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GCSE grades are changing: what you need to know

Reading Blue Coat School GCSE results
Students from Reading Blue Coat School receive their GCSE results last year

This morning, nervous teenagers from across Wokingham Borough will be anxiously collecting their GCSE result papers.

But this year, what is written on those papers will be very different to previous years.

The traditional A*-G grades in English and Maths will be replaced with numbers 9-1 (with 9 being the highest grade) for the first time, and by 2020 all subjects at GCSE will be graded this way.

The culmination of a six-year process of curriculum and qualifications reform, the new GCSEs aim to be more rigorous and focus on providing young people with real skills that will benefit them when they eventually enter the workplace.

The new grading system will not only distinguish between the old and new systems, but will also provide a greater distinction between the top marks.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: “This summer, pupils have taken exams in the new and reformed GCSEs in English and maths. This is the culmination of a six-year process of curriculum and qualifications reform, which has involved wide consultation with teachers, schools and universities.

“The new GCSEs are more rigorous so that young people can gain the knowledge and understanding they need to succeed in the future and compete in an increasingly global workplace.

“Pupils collecting their maths and English GCSE results in August will see them graded from 9 to 1, rather than A*-G.

“A new grading system was needed to distinguish between the old and the new reformed GCSEs. The new grading system also provides stretch for the highest performers by showing greater distinction between the top marks.”

Why are the GCSE grades changing?
The GCSE grading system in England has been revised in order to make the qualifications more demanding and to ensure students leave school better prepared for work or further study.

The new curriculum covers more challenging content and has been designed to match the strongest performing education systems in the world, ensuring students can compete on a global scale.

When is the system changing?
Students began to be taught under the new system in English language, English literature and maths in September 2015, and sat exams under the new system this summer.

The teaching of other new GCSE subjects was rolled out from September 2016, with the last due to start this September. Exams for these subjects under the new system will take place in 2018 and 2019.

By 2020, it is hoped that all GCSE subjects will be graded using the 9-1 principle, but until that time, GCSE exam results will consist of a combination of number and letter grades.

What does it all mean?
The new grading system features more grades at the higher end of the scale to recognise the very highest achievers. Grade 9 will be the highest grade achievable, and will be awarded to fewer students than the current A* grade.

In English and maths, where the current pass mark is a C, students will now strive to achieve a level 4, which the Department for Education deems to be a ‘standard pass’ and the minimum level required to pass in these subjects. Level 5 would be seen as a ‘strong pass’. If a student does not achieve a level 4 in English or maths, they will continue to study these subjects as part of their post-16 education.

Are the systems 
like-for-like?
No. The old and new GCSE grading systems to not directly compare, as there are more grades at the higher end of the scale, and fewer grades at the lower end.

But there are three points where the two systems align: the bottom of grade 7 is aligned with the bottom of grade A; the bottom of grade 4 is aligned with the bottom of grade C; and the bottom of grade 1 is aligned with the bottom of grade G.

For the purpose of comparison, a student who achieved a grade C or above under the old system would be expected to achieve a level 4 or above under the new system.

What does this mean for employers?
Employers, universities and colleges will continue to set the GCSE grades they require, but will be advised to adopt the new system. For example, if an employer requires a minimum of a grade C in English and maths, then they will now ask for a minimum level 4. A*-G grades will remain valid for future employment or study.

What about A and AS levels?
The grading for A and AS levels will remain the same, and students will continue to receive the traditional A-E grades at 
AS level or A*-E grades at A level.

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