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GCSE results day 2017: What you need to know about the new grading system

PUBLISHED: 11:10 04 August 2017 | UPDATED: 08:42 17 August 2017

Students sit exams. Photo by David Jones/PA

Students sit exams. Photo by David Jones/PA

PA/Press Association Images

In just over three weeks time we will see the first cohort of GCSE students decipher a mix of letters and numbers in their results. Here’s our guide to the new numerical grading system and what it means for pupils.

Students sit exams. Picture: Ben Birchall/PAStudents sit exams. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA

What will change?

This summer marks the beginning of the end for the familiar A* to G grades.

Over the next three years, they will be replaced entirely with a scale numbered nine to one - with nine the highest result, and one the lowest.

But for this year, just a handful of subjects will be switched over, meaning some students will forever boast a CV with an 8 in maths and an A* in geography.

What’s the time scale?

Students in this year 11 sitting English language, English literature and maths will be the first to notice the changes.

For most other subjects, including sciences, the new grades will come into force in 2018, with some subjects, such as psychology and business, will go unaffected until 2019.

So the next two GCSE cohorts will have a mix of letters and numbers.

Why the change?

When the plans were first announced in 2013, under then education secretary Michael Gove’s reign, the government said it would more clearly differentiate between students of different abilities, especially among higher achieving students.

It is hoped the new system will create a gold standard qualification.

Though the Department for Education (DfE) said election restrictions meant they couldn’t comment when we asked them for more, they pointed us in the direction of a previous comment, which said: “The new GCSEs will provide more rigorous content and the new grading system provides greater stretch for the highest performers, by showing greater distinction between the top marks.

“Nothing has changed with regard to schools being held to account for the proportion of children achieving a strong pass and we are working with Ofqual‎ to support teachers as we implement the new system.”

So what do the grades mean?

Put simply, nines, eights and sevens will be broadly the same as current A*s and As.

The middle grades, sixes, fives and fours, will be in line with B and C grades.

Twos and ones will take in grades E, F and G.

Exams regulator Ofqual, which has largely driven the changes, has said that fewer nines will be handed out than A*s, so, in theory, it should make landing those top marks more challenging.

It has said a formula will be used, which will mean 20 per cent of all sevens and above will be awarded a grade nine.

On the whole, though, the body says, the same number of students that currently get Cs and above will secure a four and above, so exams overall should not be more difficult.

There is still a U (ungraded) mark.

And what about other factors?

The concerns over how students will achieve has been compounded by the lack of coursework.

These GCSE courses were the first to rely almost solely on exams at the end of the two years, rather than coursework during class time.

The so-called controlled assessments are known to have benefits for students, particularly those who do not cope well under exam pressure.

How has it been received?

With confusion.

Surveys have shown that many parents don’t fully understand the changes, which has sparked a publicity drive.

There was also initial confusion for schools over what would count as a current C grade, a pass.

The latest guidance is that there will be two: A standard pass will be a grade four, with a strong pass as grade five.

Education secretary Justine Greening has said that employers, universities and colleges should regard a C as a grade four.

Despite this, schools will be measured on the number of pupils who achieve a grade five or better in English and maths, and in the English Baccalaureate (a core five academic subjects: English, maths, history, geography, the sciences and a language).

Schools standards MP Nick Gibb said: “The new GCSEs are more rigorous so that young people can gain the knowledge and understanding they need to succeed in the future and compete in an increasingly global workplace.

“A new grading system was needed to distinguish between the old and the new reformed GCSEs. The new grading system also provides stretch for the highest performers by showing greater distinction between the top marks.”

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