Exam grades no longer as easy as ABC

The Jewish Chronicle - - JC SPECIAL - BY OS­CAR MARVIN

SAY GOOD­BYE to the A* and hello to the 9— the big re­form of the GCSE is un­der way. It is not just the grad­ing sys­tem that will be dif­fer­ent, with num­bers in­stead of let­ters. The cur­ricu­lum it­self is chang­ing and, ac­cord­ing to the govern­ment, be­com­ing “more de­mand­ing”.

Bramp­ton Col­lege, in north west Lon­don, has plans in place to en­sure its stu­dents are ready for sum­mer 2017, when they will sit the new GCSEs in English lan­guage, English lit­er­a­ture and math­e­mat­ics.

“Th­ese will be lin­ear, rather than mod­u­lar,” ex­plains Joy Ma­son, the col­lege’s vice-prin­ci­pal, “which means our stu­dents will sit all their ex­am­i­na­tions in one sit­ting rather than tak­ing mod­ules through­out the course. The other sub­jects will fol­low in con­sec­u­tive years. Th­ese ex­am­i­na­tions will be longer and broader, with a greater em­pha­sis on learn­ing key facts. Our em­pha­sis on reg­u­larly re­view­ing work and do­ing reg­u­lar in­ter­nal tests will help our stu­dents be ready.”

In some cases schools will have to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion about whether to sit the new ex­ams or con­tinue with IGCSEs (the sep­a­rate sys­tem of In­ter­na­tional GCSEs) for cer­tain sub­jects.

“We have made prepa­ra­tions to ex­plain to par­ents and em­ploy­ers the new grad­ing sys­tem,” says Ms Ma­son. “In­stead of the grades rang­ing from A* to G they will be graded from 1 to 9.

“The rea­son for this change is to al­low greater dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween high-per­form­ing stu­dents. Now, a ‘good pass’ is con­sid­ered to be A* to C. In the new sys­tem, marks be­tween 9 and 5 will be used. The govern­ment plan is to raise stan­dards by no longer ac­cept­ing a C as a good grade. In do­ing this it will bring the na­tional po­si­tion in line with other top-per­form­ing sys­tems around the world and the ad­vice we give at Bramp­ton Col­lege. We en­cour­age all stu­dents to achieve at least aB ( a 5 in the new sys­tem) in English and maths.”

Stu­dents who achieve an A grade at the mo­ment would achieve a grade 7. For each ex­am­i­na­tion, the top 20 per cent of this co­hort will get a grade 9. This will be a “su­per grade” that un­der 3 per cent of stu­dents na­tion­ally (us­ing last year’s GCSE re­sults) would achieve.

Pres­sure is pil­ing onto GCSE stu­dents, as re­forms to AS and A-lev­els are ex­pected to in­crease the at­ten­tion paid by univer­sity ad­mis­sions of­fi­cers to GCSE re­sults. “They will be able to use the new grades to recog­nise the stu­dents who did best in ev­ery year,” says Ms Ma­son. “With fewer schools plan­ning to do AS ex­ams, GCSEs will be­come an im­por­tant mile­stone for univer­si­ties and em­ploy­ers and we are mak­ing sure our stu­dents will be well pre­pared to make the most of th­ese new higher grades.”

“Some univer­si­ties al­ready look closely at pupils’ GCSE per­for­mance in the con­text of their school; it is log­i­cal that more now will,” says He­len Pike, head­mistress of South Hamp­stead High School.

But staff are telling par­ents not to worry about the im­pact of the changes on their chil­dren’s education. “There is no need to feel un­set­tled,” says Pippa Hop­kins at The Royal Ma­sonic School for Girls, Hert­ford­shire. “Each school is im­ple­ment­ing the changes in the most ap­pro­pri­ate way for their co­hort of stu­dents and can be trusted to work in the most pro­fes­sional way for the ben­e­fit of all their stu­dents.”

At South Hamp­stead, Ms Pike has a sim­i­lar mes­sage. “The main thing I would say to par­ents is don’t worry: schools have had a lot of time to work through the changes and will have looked closely at what they teach and how they are go­ing to teach it. Schools have two years to take pupils through GCSE and ev­ery­one is in the same boat.”

Marie-Do­minique Reza, vice-prin­ci­pal aca­demic at DLD Col­lege Lon­don, says: “At the mo­ment you can have peo­ple get­ting As at GCSE but who are not re­ally able to cope with A-lev­els. What is pos­si­ble is that the new GCSEs will pre­pare stu­dents bet­ter for A-lev­els.

“When you have ex­pe­ri­enced staff they can eas­ily adapt. We’ve been pre­par­ing for a long time but the dif­fi­culty is that the drafts of cur­ricu­lum for some sub­jects, in­clud­ing sci­ences, are not fi­nalised.”

The re­form won’t af­fect stu­dents’ abil­ity to shine, says the Royal Ma­sonic’s Ms Hop­kins. “The in­ten­tion of the new grad­ing scale is to pro­vide more dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion for stu­dents who achieve a pass­ing grade. Gen­er­ally, the same pro­por­tion of stu­dents who have pre­vi­ously achieved at least a C will ob­tain a grade 4 or above and, sim­i­larly, the same pro­por­tion for an A grade or bet­ter will achieve a grade 7 or above.

“Our ad­vice would be to con­cen­trate on mas­ter­ing each topic as you go along and make sure that you are do­ing ev­ery­thing that is be­ing asked of you by your teacher to im­prove.”

My main mes­sage to par­ents is: don’t worry

Bright South Hamp­stead High School stu­dents stay fo­cused for the GCSE changes

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