This paper arises from a research project funded by the Joint Council for the GCSE which investigated users' perceptions of the GCSE. User groups comprised teachers, further education lecturers, students, parents, school and college governors and employers. The paper considers the style and philosophy of the GCSE, and discusses perceptions of its value, organization and appropriateness. In particular, it looks at the extent to which users believe the GCSE has achieved its aims of examining a balance of knowledge, understanding and skills; providing a challenge for students of all abilities; and being relevant to life outside school. The paper suggests that the GCSE is regarded as an important qualification, but that it cannot perform concurrently all the functions that users are claiming for it. Areas where tensions exist are discussed.