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Grading system further increases demand of new GCSEs

The details of the new GCSE grading system announced by Ofqual on 12 September further increase the demand of the new GCSE specifications.

Comment in the press has focussed on the smaller number of students who will receive the top grade (9) compared with A* but, much more important, the new mid-grade (5) will be 50 per cent more demanding than the current grade C and will be treated as the new grade C. This is shown by Ofqual’s comparison tables from Board paper for the new GCSEs in 2017 [PDF document], para 34.


Click on table to view larger version

Ofqual explains: “Grade 5 will be positioned in the top third of the marks for a current grade C and bottom third of the marks for a current grade B. This will mean it will be of greater demand than the present grade C, and broadly in line with what the best available evidence tells us is the average PISA performance in countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.”
Grading the New GCSEs in 2017 – key points leaflet [PDF document].

The new grade 5 will therefore consist of equal marks from the top of grade C and the bottom of grade B. Ofqual is following Michael Gove’s instructions: “At the level of what is widely considered to be a pass (currently indicated by grade C), there must be an increase in demand, to reflect that of high-achieving jurisdictions”.

This emphasis on grade 5 – explained more fully in Ofqual’s Board paper for the new GCSEs in 2017, paras 39 – 49 ) – goes against the original idea of removing pressure on schools to achieve grade Cs. The logic of the Government’s policy is that, from 2017, schools will judged by Ofsted and others on the proportion of grade 5s and above they achieve.