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How the top grades will be awarded in new GCSEs

Ofqual confirms how GCSE grades, including 8 and 9, will be awarded

Posted by Stephanie Broad | September 08, 2016 | People, policy, politics

The way students’ exam marks are graded is changing in 2017, from A* to G to 9 to 1 for English language, English literature and mathematics GCSEs. Other subjects will follow in the coming years. 

Ofqual has now confirmed the approach to awarding top grades, which will be the same for all GCSE subjects. A formula will be used that means that about 20% of all grades at 7 or above will be a grade 9. This is a slight change on the position previously announced which was that the top 20% of grades at 7 or above in each subject would be a grade 9. The new 9 to 1 grading will more accurately reflect the differentiation of students’ abilities and achievements in each subject compared to the previous A* to G scale. 

The grade 8 boundary will be equally spaced between grade 7 and 9 boundaries. To carry forward the current standard, the number of grades 7, 8 and 9 for a subject will be based on the proportion of the cohort who would have been expected to be awarded an A or A* had the qualification not been reformed. 

Sally Collier, Chief Regulator, said: “The aim of the new formula for awarding grade 9 is to be as fair as possible. The proportion of students achieving A* varies from subject to subject, and it will be the same with the new grade 9. Those who rely on GCSEs will know that those students achieving the top grade have performed exceptionally.” 

Sue Hincks, GSA Education Committee chair and head of Bolton School Girls' Division, said it was excellent news for students. 

"Ofqual have listened and responded to teaching professionals, making sure that the distribution of top GCSE grades will vary from subject to subject according to the ability of the cohort,” she said. “The most able students in our schools often stretch themselves by taking more challenging subjects and it is good to know that they will still have access to their fair share of grades 8 and 9."  

Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: “We welcome the announcement today on awarding the top grades for new GCSEs. The modified approach seems the most sensible and equitable way to award those grades.

“It is disappointing that changes to the awarding of these grades in English and Maths in 2017 are being made now, when the courses have already begun. We recognise that this will align these courses with others, but any in-year changes are disruptive for both pupils and teachers. 

“We welcome the fact that Ofqual has listened to our concerns around grade standards and will appraise the approach taken to awarding annually. In our consultation response we agreed that the grade standard established in the first award should inform the standard for subsequent years, but not set a definitive and absolute measure. We are pleased Ofqual has listened to school leaders to recognise this need for flexibility.”

Dr William Richardson, HMC General Secretary, said that fair grading for pupils had been a complex problem. 

“This solution is a good example of well-focused research and listening to school-based experts,” he said.  

“It should mean that pupils can confidently expect the new grading to be as fair as the previous system across all subjects when it comes to awarding top marks.  

“However, we would remind universities and employers that the boundary for grade 9 will be set above the old A* grade. As such, we hope that universities and employers will take this into account and avoid unnecessary additional pressure being placed on students as a result of the new structure.”

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