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:

    9  
  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.