Confusion over new GCSE grades

27 Apr

By Ian Toone, Voice’s Director of Policy and Research Services, for SecEd, 26 April 2017

Justine Greening’s letter to the Education Select Committee, attempting to clarify which of the new 9-1 GCSE grades constitutes a pass, seems to have triggered even more confusion and controversy.

If I’ve understood it correctly, a grade 4 is a standard pass, with which candidates should be content as, if achieved in English and maths, it means that they won’t need to re-take these post-16 and it should enable them to cross the threshold into further study or employment in the same way that the former C grade facilitated such transitions. 

However, for school accountability purposes, a grade 4 will not be good enough; instead, a grade 5 (a ‘strong pass’) will be needed, at least in EBacc subjects, to show that a school is meeting government expectations.

This denigrates the value of a grade 4.  Already, we are seeing some universities asking for grade 5, or even 6, for entry to some courses.  Many high achieving students are perfectionists and, whereas in the past they might have realistically expected to achieve a clean sweep of A* grades, under the new system it will be much more difficult to achieve straight 9s across the board. 

This will, undoubtedly, add more stress to what is already a very stressful period in the life of these teenagers, and it is quite conceivable that some students will experience mental health difficulties, which are already on the rise among pupils of all ages.

And how are those with grades 1-3 supposed to feel?  It must not be forgotten that these grades will still represent creditable awards for the large numbers of students who are below average ability in terms of their general academic skills. It is nonsense to think that everyone can be above average, so attainment needs to be appropriately differentiated. 

Unfortunately, by reducing the number of grades available to differentiate the attainment of lower performing candidates, the new system gives the impression that achievements at this level are less worthy. This does little to boost the self-esteem of those who are already likely to be more vulnerable and less confident.

One of the main reasons for the change in GCSE grading is to facilitate commensurability with international performance measures, such as PISA….    This is one reason why Northern Ireland is introducing a C* at GCSE.

However, in England, Ofqual have been working very hard over recent years to ensure that the standard C grade meets international comparability benchmarks….  so … why does it require further interference?…

Read the rest of the article on the SecEd blog…
Do let us know your views…


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4 Responses to “Confusion over new GCSE grades”

  1. Richard Fraser 16. May, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    Interview with Ian Toone on changes to GCSEs, BBC Radio Lincolnshire
    Item from 02:06, IT from 02:10:43

  2. Richard Fraser 23. Jun, 2017 at 8:53 am #

    Today DfE have launched a new GCSE webpage which provides information for students, parents, employers and those who work in education. It explains:
    • Why the GCSEs are changing
    • When they are changing
    • Why the grading scale is changing and how the new grades align with the A* to G scale
    • The difference between a ‘standard’ and a ‘strong’ pass
    • What this means for students, schools, parents, employers and others who work in education.

    You can access the new webpage here:

    The new webpage links to GCSE factsheets for parents and for employers, further and higher education providers:

  3. Richard Fraser 28. Jun, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    University entry confusion:

  4. Richard Fraser 27. Jul, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    Campaign to avoid GCSE grade confusion (BBC)

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