became Cambridge Assessment International Education.


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