From September 2015 students will start sitting more challenging GCSEs which, along with a ‘more demanding’  curriculum and assessment system, will have different grading: from 9-1 rather than A*-G.

Students will start sitting the new GCSE courses in maths, English language and English literature from September 2015, with the first new grades awarded in 2017. This will be followed by geography, history, biology, physics and double science introduced in 2016 with first awards in 2018.

Therefore students who sit exams in 2017 and 2018 will effectively sit two different types of exams both called GCSE, with some results presented as letters and some results presented as numbers.

Ofqual has launched a consultation to gather feedback on the proposed grading measures. Here are some of the key points:

Grade C and Pass grade

The consultation proposes to ‘anchor the current grade C to the new grade 4’, so that broadly the same proportion of pupils that achieved grade C or above, will achieve grade 4 or above.

However, the ‘pass’ grade is proposed to be set slightly higher at 5, in response to the government’s aims to make GCSEs more challenging to be ‘in line with the performance of students from the higher performing countries’.

Ofqual suggests that Grade 5 could be set at the standard required to pass the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) or in other words about half to two-thirds above a current grade C.

High performing students

Currently there are only four ‘good’ grades (A*, A, B, C), but under the new system this would increase to six (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9), meaning that there is much more space for differentiation at the top end of the scale.

Furthermore, the consultation suggests that the same proportion of pupils currently achieving an A or above could then receive a 7 or above. Additionally (or alternatively) this could leave 9 as an ‘exceptional’ grade which should only be achieved by about half of pupils currently achieving an A* (effectively making 8 a 'lower A*' and 9 a 'higher A*).

Low performing students

Ofqual suggests that because only a very small number of pupils are awarded a grade G, the new grade 1 could be equal to both grade F and G, effectively combining the two. That would leave 2 approximately an E and 3 approximately a D, although details for that will be considered after the consultation.

National Reference Test

The consultation also suggests introducing a National Reference test. This test should ensure that any changes in the performance of the year group are reflected by the grades that year. If overall student performance in this reference test changes it may provide evidence to change the proportion achieving higher or lower GCSE grades that year (i.e. to see whether performance has genuinely improved or is due to grade inflation)

The test is to be piloted in 2016 and run annually from 2017. It will be sat shortly before the GCSEs every year by a representative sample of students in English and maths. The details are being discussed now and the contract for a test developer will be awarded later this year.

The closing date for the consultation is 30th June 2014, to respond please click here.

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