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The GCSE grading system is changing

The new style grades are being phased in this summer and will initially involve English language, English literature and maths. For most other subjects (including biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, French, Spanish, religious education, geography, music and history) the new grades will be awarded from the summer of 2018. A third wave of the new 9-1 graded GCSEs (including psychology, ancient history, business, ICT and media studies) will be taught from September 2017 with the exams to be taken in 2019.

As a result of the ‘phasing in’ system, some teenagers will see a mixture of different grading types on their CV. Rather than the current system of letters A*- G, the new system will use the numbers 1 – 9, with 9 being the highest grade possible and 1 will be the lowest. 

Whilst there has been caution voiced about comparing the new system to the old one, broadly speaking the new grade 4 will be considered equivalent to the old grade C. The grade 4 under the new system will be considered a ‘standard pass’, whilst a grade 5 will be a ‘strong pass’. Much the same as the current grade C, the grade 4 will remain the standard required to study English and maths post-16. Grades 9, 8 and 7 will be broadly equivalent to the current A* and A grades. Grades 6, 5 and 4 in live with the current B and C grades. A grade 3 will be similar to a D and the new 2 and 1 grades will be equivalent to grades E, F and G. There will still be a U (unclassified) grade.

The watchdog Ofqual says that roughly the same proportion of students will be awarded the grade 4 and above as the current grade C and above. It also states that a formula will be used which will mean that about 20% of all grades at 7 or above will be awarded a grade 9 – these will be students who will be considered to have performed ‘exceptionally’.

Some consider the new next year groups to try out the new grading systems to be ‘guinea pigs’. However, Ofqual say that exam boards will use test results from SATS (national curriculum tests) to predict the likely achievement at the new grades of 1, 4 and 7.

So why are the grades being changed? The new GCSE grading system is part of a new curriculum introduced into England’s schools in 2014 by the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove. The new GCSE courses involve much less coursework, with grades in almost all subjects being dependent upon final exam performance. The courses are now designed to be more rigorous, with exams at the end of two years of study, rather than modules with intervals of exams throughout the two-year study period.