Bill Carmichael: Pity the poor teachers and children forced to make sense of new GCSE marking system

Pupils received their GCSE results today... but do people actually understand the new grading system?
Pupils received their GCSE results today... but do people actually understand the new grading system?
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SO let’s get this straight – an A* at GCSE is now a grade 9, and what used to be a B is now a grade 6 – although only for English and maths this year, with the other subjects following over the next two years?

Confused? Well pity the poor pupils, teachers and parents who are grappling with the new examination system introduced this year – not to mention the employers who have to make recruiting decisions based on grades few understand.

Around the country I suspect grannies are putting a consoling arm around youngsters and saying: “Never mind dear – I am sure you did your best.”

GCSEs 2017: Your results guide for West Yorkshire
“But nan you don’t understand - a grade 9 is good!”

“Of course it is dear but I am sure you’ll do better next time.”

And if your daughter comes home with the news that she’s got two As, four Bs, a 6 and two 5s are you supposed to be happy or disappointed? It is hard to tell.

Despite these confusions, there is a lot to like in the new system. The exams in English and especially maths are said to be much tougher and will act as a corrective to the “grade inflation” that has devalued the top grades over recent years.

The new system also allows examiners to introduce more differentiation amongst the more able students. The new grades 9, 8 and 7 are all equivalent to the old A* and A, but if a pupil scores a 9 you can be confident that they are in the top three per cent or so of candidates taking the exam in that subject.

The new system also apparently makes it easier to make international comparisons. The new grade 5 – a “strong pass” – is said to be in line with the expectations of the best performing educational systems around the world.

But why make 9 the top grade instead of the seemingly more logical 1? One theory is that in future, if there are fears that grade 9 is becoming too easy, the examiners can always introduce a new top grade of 10. Whereas if 1 was the top grade they would have to resort to having 1* or suchlike.

Let’s hope that unlike Spinal Tap they never have to turn it up to 11.

GCSEs 2017: The results are in, so what should you do now? The advice you need to know...
The results released for half a million 16-year-olds show a slight drop in both the overall pass rate and in the numbers achieving the top grades.

Given this is the biggest upheaval in the exams system in a generation, this is a very creditable performance.

The youngsters taking the exams this year have done incredibly well considering they were the “guinea pig” cohort trying out the new system for the first time.

But also spare a thought for employers. Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, said many employers would only discover the new grading system once they start receiving CVs from pupils.

They might think it is “gibberish”, he said, and reject those applications in favour of ones they do understand.

Let’s hope any such confusion is short-lived. I am sure we will all get used to the new system in time. In the meantime repeat after me: “9 is the best!”

Read more:

GCSEs 2017: Your results guide for West Yorkshire
GCSEs 2017: The results are in, so what should you do now? The advice you need to know...
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