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As the mocks approach

As the mocks for the new GCSE English exams are approaching, I’m concerned that PiXL is still recommending these nonsensical grade boundaries for the new GCSE English exams (the number of marks for each grade has been added):

Grade Percentage Marks for each grade
9 94% 7 marks
8 83% 11 marks
7 72% 11 marks
6 67% 5 marks
5 63% 4 marks
4 59% 4 marks
3 38% 20 marks
2 27% 11 marks
1 15% 12 marks

PiXL has subsequently provided grade boundaries for Language and Literature for each of the GCSE Boards.  They have similar mark ranges with only 4 or 5 marks for each of grades 4 – 6 and much wider mark ranges for higher and lower grades.  No GCSE has ever had this kind of mark distribution and schools that follow it will predict grades very inaccurately.

A more accurate set of grade boundaries can be derived from Ofqual guidance, viz

Grade Mark range (/100) Marks for each grade
9 99 – 100 3 marks
8 94 – 98 5 marks
7 89 – 93 5 marks
6 78 – 88 11 marks
5 67 – 77 11 marks
4 56 – 66 11 marks
3 41 – 55 15 marks
2 26 – 40 15 marks
1 11 – 25 15 marks
U 0 – 10 10 marks

For a full explanation of how these grade boundaries have been derived, see New GCSE grade boundaries PiXL and Ofqual [PDF document].

The DfE expects grades to fall as the new GCSEs are taken.  This is reasonable as all new exams result in lower results in their early years owing to teachers’ unfamiliarity with them.  The new GCSEs are also more demanding in several ways.  By 2018 the Government expects GCSE results to be at “ground zero” from which they can only rise.

Faced with this, schools can do several things to reduce the shock and prepare for the next few years.

  • Use sensible grade boundaries for predictions.
  • Accept there will be fierce competition for the limited number of grade 9s and grade 8s including from selective and independent schools whose reputation depends on them.
  • It will therefore be easier, with appropriate teaching,  for moderately and less able students to build higher Progress 8 scores by achieving grades above those expected on the basis of their KS2 fine-level score.  This will also be helped by the grade mark ranges for grades 1 – 3 being much wider than for 7 – 9.   A matrix is attached showing how less able students attaining grades above expectation can achieve P8 scores as great as more able students – Progress 8 above expectation [PDF document].
  • A cognitively rich teaching programme, developing the literary skills needed for the new GCSE specifications, will help students attain higher grades by increasing their understanding and confidence.
  • Progress 8 is designed to raise the attainment of students who currently achieve grade D and below.  This is cross-party policy to improve our productivity as a nation, so P8 is here to stay.  The unspoken subtext is that mixed ability teaching will lead to higher P8 scores.  It’s not too soon to start seriously considering this.