How will GCSE grades be awarded in the future?

As you know, from summer 2017 onwards, some GCSEs will be assessed on a scale of one to nine rather than A* to G. You’d be forgiven for thinking this change is purely cosmetic, with A* becoming 9, B becoming 8 and so on, but the reforms will be much more significant than this. Ofqual has just launched a consultation on the current proposals: these are summarised in this article.

You may recall from a previous post (On The Level # 2) that when we received a visit from Ofqual we were told that these reforms include a conscious effort to spread the awarding of grades more evenly, so there is less of a bulge at the top end (currently grades C to A*). As this table shows, relatively few students are awarded the lower grades, and there is bunching of candidates in the middle of the range:

GCSE 2013 grade spread

Under the new system the level of ability currently awarded a grade C will be awarded a level 4.  This means that those who “pass” their GCSE could be awarded one of six grades (4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9) rather than one of four grades (C, B, A, A*).  This will provide greater differentiation in the middle and top of the performance range.  However, grade 5 will probably be regarded as the new “pass” in order to bring English examination standards in line with the international PISA tests.  In other words, the bar will be raised.

Broadly speaking therefore, the new grades will compare to the old grades as follows:

  A* 8  
  A 7  
  B 5 PASS
PASS C 4  
  D 3  
  E 2  
  F,G 1  

As this table suggests, at the top end of the ability range grade 9 will be awarded to only about half the pupils achieving an A* under the current system (some 20,000 out of around 250,000 candidates in total). Meanwhile, at the lower end of the range a grade 1 will be broadly equivalent to both grades G & F.

So that examiners will have a reference point for differences in ability between year groups, a sample of pupils will also take a new the National Reference Test to monitor the performance of each cohort.

These changes will begin with maths, English language and English literature. Other subjects are expected to make the switch over the course of the three subsequent years, with history, geography and some sciences likely to be in the second wave.

If you would like to learn more about the proposals or even take part in the consultation, click here.

To see an earlier post on how schools will be held to account for the grades their students receive, click here.


What will League Tables look like in the future?

In 2014 and 2015, the DfE will continue to publish the information we see in the current performance tables, and the main measure will still be the five A*-C grades including English and Maths.  However, from 2016 onwards the headline figures will be significantly different:

  1. Progress across 8 subjects (to be known as Progress 8);
  2. Attainment across 8 subjects (to be known as Attainment 8);
  3. The percentage of pupils achieving a C grade or better in both GCSE or iGCSE English and Maths;
  4. The percentage of pupils gaining the English Baccalaureate.

Early indications are that this information will be reported in this sort of style [click on image to enlarge]:

league tables

So, how will these figures be arrived at?

The subjects in the Progress 8 and Attainment 8 figures must include the following GCSEs, iGCSE, AS-levels and other Level 3 qualifications:

  • English;
  • Maths;
  • The candidate’s best results in at least three of the other Ebacc subjects (Computer Science, Single Science, Double Science A, Double Science B, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, History, Ancient History, Geography, modern foreign languages and classical languages – for the full list, click here;
  • The candidate’s best results in up to three “open” subjects.  This includes all other full GCSEs, established iGCSEs, AS-levels and various  qualifications from the wider DfE Level 3 list.  This list covers courses in Art, Music, ICT, Hospitality, Sport, and more besides – click here to see it.

How will “Progress 8” and “Attainment 8” be calculated?

In 2016, 1 point will be awarded for a GCSE grade G, 2 for an F, and so on up to an 8 for an A*.  In this points system, Maths will be double-weighted, along with the best result of English Language and English Literature (provided a pupil has taken both these English qualifications – the second best score of English Literature and English Language can then be counted in the “open” subjects, assuming it is one of the pupil’s highest scores in this group).

Progress 8

Attainment 8 will be determined by dividing a pupil’s points total by 10, regardless of how many qualifications the pupil sits.  If a student receives fewer than eight qualifications, or sits qualifications which do not match the requirements outlined above, then they will score 0 points for each unfilled slot. Once calculated in this way, the score for their best 8 subjects can then be reported as an average grade , e.g. A*, B-, C+.

Progress 8 is more complicated as it looks at value added.  It will analyse a pupil’s average KS2 point score and use this to predict eventual KS4 results – e.g. 8 passes at grade C.  Pupils who exceed these predictions will receive a positive score.  The way in which this is all calculated will change year on year through to 2019, as other government reforms come into effect and as the data becomes more reliable.

For a fuller explanation of Progress 8, click here.

GCSE English & Maths: new subject content


If you have not already seen the guidelines for teaching GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature from September 2015, they are available here. The new subject content for GCSE Maths is available here, also for teaching from September 2015.