The changes to the GCSE grading system have caused an uproar amongst teachers and students alike. Instead of A to G, the new system will award grades numerically from one to nine, leaving many with questions about how the two systems compare. Here are some of the key points:
When is the system changing over?
The new GCSE grading system started to be phased in from summer 2017. Year 11 students were the first to experience Maths, English Language and English Literature exams graded with the new system.
For the majority of the remaining GCSE subjects, including the sciences, some modern foreign languages, history and music, the new system will take effect from summer 2018. The final stage of the changeover will include psychology, business and ICT, and will be taught from September 2017 with grades awarded in 2019.
What do the numbers mean?
Using the new GCSE grading system, a nine will represent the highest mark with one being the lowest. Broadly speaking, grades seven to nine are being compared to A – A*; a four is currently being compared to a C and grade three is equivalent to a D. Grades two and one will be considered the broad equivalent to E, F and G. As it stands, the only thing both systems have in common is ‘U’, which signifies an ungraded exam.
It stands to reason that there would be curiosity regarding how the two systems compare. However, Ofqual have advised that direct comparisons should not be made as it may oversimplify the system. It has also been noted that approximately 20% of grades at seven or above will be awarded a nine. According to former Education Secretary Justine Greening, a grade four will be considered a ‘standard pass’ and a grade five a ‘strong pass”.
Will current year 11 students be at a disadvantage?
Although they will be the first to experience the new grading system, Ofqual have insisted that they will not be at a disadvantage. Ofqual are expecting the same percentage of students who achieved a C grade or above in maths and English in 2016 (approximately 70%) to achieve grades four and five in 2017.
Ashbourne’s Head of Middle School, Rupert Browett, expressed his views on the upcoming changes. He said: “Exams are becoming more complex. Students are required to show that they understand aspects of a subject, and are therefore asked to ‘describe and explain’ as opposed to just ‘state’ a response to certain questions (last year’s science paper being a prime example of this). I believe this is in place to make them think more.” Rupert also remarked that it may now be even harder to determine grade boundaries, but that the new system could make it easier to distinguish between very strong students and exceptional ones.
Will GCSE exams become more difficult?
The new grading system is just the latest in a line of changes that GCSEs have undergone in the last few years. Back in 2014, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove introduced a new curriculum for schools in England. In an aim to make GCSEs more rigorous overall, the grades for the new courses would rely more heavily on exams and less on modules and coursework than in previous years. Current year 11 students will already be working to this structure, so the exams themselves should not be a complete shock to their system. It is not clear whether there will be any further reforms in the near future.
Is there likely to be an impact on higher education?
It is believed that there could be, but it is as yet unclear how severe that impact will be. One of the main concerns is that, as not all subjects are being switched over to the new grading system at once, the mixture of grades could potentially cause confusion for universities and employers. A mixture of letters and numerical grades could make it difficult to determine the value of what they are looking at, especially as the two systems are not directly comparable.
Timetable of new GCSE grading system roll out
|New GCSE to be taught from:||First results will be issued in:||Subjects|
|September 2015||Summer 2017||English language
|September 2016||Summer 2018||Ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin)
Art and design
Combined science (double award)
Food Preparation and Nutrition
Modern Foreign Languages (French, German, Spanish)
|September 2017||Summer 2019||Ancient history
Design and Technology
Modern Foreign Languages (Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, modern Greek, modern Hebrew, Panjabi, Polish, Russian, Urdu)
|September 2018||Summer 2020||Ancient Languages (biblical Hebrew)
Modern Foreign Languages (Gujarati, Persian, Portuguese, Turkish)
More information on the new grades system roll-out can be found at: Gov.uk – Ofqual- Get the facts: GCSE reform
Source: BBC News: The new GCSE grades explained