Ofqual is adopting a "fairer" system for awarding the top grades for the new GCSEs after concerns were raised in a consultation.
Originally the exam regulator planned to only award 20 per cent of grades 7 or above the new grade 9 in each subject, which did not take into account the variation in candidates' ability between different subjects.
But a consultation found that under the proposed system some subjects would have had many fewer grade 9s than they used to have A*s , while other subjects would have had many more grade 9s than the A*s they currently get.
Following concerns, Ofqual has announced a modified approach that will ensure the top 20 per cent of all grades at 7 or above, across all subjects, will be awarded a grade 9.
'New formula will be as fair as possible'
Sally Collier, chief regulator of Ofqual, said: "The aim of the new formula for awarding grade 9 is to be as fair as possible. The proportion of students achieving A* varies from subject to subject, and it will be the same with the new grade 9. Those who rely on GCSEs will know that those students achieving the top grade have performed exceptionally."
The announcement has been welcomed across the education sector. Suzanne O’Farrell, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Ofqual has changed its mind on how to allocate the top grades and we support that decision.
"The original suggestion would have meant it was more difficult to achieve the top Grade 9 in some subjects than in other subjects. The new approach addresses this issue and ensures greater fairness and consistency."
Sensible and equitable
Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, added: “The modified approach seems the most sensible and equitable way to award those grades. We welcome the fact that Ofqual has listened to our concerns around grade standards and will appraise the approach taken to awarding annually."
Julie Swan, executive director for general qualifications of Ofqual, said: "We know that relatively more A*s are now awarded in some subjects than others. If we had applied our original approach, some subjects would have had many more grade 9s than they currently have A*s and some would have had many fewer. This would have been particularly harsh on some subjects.
"The approach we are announcing today will allow for the natural variations that we currently see across subjects to continue, while providing clarity about the value of a grade 9."