Question Chris Education

New GCSE grading criteria

What challenges are presented by changes to GCSE grading criteria from an alphabetic to a numeric system?

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Answer Expert #26888

GCSE grading systems are in the middle of being revised; by 2019, across all subjects, there will be a numeric 9-1 grade system applied as opposed to the current alphabetic system (AQA, 2016). The change represents the most significant overhaul to qualification designation since the replacement of CSEs and GCE O levels by GCSEs in the mid-1980s. As such, a range of challenges are presented, not only to schools and colleges, but to wider society. The first challenge is in the communication of the changes to schools and colleges alike, and to the students studying the revised qualifications. Though the revised scale allows for greater particularity in grading, the shift away from a long-standing and well-understood system with A/A* representing the highest achievement at GCSE level will take time to be embedded into schools, and will have the added impact of requiring a wholescale updating of resources and support materials. That there are issues is understood by Ofqual, who are working to put support in place for teachers and learners sitting the revised syllabuses (Ofqual, 2016). By 2020, all 16 year olds in England will be awarded an English Baccalaureate, or EBacc, an overall educational assessment device not dissimilar to a US high school diploma, should the criteria be reached. This is linked to Progress 8, an internal quality assessment tool operating within schools which judges the distance travelled by learners, and which provides an overall picture of how the school concerned is achieving at GCSE level (Gurney-Read, 2016). At present, though, the changes have not been widely communicated outside educational circles. It remains to be seen, not least in a context where terms such as O level and CSE are still in common parlance, how effectively the revised grading systems can be communicated to employers and to society at large.


AQA (2016) 9-1 grading. Available at: (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
Gurney-Read, J. (2016) GCSE reforms: Goodbye to ABC grades as progress 8 becomes a key league table measure. Available at: (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
Ofqual (2016) Setting the grade standards of new GCSEs in England: 2017 & 2018. Available at: (Accessed: 12 October 2016).