(BBC News School Report) New GCSE Grades

(Reported by William Price, Year 9)

In 2017, a wave of students will experience the new number GCSE grades, as opposed to the standard lettering system. The grades will be given for the first time in 2017 exam results, for specifications that first started teaching in 2015. By 2019, all GCSE results will be using the new system. So what does this mean for the future of students? What will come of these changes? How will this new system be integrated successfully in our Secondary schools?

With this new system the outcome appears deceptively simplistic: the higher the number, the better grade you get. For example, a C on the old system would equate to a high end 4 or a low end 5. The new minimum requirement that counts as a “pass” is a level 5. These changes have sparked great controversy and confusion amongst teachers and students alike, as the reason for the changes are not immediately nor tangibly clear. In fact, many people were unaware that a change actually occurred. Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation were made aware of this confusion and decided the new grades needed more publicity. Considering the controversy caused by the new grades, Ofqual has launched television adverts, along with specific Facebook and LinkedIn pages, to provide greater clarification on the changes to GCSE grades.

In a recent report on the changes, Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, or Ofqual have stated: “Currently there is a ‘bunching’ of grades as most students are awarded grades B, C and D. Adding in an extra grade will improve the spread of grades in this area.” The nine allows easier differentiation from the ability of students. The nine will additionally help employers seek the brightest pupils they can, as the new grade easily allows them to quickly identify the highest achievers amongst the cohort. It is clear that the department for Education is attempting to push higher academic standards, possibly in an attempt to provide a must needed boost for the British economy.

Individual subject teachers seem to be the most effected by the drastic overhaul of the education system. A teacher at Thamesmead School believes that the crucial tests were changed for a range of reasons, including the idea that “some politicians wanted to change things for the sake of change and for their own legacy”. Personally, I believe the change was not necessary nor a requirement, however they were changed for the sake of developing students that are more perseverant and eager to learn. The change could have had a positive outcome for many students, particularly the most able. However, the technique they used to integrate the new grades has many notable flaws. The change was barely made aware to students, and with many schools attempting to convert the old Key Stage 3 National Curriculum levels to the new GCSE system; suddenly student targets seemed to drop drastically. This dramatic change in their grades may cause confusion and panic, as suddenly it will appear that students’ grades have fallen extraordinarily. Surely if these changes had been made clear to students from the onset, there would have been no immediate outcry?

In addition to preventing ‘bunching’, the new GCSE’s will help develop subject-specific skills, as opposed to constantly absorbing information that will be forgotten in a matter of weeks. The new GCSE’s aim to provide students with skills they can take and utilise in their everyday adult life, developing their logical decision making skills and knowledge at the same time. The aspirations behind this are to develop a new generation of smarter, more logical students who have stamina and most importantly resilience (as the exams are now longer depending on each subject). An example where the changes are prominent is within languages. Thamesmead language teacher Mr Yiangou explained “These GCSE’s are going to produce better linguists. The focus will be placed against linguistic skills and speaking spontaneously rather than mindless recitals”. English is another example where the students are not simply given everything on a golden plate. Thamesmead English teacher Mr Capozzi stated “Students are no longer allowed books in exams. Students are expected to use higher order thinking skills more frequently”, exemplifying the idea that the new GCSE’s focus on skills and being useful in later life, as opposed to learning something and instantly forgetting every morsel of information after the exam is sat.

Overall, this new system has many positives, such as developing a new generation of students who are able to transfer the skills they learn in school into adult life and even use these skills when getting a job and creating a future for themselves. Despite the obvious benefits, this system has some major flaws, such as the low awareness of the change, and the controversy sparked by the unforeseen change. But what does this mean for the future of students? Although the future is unclear at this time, this pivotal change could be the opening thrust to a new generation of hard working, logical students, and a step in the right direction in an increasingly competitive society.