Education Secretary Michael Gove reveals radical rethink on grades in new GCSE revolution

'We have set the bar too low': Education Secretary set to make it harder to gain top-grade pass - replacing the ABC system with a one, two, three or four

Education Editor

Pupils will find it harder to gain a top grade GCSE pass under a radical change to the traditional ABC grading system being planned by Education Secretary Michael Gove today.

He is planning to scrap the present grading system entirely and replace A* and A grade passes with a one, two, three or four pass.

The new numerical system will make it easier for universities to differentiate between candidates - thus allowing the more selective universities to award provisional places to the brightest candidates for their most popular courses such as law and medicine.

Mr Gove told MPs of the proposal when he addressed members of the Commons select committee on education today, telling: "We have set the bar too low.  We have had a low level of expectations in the past.

"We will change how the exams are graded."

He said it could well be the case that the "band of achievement that is currently A* and A" was replaced by a new one, two, three or four pass. The new-style GCSEs will start to be taught in schools in September 2015.

Mr Gove was accused by Labour MP David Ward of being "quite insulting to thousands and thousands of teachers in many successful schools" by claiming they had low expectations.

Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the committee, also argued that Mr Gove could be "deliberately" paving the way for "grade deflation" in the exam system through the changes.

He said that the pass rate could also go down in the first year of pupils sitting the new exam (2017) - "because schools don't know how to work the system".

Students who previously were awarded an A grade pass could be awarded a four  under the new system (a one or two would be roughly equivalent to an A* while three or four would equate to an A grade). Academics argue a four would not be seen by employers and universities as a top grade pass.  Numbers are likely to replace grades throughout the system so instead of A* to G grade passes students would be awarded one to 10 passes.

However, Mr Gove replied that that the current exam system meant teachers were spending "too much time on exam technique and not enough on content".

He said it was not his aim to reduce the number of pupils awarded top grade passes but he acknowledged that the new system would make it easier to differentiate between pupils.  He admitted also that the pass rate might well go down in the first year of the new system's introduction.

His comments follow research by the Department for Education showing that GCSE results are a marginally better indicator of a student's degree prospects than the AS level - currently taken at the end of the first year of the sixth-form and worth half an A-level.

As part of his exam reforms, Mr Gove plans to uncouple it from A-levels so that universities would not be able to use it to determine who should be awarded places.

In a letter to Labour's schools spokesman Kevin Brennan, Schools Minister David Laws said: "The analysis (by the DfE) showed that knowing GCSE results alone allows a university to correctly predict whether a student will receive a 2:1 in 69.5 per cent of cases.

"This means that GCSE results are a slightly better predictor than AS results alone, which correctly predict the outcome in 69.5 per cent of cases."

He added: "Knowing AS levels as well as GCSEs does not add, significantly, to an admission officer's ability to predict outcomes.

"Once you know a student's exam results in one set of these exams, you learn little by knowing the results in the other sets of exams."

During his grilling by MPs, Mr Gove also defended his decision to criticise a website which suggested pupils could learn about the Third Reich by creating Mr Men characters based on leading Nazis such as Adolf Hitler.

He admitted he had done the research for his claim himself and added: "The striking thing about it is that while there have been some people who've been offended or who've disagreed with the thrust of the argument, no-one has disputed that it's a popular resource, no-one's disputed that it was material aimed at 15 to 16-year-olds sand opinion divides on whether or not it's appropriate."

Russell Tarr, the teacher who proposed the idea, said it had been given to IGCSE students to teach to primary school pupils to help them understand about the Nazis.

The history of grading

1951: O-levels first introduced with no grades - just a pass or fail.

1963: Some boards introduced a 1 to 6 pass system while others adopted an A to E grade system

1965: GCSE’s offered as a lower tier qualification to O-level as a vocational alternative and adopts a 1 to 5 pass system.

1975: All boards offering O-levels move to A to E grade system

1988: GCSEs (combining O-levels and CSE’s) introduced offering A to G grade passes (A to C were deemed to be the equivalent of an old O-level pass).

1994: A* grade introduced for the first time.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Royal College of Music: Assistant to the Deputy Director & the Director of Research

£24,451 - £27,061 per annum: Royal College of Music: The Royal College of Musi...

Guru Careers: Marketing Analyst / Optimisation Analyst

£35 - £45k DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Optimisation Analyst is...

Recruitment Genius: Health & Social Care Assessor

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the ongoing success of t...

Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future