The GCSEs shake-up

August 2017 sees the implementation of a new grading system for GCSEs in all schools and colleges. A key goal is to provide more differentiation, particularly among the highest achievers, and among the many students who ‘bunch’ in the middle grades.

The new GCSEs will be graded 1 to 9, with 9 being the top grade, at standard equivalent to top half of A* and grade 4 will be equivalent to the current C grade.

It means what this year would be a low C in future will be a 4, but a high C or B would cover both 5 and 6, and replacing A and A* there’ll be three categories from 7 to 9.

Instead or in addition, grade 9 could become a super grade to mark exceptional performance by confining it to only the top half of those students who currently achieve the highest grade of A*.

As the new system is implemented what do headteachers think the impact will be on students, parents, schools and the community as a whole.

Mike McGarry, associate principal at The Belvedere Academy

Like most people involved in education, we at Belvedere spent a lot of time scratching our heads and wondering why this ‘development’ was being pushed through by the DFE with little initial explanation or rationale. However, once it was clear that it was coming, again, like most people, we had to plot a course as to how we would explain it to our students, governors and parents.

The ‘A*, A, B, C etc…’ grading system was very well understood by most people in the country so we felt careful communication was vital to ensuring a transition to the new system that was as stress-free as possible. After many newsletters, e-mails, briefings and assemblies, we feel that the school community has a decent understanding of how the new grades will work. We continue to consider the impact on our students particularly our current Y11 cohort who will have a ‘mixed bag’ of grades between numbers and letters.

We are clear what they need to achieve to progress into our offer in the Sixth Form but will a grade 5 to us mean the same thing to another provider for example and further down the line will employers really grasp the fine detail being propagated about the difference between a grade 4 and a grade 5 in maths? It’s here to stay whether we like it or not and I suppose it will take quite a number of years to work through the system and become embedded particularly in the world of work.

The new system should have been given much longer introduction time with clear exemplars from the exam boards being made available but children are very resilient and no doubt they will grasp the changes much quicker and easier than the adults will.

Stephen Brierley, principal at St Margaret’s CE Academy

As headteachers, we’re used to change. After all, we’ve seen it before. Generally, a good way forward is: consult widely about the change; pilot it first; review how it goes; take on board feedback; then, roll it out.

The new GCSEs have not followed this established pattern. If there was a pilot of the new 9-to-1 GCSEs, I must confess I missed it. If there was any time for considered reflection on feedback received, I’m afraid I missed that too.

Instead this whole revolution – the biggest I’ve known for GCSEs in the 28 years I’ve been teaching – has been implemented at a seemingly breakneck speed. Teachers seemingly have little idea what the results will be like this summer: a leading light in Ofsted admits that “trying to work out how pupils will fare, in terms of predicted grades, is even more problematic” this year, and urges inspectors to “not request predictions for cohorts about to take examinations”. I think that’s an astonishing admission by ‘the system’ these changes have come in far too quickly.

Last month Ofqual wrote to schools saying they would “welcome all the assistance you can give us” in raising awareness of the new grading system. Sorry, Ofqual, isn’t that your job? I have enough to do, thank you. Didn’t they give you enough time to implement these changes either?

And in the middle of all this? The pupils. They only get one chance (especially now early entry has been banned, more-or-less). Does anyone in authority give a second thought to their experiences? I doubt it; they’re all too busy rushing through the next batch of changes they’ll foist on us.

Overall, I’d give the Government about a ‘3’ for change management. And in case you’re wondering, in the new 9-to-1 GCSE structure, that isn’t a high grade.

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