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5 questions and concerns answered about new 9 to1 GCSE grading

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A levels and GCSEs

This week we’re addressing some of the common questions and concerns posted in response to our recent Facebook updates and blogs.

  1. ‘New GCSEs are very hard’

We have seen quite a few comments about new GCSEs being ‘too hard’, or similar, as pupils take mock exams. The new GCSEs do have more challenging content – set by the Department for Education – than previously, but they are designed to be as accessible to the same range of student abilities as before. The teachers we spoke to following last summer told us that they thought the new English and maths exams were challenging but fair. We know it will take time for teachers to become familiar with teaching the new qualifications and we don’t want pupils who sit these new qualifications for the first time to be unfairly disadvantaged. That’s why we are making sure that in the first year of awarding any new GCSE subject:

  • Broadly the same proportion of pupils will achieve a grade 7 and above as currently achieve a grade A and above
  • Broadly the same proportion of pupils will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above
  • Broadly the same proportion of pupils will achieve a grade 1 and above as currently achieve a grade G and above.

This was the outcome in English and maths last year.

  1. ‘Will new GCSEs introduced in 2017 be more difficult in 2018 because teachers are now more familiar with them?’

In short, no. We make sure that it is no more difficult to get a particular grade from one year to the next in any GCSE or A level. So, in general, a student who got a grade 7 in English or maths in 2017, could expect to get a grade 7 in 2018. And similarly, a student who would have expected to get a grade A in a previous version of any GCSE in which new exams are being taken for the first time this year, could expect to get a grade 7 or above. We also ensure a level playing field between exam boards offering the same qualification.

  1. ‘Will there be the same percentage of students getting a grade 4 and above in English and maths this year as last year?’

It depends on the composition of the cohort of students taking the GCSEs this year compared to last year. We do expect that the percentage achieving grade 4 and above for 16-year-olds will be similar to last year, but the percentage for the total entry might be different. That’s because the total entry in 2018 will include post-16 students, many of whom will be re-sitting, so the ability range of the overall cohorts will be different from the cohorts in 2017. Last year, most post-16 students sat the old, unreformed GCSEs.

  1. ‘There are too many grades’

We knew that changing the GCSE grade scale would be very significant, and we took the decision very seriously. We started from first principles and discussed the change with lots of stakeholders, including teachers and headteachers. We consulted publicly and there was support for more grades above the old grade C, to better differentiate between the individual achievements of students. That’s why we ended up with 9 grades, to increase the differentiation at the top end. There’s more information on our decision here.

  1. ‘Employers don’t know what these new grades mean’

We have conducted an extensive communications campaign to help pupils, parents and employers understand the reforms, including publishing and distributing letters and postcards, and our films have been viewed over 10 million times. We know that it will probably take several years for understanding to build, but already our own research shows that more than 75% of small and medium sized business owners are aware of the new 9 to 1 grading system, and more of them say they understand it than knew that the old system runs from A* to G. There’s always more we can do, and we will continue to work with the Department for Education, exam boards, schools and colleges, the business community and others to spread the word.

If you an employer reading this blog, or know an employer who wants more information, then more information can be found here.

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  1. Comment by Sonia Harwood posted on

    None of this is written with the experience of current teenagers going through the new GCSE'S. I am disgusted with the way my daughter has had so much pressure put on her. One teacher told her year they would have to study for 18 hours each day and sleep for 6 hours to achieve higher grades.
    The changes to the exams have been thrust upon students who have spent their school life learning towards the old GCSE'S. They have had to cram the changes into the last year or so and it is absolutely ridiculous. English Literature has become an exam based on how good your memory is, nothing to do with being able to analyze texts. The whole thing is a joke, but is far from funny as it impacts on my children's future.
    You can quote all your "research" till you are blue in the face but none of it matches up to real life experiences. I find it unlikely to be true that more small businesses understand the 1-9 grades better than G-A*. Ridiculous comment based on some made up idea. As parents of children going through it we still haven't got our heads round the grades!!!

    • Replies to Sonia Harwood>

      Comment by Deb posted on

      Well, if that is the advice from the school, I would seriously think about moving your child.

  2. Comment by S Bondsfield posted on

    No good moving them, I think a lot of schools are of the same opinion. My children's school is the same. Ms Harwood's comments on exams being all about good memory is spot on. My child has a list of words she needs to "remember" to incorporate into her English Lang exam which they have been told will add extra marks?! Her GCSE PE teacher admitted he didn't really understand the new GCSE exams himself!! There's no hope for the kids, being used as guinea-pigs if even the teachers are flummoxed by them. Good luck to all!

    • Replies to S Bondsfield>

      Comment by ET posted on

      A general reply to anyone who’s interested. I’m Head of Maths at a state funded (comp) academy. I have a team of 6 excellent maths teachers. We attended all the training on offer from the AQA board - we moved to them in 2017. We feel thoroughly prepared and confident to teach the new GCSE and our students feel prepared to take it. Resources from AQA have been excellent. Last year, my school achieved the best maths GCSE results ever.

