GCSEs: How the new 9-1 grades work


(Source: BBC News Education, 22 August 2018)

Thousands of teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving their GCSE results. But, in England, there have been major changes, with a new 9-1 grading system being phased in to reflect a more demanding curriculum. So what’s the new grading system all about?

What are the new grades?

The new grading scheme is being brought in alongside a new GCSE curriculum in England.

9 is the highest grade, while 1 is the lowest, not including a U (ungraded).

Three number grades, 9, 8 and 7, correspond to the old-style top grades of A* and A – this is designed to give more differentiation at the top end.

The exams watchdog, Ofqual, says fewer grade 9s will be awarded than A*s and that anyone who gets a 9 will have “performed exceptionally”.

A 4 is broadly being compared to a C grade, although Ofqual warns against “direct comparisons and overly simplistic descriptions”.

It says that, broadly, the same proportion of teenagers will get a grade four and above as used to get a grade C or above.

Strong pass and standard pass – what’s all that about?

It’s confusing, but there are two pass marks – 4 is a standard pass and 5 is a strong pass.

This means that a candidate who gets nine 4 grades has, technically, passed all their exams.

However, with the government’s school league tables detailing what percentage of pupils achieved a grade 5 or above in English and maths and in the English Baccelaureate subjects, it’s hard to imagine that teachers will be content to see their pupils settle for a 4 as a pass.

The reality is that schools will be pushing pupils for at least a 5 and most sixth forms will be looking for students with strong passes.

Are new 9-1 GCSEs being phased in?

Yes they are. Last summer, students sat the new exams in just English language, English literature and maths.

This year’s Year 11 students sat the 9-1 exams in:

  • ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin)
  • art and design
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • citizenship studies
  • combined science (double award)
  • computer science
  • dance
  • drama
  • food preparation and nutrition
  • geography
  • history
  • modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish)
  • music
  • physics
  • physical education
  • religious studies