Less than a third of businesses understand next month's new numerical GCSE grades

And more than four-fifths of employers think careers advice in schools is not good enough

Eleanor Busby

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More than a third of businesses do not know that a new numerical grading system for GCSEs in English and maths is being used from next month, a new survey suggests.

And as well as the 35 per cent who are "wholly unaware" of the major exam reform, another 29 per cent say they are aware of the new 9-1 grading scale – which will gradually replace A*-G – but do not understand it.

A further 8 per cent of businesses are aware of the new grading but do not realise it is starting this year, according to a report by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and Pearson.  

Only 28 per cent of employers surveyed say that they understand the numerical grades, even though young people will be awarded them this summer.

And among those businesses that believe they do have some knowledge of the system, nearly one in five (19 per cent) think that grade 1 is the top grade, rather than the lowest.

The report calls for urgent government action to raise levels of awareness and understanding among businesses about the system – which is being phased in over the next three years.

Rod Bristow, Pearson’s president, UK and Core Markets, said:  “Awareness and understanding across British business about the new 9-1 grading system is growing with one in four businesses understanding the changes. This is an improvement on surveys of employers from earlier this year but there remains more work to do.”

Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, warned earlier this year that many businesses and parents would be “confused” by the changes to grading.

Research published by the exams regulator in January found that more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of small-business owners did not know what a new grade 1 would be worth.

A number of other concerns about schools were highlighted in the report. It found that:

  • 84 per cent of businesses do not feel the quality of careers advice and guidance young people receive in schools is good enough.
  • Firms believe there is a lack of awareness among young people of the education routes they need to take to enter particular careers (50 per cent) and careers advice being poorly aligned to the sectors (49 per cent). 
  • 34 per cent of businesses are currently satisfied with the foreign language skills of school leavers entering the jobs market - and levels of satisfaction are on a declining trend.

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general at the CBI, said: “There is genuine alarm about the quality and consistency of careers advice available in many schools.

“Companies aren’t asking teachers to do more – schools need support to do this, from the long-awaited Careers Strategy, the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC) and businesses rolling up their sleeves and helping.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The new GCSE grading system is an important part of our drive to raise education standards so every child is taught the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life‎. 

"Originally announced in 2013, we have been working with Ofqual to issue a wide range of resources since 2014 to help raise awareness of the new grading system with schools, teachers and parents. We have also been working directly with the CBI to communicate with employers. 

"While almost two thirds of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system, we must ensure that engagement continues with businesses about the new gold-standard qualifications.

"Every school and college have recently been sent a pack with information for teachers, pupils, parents, and employers. We have also launched a public campaign dedicated website to answer questions people may have.”

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Eleanor Busby

Eleanor Busby is a reporter at TES 

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