Information about the exam system from 2017

Information for students, parents and carers about the exam system from 2017

GCSEs are changing, what does this mean?

GCSEs will be graded on a new scale of 9 to 1, with 9 the highest grade, rather than A* to G as now, to distinguish clearly between the reformed and unreformed qualifications.
The government and Department for Education (DfE) have specified that the new GCSE syllabuses will include more challenging and knowledge-based content with exams only at the end of the course. There is less non-exam assessment too. English language, English literature and maths were the first to be graded from 9 to 1 in 2017. Another 20 subjects will move 9 to 1 grading in 2018, with most others following in 2019. During this transition, students will receive a mixture of letter and number grades.

What will happen to the grades this summer?

Although the exams will have to cover a wider, more challenging range of content, the independent exam regulator Ofqual has made it clear that students sitting these examinations for the first time will not be disadvantaged. Whilst students may come out of the exams feeling that they have done less well, Ofqual has said that broadly, the same proportion of students who currently achieve a C and above will achieve a grade 4 and above in the new GCSEs. The exam boards will base standards on results of 16 year olds who took previous GCSE qualifications, so that it does not disadvantage this year’s Year 11 students.

Why has this new grading system been introduced?

The introduction of the 9-1 system increases the number of higher grades than the previous A*- G system. By using 9-1, there are now six different grades from 4 to 9 rather than four in the old system (A*, A, B, C), which means individual students can be more accurately recognised in terms of their outcomes. The revised scale will also enable employers and others to easily identify which students have taken the new, more challenging GCSEs.

How does the new grading system match the old one?

The new grade scale will not be directly equivalent to the existing one. However, to be fair to the students and to give meaning to the new grades, Ofqual has decided that there will be some comparable points between the old grades, and the approach used to awarding will ensure that, in the first year of a new qualification, broadly the same proportion of pupils will achieve a grade 7 and above as currently achieve a grade A and similarly for grade 4 and grade 1 (C & G). It is important to realise that the new GCSEs have more grades. While it is true to say that the same proportion of candidates will get a 4 and above as currently get a C and above, it is not true to say a grade 4 is directly equivalent to a grade C. This is because of the expanded number of grades above a 4. So, a grade 4 represents the bottom two thirds of a grade C, while a grade 5 is the equivalent of the top third of grade C and the bottom third of grade B.

Will there be similar numbers of 9s awarded to A*s currently?

No. There is more differentiation in the reformed qualifications, as there are three top grades (7, 8 and 9), compared to two in the unreformed qualifications (A and A*), so you would expect that fewer students will get a grade 9 than previously got an A*.

Is a Grade equivalent C and will employers and colleges accept it?

Grade 4 is, and will remain the level that pupils must achieve in order not to be required to continue studying English and maths post-16. The government has defined a grade 4 as a ‘standard’ pass. Where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C, the government expects them to continue recognising a grade 4. This includes ensuring that employers understand that the new GCSEs are more demanding, and that a new grade 4 represents a similar level of achievement to a current low to medium grade C – the threshold for a level 2 qualification. Employers, colleges and universities will continue to decide the level of GCSE grades needed to meet their individual employment or study requirements and it is likely that A level (or equivalent) courses will expect 5s in either English and/or Maths and the subject the student is wanting to study at A level (so History Grade 5 to study History at A level). The DfE is encouraging employers, colleges and to have realistic expectations of pupils in the first cohorts to sit the new, tougher GCSEs when setting their entry requirements for work or further study. However, places on specific courses at particular institutions are limited and, in a competitive situation, the best results will put you in the best position to be guaranteed a place on the course and at the post 16 institution of your choice.

There will be a ‘standard’ pass and a ‘strong pass’, what does this mean?

The government will publish schools’ results not just at the ‘standard pass’ (grade 4 and above), but also at the ‘strong pass’ (at grade 5 and above) in school performance tables only. The number of pupils achieving a ‘strong pass’ will be one of the measures by which schools are judged.

If we want an exam paper remarked, what should we do?

The system has changed from 2017; students must complete and sign a form available from school for a paper to be remarked as the remark could now result in a downgrading of a final grade and therefore, could have significant consequences for a student. Any remarks, then, must be considered very carefully. As these are new exam papers, many schools will want to recall completed exam papers so that they can see how they have been marked to help in future years. Again, students must complete a form to agree to their exam papers being used by the school in this way. If your child’s exam paper was used by teachers as exemplars for marking and moderation, they would be anonymised so your child was not identified.

The information in this document is based on ASCL Information paper March 2017