SCHOOLS IN England are about to experience an exams revolution. Reforms to GCSEs from 2015 will mark the start of the biggest change to secondary assessment in the country since the qualifications were first introduced more than a quarter of a century ago.
England’s GCSEs will have a new grading system, 9-1 instead of A*-G, presenting much tougher hurdles than currently exist. And big changes will be made to the structure of GCSEs, with less coursework and a reduction in the use of tiered papers for students of different abilities. The content will also be tougher than that of existing GCSE's.
Will grade 1 be the highest?
No. That was the original plan, but the highest grade will now be grade 9. The behind-the-scenes rationale is that this would allow more grades to be added if further differentiation between top-performing candidates were ever needed. It also avoids the confusion of lower-numbered grades being worth a higher number of points under the new secondary school accountability system.
How will the new range compare with A*-G grades?
The new grade 4 will be equivalent to an existing grade C (see graph below). That means six grades will be set at that level or above, compared with the existing four. Exams regulator Ofqual has suggested that a grade 7 could be awarded to the same proportion of students achieving an A in the final year of the old GCSEs. It has also proposed that grade 9 should be for “really exceptional” performances and awarded to just half the proportion of candidates who would currently achieve an A*.
Will 4 be the new pass grade, as grade C is now?
No. The suggestion is that grade 5 will be the new “pass grade”, and that the standard will be internationally benchmarked so it corresponds to “performance in high-performing countries”. But the whole idea of a single all-important pass grade is likely to diminish under a points-based accountability system that gives schools some credit for all grades they achieve, rather than just getting over the C threshold. In the end, it may be employers and FE and HE institutions who decide what really counts as an acceptable pass.
How will the content change?
The Department for Education says it will be “more stretching”. Science GCSEs will include “cutting-edge” topics such as the human genome and ecology in biology, nanoparticles in chemistry, and increased content on energy and space in physics. There will be more “mathematical challenge” across the board. In reformed modern foreign languages, most exam questions will be asked in the language being studied. History will cover “a wider range of historical periods” across three eras: medieval (500-1500), early modern (1450-1750) and modern (1700 to the present day). For details, go tobit.ly/GCSEsubjectContent