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Exams & Achievement

New GCSE Reform - A Parent's Guide

1. Introduction

As you are probably aware the government has introduced radical new changes to the structure and assessment of GCSEs. We are moving away from the familiar system of A*-G grades to a system of grading with numbers 9-1. In addition to the changes to the structure of GCSEs, the government is also raising a ‘good pass’ from a C to a new grade 5, where a 5 represents the top third of a C and the bottom third of a B. This is to align the UK with the best education systems in the world.

From September 2015 new reformed GCSEs have been taught in English language, English literature and maths, with the first results issued in August 2017. Further subjects will see new GCSEs introduced over the following two years. See table in section 3.

2. What new GCSEs will look like?

The main features of the new GCSEs are:

  • A new grading scale of 9 to 1 will be used, with 9 being the top grade. This will allow greater differentiation between students and will help distinguish the new GCSEs from previous versions. Please see the table in section 4.
  • Assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills
  • There will be new, more demanding content, which has been developed by government and the exam boards
  • Courses will be designed for two years of study - they will no longer be divided into different modules and students will take all their exams in one period at the end of their course
  • Exams can only be split into ‘foundation tier’ and ‘higher tier’ if one exam paper does not give all students the opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities
  • Resit opportunities will only be available each November in English language and Maths

3. At Brompton Hall School which subjects are affected and when?

  Start 2015
Exams 2017
Start 2016
Exams 2018
Start 2017
Exams 2019
GCSE English and Maths English and maths plus …

Art & Design, Food Technology, Media Studies, Photography

2015 and 2016 subjects plus …

Design and Technology

4. New GCSE grading scheme

taken from Ofqual PowerPoint for parents explaining new reforms for GCSE and A-Levels

Key points

The new 9-1 grading system will mean that it will be clear to employers and colleges or universities whether students have taken the unreformed GCSEs or the reformed, more challenging ones. The new grade scale will not be directly equivalent to the existing one, and in the first year the following points can be made:

  • broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above
  • broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 7 and above as currently achieve an A and above
  • for each exam, the top 20 per cent of those who get grade 7 or above will get a grade 9 - the very highest performers
  • the bottom of grade 1 will be aligned with the bottom of grade G
  • grade 5 will be positioned in the top third of the marks for a current grade C and bottom third of the marks for a current grade B. This will mean it will be of greater demand than the present grade C, and broadly in line with what the best available evidence tells us is the average PISA* performance in countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland
  • the new maths GCSE will be tiered, with grades 4 and 5 available through both tiers

* The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students

Below is Brompton Hall's interpretation of the grade cross-over.

  GCSE Grade Numerical equivalent(approx.)
 TOP A* 9
 LOW A* 8
 TOP A 8
 LOW A 7
 TOP B 6
 LOW B 5
 TOP C 5
 LOW C 4
 TOP D 4
 LOW D 3
 TOP E 2
 LOW E 2
 TOP F 2
 LOW F 1
 TOP G 1
 LOW G 1


5. What are the changes for each subject?

A brief introduction to the changes they are introducing are:

  • the English language GCSE will require better reading skills and good written English
  • the English literature GCSE will encourage students to read, write and think critically; it will assess students on challenging and substantial whole texts and on shorter unseen texts
  • the mathematics GCSE will provide greater coverage of areas such as ratio, proportion and rates of change; it will require all students to master the basics, and will be more challenging for those aiming to achieve top grades
  • the art and design GCSE will emphasise creativity and drawing; the DfE will remove the concept of ‘endorsed’ and ‘unendorsed’ courses and replace it with a series of separate art and design titles
  • the physical education (PE) GCSE will emphasise the use of data to evaluate physical activity; students will be assessed in 3 different activities, including at least one team sport - a list of sports and activities that schools can offer as part of the new GCSEs is available


6. Website links:

Further information on the GCSE reforms can be found at the following DfE websites:

PowerPoint for parents explaining new education reforms for GCSE and A-Levels

New GCSEs – get the facts

Grade descriptors for each GCSE subject

New Maths GCSE – parents information guide