    • Replies to S Bondsfield>

      Comment by Els Couenberg posted on

      Indeed, I have the same experience. Why in heaven's name does it make a difference whether you include words like 'hence' or 'therefore' or not? I do not believe for one moment including those words really shows that you understand it. Even worse, the spelling etc (SPAG) marks, are DEPENDENT on the general grades (at least with OCR, I haven't checked out the others into so much details). So, if you don't get top grades because you didn't put the 'necessary words' in to show your understanding, you don't get three SPAG marks, even though you may have spelled and written the whole 'essay' correctly. And they keep pushing and pushing and not giving any grades for composition when returning homework. They don't seem to realise that undermining self confidence in this way is making sure the students will underperform during the exams, due to pure stress!

  3. Comment by AS posted on

    The pressure on students who could have achieved excellent grades in the previous G.C.S.E's is so much greater as they battle just to complete courses, let alone revise thoroughly. They are not able to be as fully prepared as they would have been in the previous system. These exams have been rushed in with an agenda that hasn't put the students first!

  4. Comment by Linda posted on

    Their mental health is being affected , it is unfair on them as this new system just teaches them how to gain marks on a piece of paper without giving them a wider knowledge.

  5. Comment by Sian posted on

    The pressure on the current year 11’s is immense & so unfair. Having been taught one way from year 7, they’ve then had less than 2 yrs to prepare for the new style. I feel they are being set up to fail. It should have started with year 7’s so the system was fully in place when they get to yr 11 & all years above carried on with the old system. It’s not fair to use young people as guinea pigs. No wonder mental health is such a concern.

    • Replies to Sian>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi Sian, GCSEs are designed as two-year courses and specifications for the reformed subjects were all accredited and confirmed before they started to be taught. As it says in the above post, we know it will take time for teachers to become familiar with teaching the new qualifications and we don’t want pupils who sit these new qualifications for the first time to be unfairly disadvantaged. This is why we will make sure that broadly the same proportions of students who got an A and above will get a 7 and above, likewise for C and 4, and G and 1.

  6. Comment by Sharon Ward posted on

    I agree with Sian - the new GCSEs are based on the students having covered the new KS3 - but the students taking them at the moment haven't covered the new KS3 content, so not only are they having to cover much more content for the GCSE they are having to catch up with the KS3 content they missed earlier in their school career.
    The new KS3 should have been introduced first and then the new GCSE once that cohort of students reached KS4

  7. Comment by Linda P posted on

    I've watched my son work every waking minute to get through these new GCSEs with no idea how he's done. They were at a disadvantage from the start having been taught the old curriculum up until yr9. The content is much harder for the new GCSEs and my son's school were still trying to cram it in during holidays and Saturday mornings! I know of other schools who've chosen their options at yr8 and had 2 full years on this curriculum, which now leaves them yr11 for filling in gaps and revision, makes more sense, doesn't help our poor guinea pigs this year though.

  8. Comment by KW posted on

    Maybe someone can explain the new grading as I am absolutely flummoxed! My child has A D1 in health and social scare, then (in same subject) 28 m1, 41p2, 33d1 and 38p2. Other subjects include grading of 82d, 43 and 157c. how on earth do I work out what they are equivalent to please??!!

    • Replies to KW>

      Comment by Hannah Bradley posted on

      Hi KW, the best thing to do is to contact the school/college or the exam board in question, who will be able to answer your questions.

    • Replies to KW>

      Comment by Jon posted on

      The grading for BTecs is P1 - M1 - D1 - P2 - M2 - D2, where D2 is equivalent of an A grade or 7. She has a D1 overall, the other grades are marks and grades for individual sub-sections of the health and social care.

      • Replies to Jon>

        Comment by Karen posted on

        If a D2 is equalvant to a grade A / 7 can you tell me what P2 is please

  9. Comment by A Talbot posted on

    You have managed to devalue my daughter's fantastic efforts and A grades. In other years she would be happy with the A grade and A* but now you have managed to make those achievements feel less worthy when put against those that get a grade 9! And indeed even more sorry for those atvthe bottom end of the scale. Awful.

  10. Comment by AngryMum posted on

    I am dealing with a teenager in bits because she worked so hard revising for her exams and is considered to be bright an aim to achieve 7's. Given her target and expected grades plus all the effort amounted to a load of 5's which she thinks are C's because thats what she has been told all year around. Instead if this was last year I suspect they would be low B's but B's all the same. I am concerned for her mental health and her future as she has now lost all confidence and doesn't even want to go and do A Levels. If that's what they wanted from this system, then Congratulations to whoever created this new system - demoralised kids, lacking in confidence and suffering from mental health! The sooner they are out of education system the better - it doesn't even reflect how businesses need people to think and work.