GCSEs: Head’s fear over pressure a grade 10 could cause

Further grades at GCSE could damage pupils’ mental health, says leading private school headteacher

Catherine Lough

grade inflation

A leading headteacher has expressed concerns over possible plans to increase the number of grades at GCSE – to include a top mark of 10 – as part of a reset following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sally-Anne Huang, high master of St Paul’s School in London and chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), a body representing elite private schools in the UK, told Tes that an increase in the number of grades at GCSE could put pupils under extra pressure or damage their mental health.


Analysis: How will we return to 2019 GCSE grades?

Exclusive: GCSEs 2021 ‘Weimar’ grade inflation warning

In full: GCSEs and A levels 2021 – Ofqual and DfE proposals


It has been reported that ministers are considering a possible switch to numerical grades at A level, while higher grades than the current top grade of 9 could be introduced at GCSE, as part of a reset following grade inflation caused by the pandemic.

Ofqual has insisted that it has no plans to change the grading system for either GCSE or A level.

But Ms Huang told Tes that if more grades were introduced at GCSE, it could put pupils under pressure.

She said that the reason the top grade at GCSE was a 9 as opposed to a 1 was to allow for the possibility of a grade 10 in future. 

“I don’t think that would surprise anybody. I do worry, though, that the 1 to 9 isn’t sufficiently embedded at GCSE, especially with the pandemic, to really know what that looks like and what impact that’s had.

"And I think the granular quality of all those numbers can put more pressure on children in terms of their mental health, because there are so many different bands to get into and are you going to lose sleep over whether you’re a 6 or a 7 or a 9 or a 10.

“I’m not sure that that many layers is good for pupils. And there are always those high stakes, like do you get your 4, do you get your 7? It might just create more of those – and that would worry me.”

Ms Huang also added that she “would slightly question the idea of [grade] inflation”.

“I think what we’ve had are two cohorts who have just not had the same experience as the cohorts before, so you can’t compare those grades, and I hope that employers and universities in the future will know that you can’t compare those grades,” she said.

An Ofqual spokesperson said: “We have no plans to change the GCSE or A-level grading system.”

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

Latest stories

Spinning plates - challegens ahead for new education secretary

The key issues Nadhim Zahawi must focus on - and fast

Any new education secretary faces a big job but Nadhim Zahawi has perhaps a bigger to-do list than most. Sam Freedman breaks down the challenges he faces and what it might mean for those in education
Sam Freedman 17 Sep 2021