Ministers are considering a radical overhaul of the GCSE grading system in a bid to distinguish between the brightest students, Michael Gove said yesterday.
The Education Secretary said it was likely that current A*-G grades will be replaced by a new numerical system.
Under the plans, the current two top grades – A* and A – could be split into four categories, ranging from 1-4.
But the move could prompt concerns that it will lead to a drop in the number of students considered to have the highest level of achievement, if only grades one and two become known as the best results.
Mr Gove told the Commons Education Select Committee: “The plan that is likely, although not definitive is that we will change how the exams are graded so that rather than, for the sake of argument, having A*, A and B, you achieve 1, 2, 3, 4, and it might be the case that 1, 2, 3, 4 cover the band of achievement that is currently A* and A.
“One of the concerns that people have is about differentiation at the top, and if you move, as it were, from the Reichsmark to the Deutsch Mark, then you can say these are indications or indices or recognition of a high level of achievement, but they’re not directly comparable to the previous one and we acknowledge that is because it is a new qualification.”
“That would help re-fix the level at which people would recognise outstanding attainment,” he added.
Mr Gove later told the cross-party group of MPs that they would have to wait to see what level of attainment the numerical system would recognise.
He added that it was “not my explicit aim” to reduce the number of people who receive a particular mark
“It’s my aim to ensure, working with Ofqual, that people can reliably feel that once you have new examinations that they will keep their standard over time,” he said.
Mr Gove’s comments come the week after new research published by Cambridge Assessment called for the current GCSE grading system to be replaced with results reported on a numerical scale.
The move would mean a fairer system and avoid situations where two students could have different scores, but still achieve the same overall grade, it said.
Last year, the exams regulator Ofqual indicated that it was time to look at whether GCSE grades should still range from A*-G, opening the door to reducing the number of grades awarded to students.
Mr Gove announced details of a major overhaul of GCSEs in March.
Under the plans, GCSE exams will be taken at the end of two-year courses, rather than in modules throughout, as well as an increase in extended questions and less internal assessment.
New GCSEs in academic subjects including English and maths are due to be introduced for youngsters in 2015.