Exam grades no longer as easy as ABC
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