Exclusive: Major exam board predicts 'hundreds' will get straight grade 9s in new GCSEs

Findings contradict comments by a top Department for Education adviser who suggested only two students would get a clean sweep of top grades

Eleanor Busby

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One of England's major exam boards has predicted that "hundreds" of pupils will gain all grade 9s in the reformed GCSEs – contradicting a senior government advisor, who put the number at just two.

Tim Leunig, the Department for Education’s chief analyst and chief scientific adviser shocked teachers when he said only two students would get straight 9s, just weeks before the start of exams.

Thousands of candidates currently achieve straight A*s in their GCSEs, but under the new 9 to 1 grading scale, which is coming into effect this summer, the new top grade will be harder to get than an A*. 

But Tom Benton, a Cambridge Assessment researcher, thinks that hundreds of pupils will still gain all grade 9s once all the subjects have moved to the new numerical scale.

Mr Benton said: “In the long-term, when everything has gone over to the new scale, I would expect hundreds of people to get straight grade 9s.”

Exams regulator Ofqual has said that, across all subjects, about 20 per cent of all grades at 7 or above – the equivalent of a current A and above – will be awarded a grade 9.

For each individual subject, Mr Benton predicts that there will be “thousands” of grade 9s. “If you do well in maths, then you are more likely to do well in the other subjects,” he added.

“If you get a grade 9 in one, then you are more likely to get it in the others. When you take that all in, then you get a number a lot higher than two.”

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “We’re aware of recent comments and discussion around the number of learners who might, in the future, receive grade 9 results in all of their GCSE exams.

"We have not done any modelling regarding these numbers and make no prediction of figures like these in advance of a future awarding process.

"Neither did we previously make these kinds of calculations for the number of A* awards at GCSE.”

This is an edited article from the 7 April edition of  Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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