Plan for new 'E' grade to reduce exam failures

As England prepares to scrap letter grades at GCSE and introduce the new grade 9 for academic high-flyers, an influential group in Scotland wants to extend the country's grading scheme downwards, to increase the number of passes

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English schools are bracing themselves for the introduction of the new numerical grading system at GCSE. And the most motivated students are wondering if they can do enough to get the new grade 9.

But in Scotland changes could be made to the exam grading system that would allow weaker students, who would previously have failed, to walk away with a qualification, TESS can reveal.

The Scottish government’s assessment and national qualifications working group – which is chaired by education secretary John Swinney – is considering lowering the mark needed for a D grade, as well as introducing an E grade, at National 5 and Higher.

The E grade would allow pupils gaining a mark of as little as 35 per cent in the final exam to walk away with a qualification instead of a fail. Meanwhile, pupils could be able to gain a D with a mark of just 40 per cent, as opposed to the 45 per cent boundary in place currently.

The change would be aimed at tackling what secondary headteachers are describing as an “unintended consequence” of the government’s scrapping of unit assessments – a move that was meant to ease teacher workload and pressure on pupils. The assessments marked the completion of different modules. 

Stephen Miller, president of headteachers’ body School Leaders Scotland (SLS), said that “cusp pupils” who failed their exams were in danger of having nothing to show for their work, owing to Mr Swinney’s decision to axe the controversial assessments earlier this year.

'We want people to get qualifications'

Under the system of unit assessment, pupils who have failed the overall qualification are still issued with a certificate featuring a list of any units they have passed.

Ultimately, senior pupils now have less chance of achieving paper qualifications – a situation which runs counter to the government’s desire to close the attainment gap, said Mr Miller, who also sits on the assessment and national qualifications working group.

EIS teaching union president Larry Flanagan, who sits on the group, said that it was considering “extending the D grade to ensure that pupils don’t end up narrowly missing out”, as well as introducing an E grade.

“The working group is looking at making sure there’s enough margin of error, so you don’t end up with people not getting a qualification,” he said.

The Scottish government said that the cumulative impact of the unit assessments had contributed to “an over-assessment burden for both young people and teachers”, and their removal would “significantly reduce this burden”. The units would, however, remain available as standalone qualifications, as an alternative to full courses.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority confirmed that “the possible extension of the grade scale is currently being discussed” at the assessment and qualifications working group.

This is an edited version of an article in the 25 November edition of TESS. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTESS magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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