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Consultation on new GCSE grades

The exams regulator Ofqual has announced a consultation on a new grading system from 2017. It has already been decided that GCSEs will no longer be graded from A* to G but from 9 to 1 with 9 being the top mark. The consultation is about the details of the new system and how standards can be maintained without the system falling prey to grade inflation in the future. Ofqual proposes that the new grade 9 will be equivalent to the top half of the current A* grade. (Currently, 6.8 per cent are awarded A* grades). Ofqual also proposes the same proportion of candidates should get 7 or above as get A or above; and to anchor the current grade C to the new grade 4. This means that broadly the same proportion of candidates will achieve a grade 4 or above as currently achieve a grade C or above. The new grade 1 would be equivalent to grades F and G. 

Ofqual is also proposing to introduce a National Reference Test ready for 2017 to provide extra information about the performance of the year group which will help in determining the grades to be awarded each year. The details of the test to be piloted in 2016 are still to be developed.

The implications for wider school accountability are also becoming clearer. The Government has a policy aim that there must be an increase in demand at the level of what is widely considered to be a pass in order to bring England in line with high-performing countries. Ofqual is proposing that the grade 5 should be internationally benchmarked against the PISA tests which suggests that grade 5 will become an important school performance measure.

What are the implications for careers staff in schools? Explaining the new grading system to students, parents and employers will be a major task. Even more demanding will be the task of finding out how higher education institutions (HEIs) and employers are likely to change their entrance requirements. Traditionally, 5 A*-C grades has been a benchmark for employers recruiting school leavers at the end of compulsory schooling while HEIs have set a minimum GCSE requirement of 6-7 A*-C grades (excluding equivalencies). It seems likely that they will take advantage of more differentiation in the system to refine their entry requirements.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be in supporting young people as they get to grips with the new system. Raising the bar will make it even more important that students choose wisely at 14. The introduction of a new grading system is not the only change that young people face. As well as curriculum choices, more and more students now have the possibility of making institutional choices at 14 with the creation of University Technology Colleges, studio schools, 14-16 enrolment in FE colleges, etc. Students will also be affected by the new Progress 8 measure which will measure the performance of schools across eight subjects from 2016.  Schools are already changing their KS4 curriculum in anticipation of the introduction of the new Progress 8 measure. Y9 options will become even more of a ‘guided options’ process as schools seek to maximise their exam results. Lower achieving students are the ones who will be most at risk of becoming disaffected from these changes especially as GCSE specifications are being made more demanding. New GCSEs in maths, English language and English literature will be introduced for first teaching in 2015, with the qualifications awarded in August 2017. Further subjects are due to be introduced for first teaching in 2016. These are: geography; history; biology; physics; chemistry and double science. Awards will be made in 2018.

The Ofqual consultation, which runs until 30th June 2014, can be found here

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