5 questions and concerns answered about new 9 to1 GCSE grading

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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