The biggest grading change in a generation explained

17th March 2017 at 00:00
This summer, staff and students will have to get to grips with the overhauled system of grade boundaries

Staff across the country are concerned about the accuracy and reliability of the grade boundaries for GCSE this summer, as a new numbering system for English language, English literature and maths is introduced. The new system will see GCSEs graded from 9 to 1 instead of A* to G, with 9 being the top grade.

Exams regulator Ofqual has consulted on proposals for how standards should be set, as well as the grading scale. So, how will this work in practice?

Grade standards will be an extremely important issue this summer and Ofqual has confirmed how grading will work when the new GCSEs are awarded, which will provide some certainty about what to expect. The approach in the first year will draw heavily on statistical evidence to create clear “anchor points” from the old system to the new. These should ensure that this year group of students is not disadvantaged or advantaged owing to the introduction of the new system.

Arguably, we need to caution against direct comparisons and overly simplistic descriptions of the new approach. For example, it is not right to simply say that a grade 4 equals a current grade C; the read-across is at the bottom of each grade, so that, broadly speaking, the same proportion of students will get grade 4 and above as currently get C and above – a subtle but important difference. Also, where grade 5 sits within the grading scale will place it above a current grade C and broadly in line with what the best available evidence has suggested to Ofqual is the average performance of 16-year-olds in high-performing countries.

Resits and funding reductions

Enrolling people in GCSE resits in English and maths will in future be a condition of funding. As such, all full-time students (who started their study programme from 2015 onwards) who have not achieved a C or better in these subjects, and who are not enrolled to study these subjects at college, will result in a reduction in funding for the institution in future years. The institution will lose the basic national funding rate per student for the relevant year.

The government intends to align the 16-19 maths and English funding condition for this year with the new GCSE good pass (grade 5). A phased approach will be taken. For students studying in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the funding will be based on the GCSE grade 4. Beyond this, Ofqual intends to revise the funding condition to reflect the new GCSE good pass.

So, there you have it. This summer will be revelatory to staff and students as the new numbered grade boundaries for English and maths play out. Beyond 2017, the aim will be to maintain the standards set in the first year of awarding. The same approach will be used: statistical evidence to help examiners make judgements on where to set grade boundaries. We wait with baited breath for the most significant change in grading since GCSE examinations were introduced in 1988.


Mark Chutter is an English and drama specialist who currently teaches at the Gryphon School, Sherborne

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