New grading structure for reformed GCSEs - how does it work?

by Frances Wilson, 21 August 2016
Frances MFL seated embedded - imageThe reformed GCSEs will use a new grading structure, using grades from 9 (the highest) to 1 (the lowest). There isn’t a one-to-one mapping between the new numeric grades, and the current A*–G grades, but the two systems will be aligned at key grades: 

• Grade 1 (lowest grade) will be aligned to the bottom of the current grade G, so that approximately the same number of students who currently get grade G or better will get a grade 1 or better. 

• The bottom of grade 4 will be aligned to the bottom of grade C, so just as with the grade 1 and grade G, approximately the same number of students who currently get a grade C or above will get a grade 4 or above. 

• The bottom of grade 7 is aligned to the bottom of grade A. 

• The top grade 9 will be awarded using a different method. 20% of students who achieve a mark at grade 7 or above will be awarded the grade 9. The bottom of grade 8 will be set midway between the grade 7 and grade 9 boundaries. 

This new structure means that there are fewer grades for the lower ability ranges: grades 1,2, and 3, compared to grades G, F, E and D. For the mid to high ability range, the new grading structure has more grades available, so that it will be possible to differentiate better between students: grades 4–9 (six grades), compared to C–A* (four grades). 

A ‘good pass’ 
The new grade 5, which is roughly the top of the current grade C and the bottom of the current grade B, will be considered to be a ‘good pass’, so students will need to demonstrate a higher level of attainment to achieve a ‘good pass’ than they do at present to achieve a pass (grade C). The standard of grade 5 is similar to the expected standard for similar qualifications taken in high performing countries, such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland. 

Tiering in the new GCSEs 
GCSEs in mathematics, the sciences and modern foreign languages will continue to be tiered. The foundation tier will target grades 5–1, so that students entered for the foundation tier still have the possibility of achieving a ‘good pass’. The higher tier will target grades 9–4, so grades 4 and 5 will be available on both tiers. 

Does this apply to all reformed GCSEs? 
Although we are still waiting for final confirmation for GCSE subjects first taught from 2016 onwards (all subjects apart from GCSEs in maths, English language, English literature), we expect this structure to apply to all reformed GCSEs. More information about the New GCSE Grading Structure and other information on the current reforms to qualifications in England can be viewed on Ofqual's website

Dr Frances Wilson 
Principal Researcher, OCR

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