Exclusive: Parents and employers will be 'confused' by new numerical GCSE grades, Ofqual chief admits

Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, has said that communicating the grading changes is a "big job" and will take some time

Eleanor Busby

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Some parents and businesses will be "confused" by the new numerical GCSE grades being awarded this summer, the head of England's exams watchdog has admitted.

Ofqual has begun a major campaign to raise awareness of the new 9-1 grading scale, which is being phased in from this year to replace A*-G at GCSE.

But in her first interview since becoming Ofqual's chief regulator, Sally Collier told Tes that educating the public was a "big" task. 

"I think there are more parents and businesses that need to know," she said. "Are they going to be confused? Probably. Is it a big job? Yes. Is it going to take time? Yes.”

She added that deserving children may not be accepted onto courses or apprenticeships if the new numerical GCSE grades are misunderstood by parents, colleges and businesses setting entrance requirements. 

“You want them to understand that they need to be flexible in setting their requirements so they don’t accept kids that will struggle, or vice versa they are not rejecting kids that actually were fine," Ms Collier said.

“I think the biggest risks are [if] those that are using the new 9 to 1s for entrance requirements – whether that be a college, apprenticeship, or a particular course where these qualifications are used as entrance hurdles – don’t understand them, or parents don’t fully understand what their children need to get to their next stage, then that’s the biggest risk.”

Earlier this month, Geoff Barton, the incoming general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). warned that teenagers could miss out on sixth-form places owing to uncertainty over new GCSE grades.

Ofqual has launched TV adverts and online content to provide greater clarification on the new grades– which will be used for the first time this summer in the new English, English literature and maths GCSEs.

The watchdog has also sent material to schools to help them explain the changes to parents and has targeted employers to reduce the risks, after their research revealed that more than two-thirds of students and parents did not understand the 9-1 grading scale.

It also found that that more than four-fifths (84 per cent) of human resources (HR) professionals and more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of small-business owners remained clueless about what a new grade 1 will be worth. 

Ms Collier added: “We need to focus on those who need to know. The world doesn’t need to know this summer.”

For the full interview with Sally Collier, pick up a copy of tomorrow's new-look Tes. The 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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