GCSEs in England have undergone sweeping changes as part of education reforms that began under the coalition government.
These changes are now being felt in schools and colleges across the country, with one of the biggest being a new grading system.
As teenagers prepare to receive their results, we explain the key change and what it means for students.
So, what is the new grading system?
– Traditional A* to G grades have been replaced with a 9 to 1 system, with 9 the highest mark.
– English and maths GCSEs – core subjects taken by all teenagers – were the first to move to the new system, with numerical grades awarded for these courses for the first time in 2017.
– Last summer, another 20 subjects had new grades awarded for the first time, including core academic courses such as the sciences, history, geography and modern foreign languages.
– This summer, new grades will be awarded for the first time in a further 25 subjects including business, design and technology, and many languages such as Chinese and Italian.
– This change is only happening in England.
Why was the grading system changed?
– The move is part of a wider reform of exams which has seen a complete overhaul of the content and structure of GCSEs.
– Schools and colleges have been teaching these new GCSEs for the last three to four years, and it is only now that grades are starting to be awarded.
– The new courses feature much less coursework than the old GCSE qualifications, and modular courses, which saw pupils sit papers throughout their studies, have been scrapped in favour of “linear” GCSEs in which pupils take all of their exams at the end of the two-year course.
– The new grading system is meant to clearly distinguish new courses from the old qualifications.
What does this mean for students?
– In general, a grade 7-9 is roughly equivalent to A-A* under the old system, while a grade 4 and above is roughly equivalent to a C and above.
– Fewer students will receive a grade 9 than would have received an A* under the old grading system. This is because part of the reason for introducing a new grading system was to allow more differentiation among the brightest students.
– Last year, 732 16-year-olds in England taking at least seven new GCSEs scored a clean sweep of grade 9s in all subjects.
– This year, most teenagers are likely to get numerical grades for all of their subjects, as almost all subjects have now moved over to the new grading system.
Isn’t this all confusing?
– There have been concerns raised in the past that the system may be confusing, for example to parents, or businesses presented with potential job candidates with different types of grades.
– Different bodies, including England’s exams regulator Ofqual, have been publishing materials about the change and working to publicise the reforms.
How have we got to this stage?
– Education reforms in England began in 2011, led by then-education secretary Michael Gove. A review of the national curriculum was announced first, with the overhaul of GCSEs starting in 2013.
– In 2014, Mr Gove said the new tougher GCSE courses “set higher expectations”, adding “they demand more from all students and specifically provide a further challenge to those aiming to achieve top grades”.