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New GCSE Grading

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Much press coverage has been given over to the new GCSE grading system that will be introduced for Mathematics and English this summer. However, many people (including parents and employers) are still confused as to what they mean and why the change was needed in the first place.

For several years the proportion of top grades (A*/A) awarded has been increasing. Last year 17% of GCSE entrants achieved a top grade in Mathematics, with a similar figure for English. There has also been an increasing trend within schools to focus solely on securing a C grade pass to ensure a high placing on the all important league tables. Indeed for several years now it has been possible to sign students up to alternative qualifications (that have been granted the status as being “equivalent” to a GCSE) and targeting the C grade knowledge and skills associated with it.

At St Joseph’s College we have only ever used GCSEs (and IGCSES) as part of our curriculum offering to students. We have resisted the temptation to introduce a raft of alternative qualifications to boost league table performance, as this is not in the interests of our students.

The number of alternative qualifications has created a situation where percentages reported in league tables have been able to hide a multitude of sins and disguise the real truth of a school’s performance. With this in mind, the government has chosen to redefine the GCSE Scale from A*-G to 9-1.

The new grading system looks like this:

Current GCSE Grades

New GCSE Grades









5 (top 1/3 of C and bottom 1/3 of B)










The big issue with the new grading system is the splitting of B and C grades into three new Grades: 4, 5, and 6. In theory the proportion of students attaining a Grade 4 and above should be the same as those attaining a C and above. However, with new fixed grade descriptions we will have to wait and see how the national picture unfolds.

Comparing grades over the next few years will be quite a challenge and require reference to a variety of grade boundaries. Whilst a Grade 4 is still a “good” pass (universities are currently setting the pass mark in GCSE subjects as a Grade 4), schools will be judged on the proportion of Grades that are award at Grade 5 and above. Coupled to this, the fact that the standard of GCSE has become higher, gaining that all important pass will become even more challenging.

Students taking GCSEs in England this summer will receive a mixture of number and letter grades. English language, English literature and Mathematics are the first subjects to use the new system, with most other subjects adopting numbers by 2019. Eventually all GCSEs taken in England will receive numerical grades.

In this and future years it is more vital than ever that preparation for GCSEs is sound. The new GCSE grades and content will not allow for last minute cramming to be rewarded. Early preparation is vital!

For further information, please refer to the linked video.


Mr Steve Phaup     

Director of Studies