Change to GCSEs
This year we are seeing a lot of changes to GCSEs, including the content covered and the grading system. This happened last year, in maths and English. This year, many more subjects are changing. I am hopeful that the comments I have prepared below may answer many of your questions ahead of the examination results.
GCSEs are now graded on a new ‘reformed’ scale of 9 to 1, with 9 the highest grade (rather than A* to G for the ‘unreformed’ GCSEs), to distinguish clearly between the reformed and unreformed qualifications. Some students will receive a mix of numbers and letter in their grades, depending on the subjects they have taken.
The introduction of the 9-1 system increases the number of higher grades than the previous A*- G system. By using 9-1, there are now six different grades from 4 to 9, rather than four in the old system (A*, A, B, C), which means individual students can be more accurately recognised in terms of their results.
The government and Department for Education (DfE) specified that the new GCSE syllabuses will include more challenging and knowledge-based content, with exams only at the end of the course.
Difficulty of the Exams and the Effect on Grades
Although the exams will cover a wider, more challenging range of content, the independent exam regulator Ofqual has made it clear that students sitting these examinations for the first time will not be disadvantaged. Whilst students may come out of exams feeling they have done less well, as we saw in 2017 with the reformed maths and English, broadly the same proportion of students who achieved a C and above in each of the old qualifications will achieve a grade 4 and above in the new, reformed GCSEs. The exam boards will base standards on results of 16 year-olds who took unreformed GCSE qualifications, so that it does not disadvantage this year’s Year 11 students.
Will my child be disadvantaged taking these exams?
In short, no. Whilst it takes a few years for teachers and students to get used to new qualifications and there are fewer past exam papers for students to practise on, the exam regulator Ofqual recognises that teachers are not as familiar with the new qualifications as they were with the old ones. Understandably, it would not be fair to penalise students for this, so the exam boards use statistics to help set grade boundaries. For example, a student who would have previously achieved a grade C or above would be expected to get a grade 4 or above in the new GCSEs. While the content and assessment have changed, Ofqual will make sure that grades are awarded fairly and your child will not be disadvantaged by the changes.
Matching the New Grades to the Old Grades
The new grade scale will not be directly equivalent to the existing one. However, to be fair to the students and to give meaning to the new grades, Ofqual has decided there will be some comparable points between the old grades, and the approach to awarding will ensure that, in the first year of a new qualification, broadly the same proportion of pupils will:
- achieve a grade 7 and above, as currently achieve a grade A and above
- will achieve a grade 4 and above, as currently achieve a grade C and above
- will achieve a grade 1 and above, as currently achieve a grade G and above.
We have shared the mapping exercise we undertook at AP points and we will include a copy of this in examination results.
Grade C Equivalence
The previous Secretary of State for Education described the Grade 4 as a ‘Standard Pass’ and the Grade 5 as a ‘Strong Pass’ leading to some confusion regarding the grade C equivalence and if a student will be required to continue studying maths and/ or English.
As the government has defined a grade 4 as a ‘standard’ pass. Where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C, the government expects them to continue recognising a grade 4.
The DfE, the independent regulator Ofqual and exam boards have designed a variety of products and channels including social media, to ensure all stakeholders can access the information they need. This includes ensuring employers understand that the new GCSEs are more demanding, and that a new grade 4 represents a similar level of achievement to a current low to medium grade C (the threshold for a level 2 qualification).
Entry to College Courses, ‘A’ Level Courses, University, Apprenticeships and Employment
Employers, colleges and universities will continue to decide the level of GCSE grades needed to meet their individual employment or study requirements. As each course may ask for a specific grade for different courses and this should be checked carefully.
Changes to ‘A’ Level Grading Systems
A levels will retain their A*-E grades, and AS qualifications their A-E grades. There are currently no plans to change these.
Should you have any further questions about the new grading system, please do not hesitate to make contact.