You may be aware that the government has recently announced significant changes to the exam system and accountability tables.
Examinations and Grading
Frequently Asked Questions for Parents/Carers
- I have heard 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 will be the first to be graded from 9 to 1 in 2017. Another 20 subjects will have 9 to 1 grading in 2018, with most others following in 2019. During this transition, pupils will receive a mixture of letter and number grades.
- 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 pupils can be more accurately recognised in terms of their outcomes. The revised scale will also enable employers and others to easily identify which pupils 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 pupils 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 above.
- Broadly the same proportion of pupils will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above.
- Broadly the same proportion of pupils will achieve a grade 1 and above as currently achieve a grade G and above.
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.
- As the top grade is grade 9, will there by similar numbers of 9s awarded to A*s currently?
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 pupils will get a grade 9 than previously got an A*.
- I want my child to aim for the equivalent of a grade C across all subjects, but I am confused as to whether they should be aiming for a 4 or a 5.
Because the same proportion of candidates will get a 4 and above as currently get a C and above, aiming for 4 and above is equivalent to aiming for C and above. This 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.
- I have heard 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.
- How will employers be informed and educated on the differences between the new and old grades and qualifications?
The DfE is working with the independent regulator Ofqual, exam boards and partner organisations such as the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), using a variety of products and channels including social media, to ensure that all stakeholders can get access to the information they need. 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.
- Will employers and colleges be asking for a 4 or a 5 as part of their entry criteria?
Employers, colleges and universities will continue to decide the level of GCSE grades needed to meet their individual employment or study requirements. The DfE is encouraging employers, colleges and universities 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. Employers and colleges will also need to recruit the same number of pupils as previously, so are likely to set their criteria in terms of the equivalence of C and above and 4 and above.
- Will A levels be changing their grades too?
No. A levels will retain their A* – E grades and AS qualifications their A – E grades.
For several years staff, pupils, parents/carers, employers and the media have understood how well a school or pupil performs through the 5 GCSE A* – C grade (including English and Maths) indicator. The government have introduced new indicators which measure both progress and attainment. These indicators will include measures called ‘Attainment 8’ and ‘Progress 8’ and will feature in the 2017 league tables. However, the 5 A* – C including English and Mathematics will still be a very good indicator of the school’s success.
Progress 8 is a value-added measure based on a measured score for each child when they enter secondary school. It indicates progress across a suite of 8 subjects promoting a broad and balanced curriculum. The measure will be based on pupils’ performance in English, Mathematics, Sciences (including Computer Science), Humanities (History or Geography) and an ‘open group’ and will show whether pupils have performed better than expected at the end of Key Stage 4, considering their starting point from Key Stage 2.
In the diagram below you will notice that English and Mathematics grades are double counted as these are seen as critical subjects. The ‘facilitating subjects’ are those which are classed as traditional academic subjects, which many top universities regard as important entry qualifications. All remaining subjects fall into the ‘open group’.
The school’s Progress 8 score is calculated as a mean average of the pupils’ Progress 8 score in a given year group. A school Progress 8 score of 0.0 indicates the pupils in a given year group have made expected progress.
Please note that the school’s ‘Progress 8’ figure can be affected if a pupil does not choose 3 subjects from the ‘facilitating subjects’ group. However, the score can still be positive if pupils exceed challenging targets.