GCSE exams in England are changing

01 Aug 2017

Business Business School

What is happening?

GCSEs in England are changing. The most obvious change is the new grading system. Starting this summer with GCSEs English language, English literature and maths, students will receive numbers instead of letters as grades.

GCSEs will be graded 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest grade. There are more grades in the new system than the previous one (9 compared to 8) so it will allow employers to better differentiate between student attainment in each subject.

The four highest grades of A* to C are being replaced by six numerical grades from 9 to 4. Grade 9 will be awarded to the very highest achievers: fewer students will get a grade 9 than used to get an A*. Grades 4 and 5 are the equivalent of a C or low B.

By 2020 all students taking GCSEs in England will receive only numbered grades. But before then, students will receive both letters and numbers in different subjects.

Why has this been introduced?

The GCSE system was introduced in 1988, and while there have been changes and adaptations, there hasn’t been a major overhaul for a long time. In 2013, the government announced its intention to reform and redevelop GCSEs to match the best systems in the world and keep pace with university and employer demands. It said GCSE content should be more challenging, but still be suitable for all abilities.

When a new qualification is introduced it’s a good idea to differentiate it from the qualification it’s replacing. The new grading scale will make it easier for employers to see those who have studied new GCSEs.

With more grades at the top end of the scale (6 grades instead of 4), students are better able to demonstrate their achievements and employers should also be able to match candidates’ abilities to available jobs more easily. As an HR professional or employer, you’ll be better informed how a student has performed in all their subjects, ensuring they have the most appropriate training, support and challenge in their role.

In contrast to GCSEs, the existing AS and A level grading systems will remain as now.

What do you need to know?

From this summer, GCSEs will be graded 9 to 1 in English language, English literature and maths (schools have been teaching these since Sept 2015); all other GCSEs will be graded A* to G.

Over the next two years, most other subjects will move over to the numerical system and by 2020 everyone taking GCSEs in England will receive only numerical grades. Until then, students will receive a mixture of letters and numbers.

Broadly the same proportions of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as previously achieved grade C and above, other things being equal. This is also the same for grade 1 and above as previously achieved a grade G and above, and for grades 7 and A and above.

The subject content of new GCSEs is more challenging than before and assessed mainly by exams at the end of the course. The amount of coursework has diminished and reflects the balance and nature of the new subject content: in most subjects it has gone down, but in some it has stayed the same.

Note, however, that this is just in England. Wales and Northern Ireland are not introducing the new 9 to 1 grading scale as part of the changes to GCSEs in their jurisdictions. And Scotland will retain its existing systems.

What do you need to do?

Soon you’ll be receiving CVs with the new numbers and it’s important to understand how these correspond to the old system and how they differ.

All businesses need to be familiar with the new system regardless of whether yours is a small family firm or a multinational with access to HR professional expertise, and regardless of sector. If you take on students doing work experience, apprentices or those wanting summer jobs this year, you’ll need to know they will have new grades.

You may need to update your IT systems so that your recruitment forms can accept numbers as well as letters. You need to know that any candidate who gets a grade 4 or above has the equivalent of a current grade C or above. Candidates with 7s, 8s or 9s are the highest achievers.

Of course, there are many other factors to take into consideration when selecting candidates for employment, but the broader range of GCSE grades will help guide you to the best candidates for your roles.

How do you find out more?

9-1 postcard- https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/596393/Grading_new_GCSEs_from_2017_v4.pdf
Statement on England, Wales and Northern Ireland differences –  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gcse-and-a-level-differences-in-england-wales-and-northern-ireland