A Parent’s Guide to the New GCSE 9-1 Grade Changes

I know this isn’t really anything to do with EYFS, but I’m talking about this because our ‘Tiny Sponges’ of today will probably be following this exam system in their future. As a parent and grand-parent myself, I feel it’s important to have a good understanding of the education system, so that we can best help them.

It seems a little crazy to me that the new grade changes for GCSE have been officially announced, just weeks away from some pupils sitting for their exams! The first of the new qualifications will be tested early this summer, when students will sit revamped exams in English literature, English language and mathematics. More of these new exams are to be phased in over the next two years.

Talking to friends with children sitting these new exams in the next couple of school years, it seems many parents are a bit confused by the new numerical GCSE grades (9 to 1) that are being awarded. Does it then follow that some employers and maybe even colleges may also be confused, leading to some students missing out on courses, apprenticeships, or even jobs? In a recent comment, Geoff Barton, the incoming general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), warned that some pupils might miss out on sixth form places due to uncertainty over new GCSE grades. Why is this? Why hasn’t more information/direction been forthcoming before the last few months – when it’s really necessary to help assist student’s futures? Are these children being used as ‘Guinea Pigs’ for a new untried, untested and unknown system? Who does that serve?

Thankfully, the qualification watchdog Ofqual has recently broadcast adverts on TV and online. A Facebook page, GCSE grades 9 to 1, went live in February 2017, aimed at students, parents and employers. Ofqual has also been informing and directing schools to help give more explanation to students and parents about the new grades. Its similar Linkedin site has also targeted potential employees. This is only after their research revealed that “more than two-thirds of students and parents did not understand the 9-1 grading scale.” And also that “more than 84% of human resources professionals” and “76% of small business owners” had very little understanding of the worth of the new grades. (TES, March 2017)

So – at last! On 28th March 2017 (two days ago), the Education Secretary Justine Greening sent a letter to the chairman on the Education Select Committee to clarify on the worth/equivalency of grades 9 to 1, against the old grading system of A* – G. If you want to see Justine Greening’s full explanation of the new system, here is a copy of the actual letter.

The main points of the letter are:

  • New reporting terms are introduced – with a grade 4 recognised as a “standard pass” and a grade 5 as a “strong pass”
  • Under the new system, a grade 4 and above will be equivalent to a C and above. This is – and will remain – the level that pupils must achieve in order not to be required to continue studying English and Maths post-16
  • Where employers, further education providers and universities currently accept a grade C, they will now be recognising a grade 4

This could, of course, be subject to change over time. At least it gives students, parents, teachers, employers, FE providers and universities a little bit of clarity. Even if it has been provided very late in the day.




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