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GCSEs 2019: Where are we at with new grades 9-1?

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More than 700,000 teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving their GCSE results. In England, there have been major changes over the past few years. The BBC News website explains what the new 9-1 grading system is all about.

When were the new grades brought in?

The numerical grading system is being phased in over the course of four years in England.

This kicked off with the core compulsory subjects – maths and English GCSEs – two years ago.

The following summer, 2018, saw the rollout of 9-1 exams in the vast majority of core subjects, such as the humanities and the sciences.

So, teenagers receiving results this week are the second cohort of students to receive most of their results under the new numerical grading system.

This year, there have been a few new subjects coming under the 9-1 system – for example business studies, media studies, psychology and design and technology.

The final wave of new 9-1 exams will be sat next summer and covers ancient languages (biblical Hebrew) and modern foreign languages (Gujarati, Persian, Portuguese, Turkish).

What are the new grades?

The new grading scheme was 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.

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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.

Why have the grades been changed?

The new GCSE grading scheme is part of a new curriculum introduced in England’s schools in 2014 by the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

The new GCSE courses include much less coursework than before, with grades in almost all subjects depending on exams.

Courses are designed to be more challenging with exams taken after two years of study, rather than in modules with exams along the way.

What’s happening in Northern Ireland?

There are some changes in Northern Ireland too.

The NI Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has introduced a new nine-category grade scale – A* to G, including a C*.

This is the first year results will be graded under this scheme.

But students may also get results with grades 9-1, if they take exams set by English exam boards other exam boards like AQA, OCR and Edexcel.

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What’s happening in Wales?

Change have been afoot in Wales as well. The Welsh government introduced new and revised GCSEs, which have been taught in schools from September 2015.

The most significant changes are in English language, Welsh language and mathematics.

But, one crucial difference to England is that the letter-based grading structure A*- G is being maintained.

And what about Scotland?

Scotland has its own system of public examinations: Nationals and Highers.

Nationals replaced the old Standard Grades in 2014 and new Higher exams were introduced in 2015.

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