The Elephant In The Room... The New GCSEs

01/03/2017 15:54

The new change in GCSEs has been the biggest educational reform for a long while. Transforming an exam system that has been used for a very long time naturally creates a lot of confusion and complications. This was especially the case among teachers who also found themselves in the dark, alongside parents and students. This article hopes to clarify some of the main questions regarding new GCSEs and contains links to the corresponding governmental reports published so you can find out more.


The change was warranted by the need for England to 'catch up' with countries like South Korea where education is strict; encouraging students to be pushed more. Essentially the new system outlines the categorisation of students' varying abilities, particularly those in the top grade bracket.


The introduction of the new GCSEs will happen in phases over the next three years. Maths and English Language GCSEs have already transitioned into the new linear syllabus. The English Literature GCSE is no longer required to gain a pass in English, so under the new system a C (now grade 5) in English Language suffices as a pass for English even if the student has failed English Literature. From this September more GCSE subjects like Science, History and Geography, will transition to the linear system. This means that students currently in Year Nine will take the new GCSE in most of their subjects. By 2019, the new system will apply to all GCSEs meaning students who are currently in Year Eight or below will take new GCSEs in all subjects and only know this new system.


The new GCSEs will be assessed by a numerical grading system of nine to one, replacing the conventional lettering grading system of A* to G. The grades will be awarded as follows:

A** = 9
A* = 8
A = 7
B = 6
C = 5
D = 4
E = 3
F = 2
G = 1
(Confusingly the grade U will still be awarded to those who gain a mark that falls below grade 1).

If a student obtains a grade five or higher then it is considered a 'good pass'. The most notable change occurs in the higher grade bracket as the levels in the spectrum of top marks are more defined.

Has anything else changed?

Generally speaking, GCSE courses are now considered far more demanding. There is now a greater weight given to grammar and the ability to read a variety of texts ranging from classical to modern sources, in English Language. Meanwhile, in Maths, students will be expected to demonstrate greater non-calculator ability, thereby required to memorise key formulae.

Coursework has been cut down to ensure consistency in grading, so the main assessment for most subjects will be the exams at the end of year 11. Students will all sit the same exams, no matter what their ability. As such, 'tiering' will be dropped in most subjects except Maths i.e. the sitting of higher and foundation papers. However, much of the content currently appearing on the higher paper will also now feature on foundation papers.

Students will be given a choice to do either Double Science (worth two GCSEs) or three separate GSCEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

What about Progress Eight?

Progress eight is the new performance measure that will tell you how well a school is doing. It measures pupils' progress over eight key subjects at GCSE, including English and Maths, from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school.

Rather than setting a minimum standard across all schools to get five 'good' GCSEs (C and above) per student, Progress Eight measures attainment and performance, looking at the individual advancements and progressions of students. It measures the results of all children, at every level and ability across a spectrum of subjects and then compares them nationally. Progress Eight ensures that every pupil is 'tracked' and that schools are rewarded for improving the grades of all students.

The new system has been designed to help students excel, so whilst the change may be hard to digest, schools will ensure that the transition is a smooth one.

Although what has become obvious is that the bar has been raised for both students, and teachers.