Employees warn that pupils with new-style ‘gibberish’ grades could miss out on jobs
Employers warn that new GCSES may lead to missed opportunities
THEY ARE designed to lift England’s schools to “world-class” standards, but now, as pupils prepare to receive the first results from reformed GCSES next week, employers and parents fear that the tough new exams will actually harm their prospects.
The Institute of Directors is warning that its members may view the new numerical grading system as “gibberish” and instead favour job candidates with old style lettered GCSE grades, disadvantaging this year’s candidates.
Meanwhile a Tes and Mumsnet survey shows that only 4 per cent of parents of pupils sitting the reformed exams believe that they will improve their children’s chances in life, with 44 per cent saying they will “hinder” them.
It also reveals a widespread lack of understanding of new numerical grades and a dearth of information about them among parents.
However, a board member from exams regulator Ofqual argues that anyone who is confused about the new system has “not thought about it hard enough” (see box, “‘No reason to find grades confusing’”, page 10).
On Thursday, pupils in England will be awarded numerical grades (from 9 to 1) in the new English literature, English language and maths GCSES for the first time, rather than A* to G grades.
Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, believes many employers will only discover that the GCSES have changed once they begin receiving CVS from pupils.
“They might think, ‘What is this gibberish and what does it mean and how has it changed from previous grading systems?’” he says.
Worse still, he fears some businesses could simply disregard CVS with new GCSE grades.
“If the employer is time-poor and resourceconstrained then they can on occasions be quite keen to get through as many [CVS] as possible,” Nevin warns. “So if they have a CV that they don’t understand, then they might opt for the ones that they do.”
The Tes and Mumsnet research shows that nearly a third of parents in England are unaware of the new GCSE grading system. There is huge confusion over the numerical scale – with many still in the dark about what constitutes a top grade and a pass (see pages 10-11).
Concerns have been building over a general lack of knowledge about the new GCSES. A report last month from the CBI and examboard owner Pearson revealed that more than a third of businesses did not know that a new numerical grading system for GCSES in English and maths will be used this summer.
The government’s decision in March this year to have two different pass grades – 4 as a standard pass (the minimum level required for pupils to avoid English and maths resits) and 5 as a “strong pass” (the main grade for school accountability) – has only added to the confusion.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), says the situation worsened as civil servants delayed communication about the changes, deciding they should be covered by pre-general election “purdah”.
“We spotted that this might be a year when there was going to be more anxiety. It was added to because there was a general
election and a view that purdah should apply to this,” he says.
“Part of the [planned] communication plan was to make sure that employers knew about the new system and that would have been slowed down.”
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) and Ofqual board member, argues the new grading system is “simple and straightforward” and that the changes have been set out clearly by both schools and Ofqual.
Last month, schools minister Nick Gibb revealed that more than half a million pounds of public money had been allocated to explaining the GCSE exam reforms. Ofqual says that understanding of the new grades and the reforms has increased as a result of the communication work carried out.
The regulator says that its films about the changes have been watched “more than 10 million times” and its research shows that 70 per cent of small business owners and 80 per cent of parents of secondary pupils are now aware of the new grades.
However, a snap poll of secondary teachers from the ATL teaching union has found that the vast majority still do not think parents understand the new system (see box, “‘Brutal’ changes”, above).
A Department for Education spokesperson says: “We have worked with Ofqual to issue a wide range of resources since 2014 to help raise awareness of the new grading system. We have also been working directly with the CBI and others to communicate this with employers. Almost two thirds of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system and we will ensure that engagement continues.”
‘It’s not very fair or necessary’: pages 10-11 A question of difficulty?: pages 36-41
BIG PICTURE: There are fears that employers will find it hard to decipher new GCSE grades