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GCSE results day 2019: What do the numerical grades mean and what are the old equivalents?

Here is everything you need to know

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 22 August 2019 15:27 BST
What is the new GCSE grading system?

Hundreds of thousands of teenagers are waiting to receive their GCSE results on Thursday after a long summer away from school.

Year 11 pupils in England will be given numerical grades in most subjects this summer.

Alphabetical grades for GCSEs are being replaced with the new grading system amid exam reforms.

What do the numerical grades mean?

The new GCSEs in England are being graded under a nine-point numerical system with 9 as the top grade and 1 at the bottom rather than the traditional eight-point alphabetical A* to G scale.

It is not easy to make comparisons between the two grading scales apart from at three points:

  • The bottom of a grade 7 is equivalent to bottom of a grade A
  • The bottom of a grade 4 is equivalent to bottom of a grade C
  • The bottom of a grade 1 is equivalent to bottom of a grade G

A grade 9 is the top grade and it will be harder to achieve than the old A*. Last year, 732 students in England achieved a clean sweep of grade 9s compared to thousands who used to get straight A*s.

The new grading scale is only being applied in England.

Will the numerical grades apply to all GCSEs this summer?

In 2017, 9 to 1 grades were used for the first time in maths, English language and English literature.

Last year, the numerical grades were used in another 20 reformed GCSE subjects, including core academic courses such as the sciences, modern foreign languages, history and geography.

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.

Next year, all students in England will receive numerical grades for their GCSEs, rather than a mix of letters and numbers, as all subjects will have moved over to the new grading system.

What grade is now seen as a ‘pass’?

Grade C under the old system used to be widely considered as a good GCSE pass. Schools and colleges used to look for five GCSEs at grade C or above in their entry requirements for courses.

Under the new grading system for the tougher GCSEs, the Department for Education (DfE) recognises grade 4 - similar to a grade C as a “standard pass” in all subjects.

Students who do not hold a grade 4 or above in English and/or maths must resit their exams.

But the DfE also sees a grade 5 the equivalent of a high C or low B as a “strong pass”. Schools are held to account on the percentage of students achieving at least a grade 5 in maths and English.

Why was the grading system changed?

The idea was introduced by Michael Gove, the former education secretary, to allow for more differentiation at the top end of scale to help universities and employers set apart the top achievers.

The numerical grades were also introduced to clearly distinguish the tougher reformed GCSEs from the old legacy GCSEs which had A* to G grades.

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The move is part of a wider reform of exams which has seen a complete overhaul of the content and structure of GCSEs.

The new courses feature 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 where pupils take their exams at the end of the two-year course.

Are the changes well understood?

There have been concerns raised in the past that employers, parents and universities will be confused by the numerical grades which will appear on CVs and Ucas applications.

Previous surveys found that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of employers wrongly believed that 1 was the top grade, compared with 64 per cent who correctly stated that 9 was the highest grade.

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