1-9 grades

It’s not how you weigh the pig that counts, it’s what you feed it: the new 9-1 grades make sense but don’t raise standards.

Ofqual’s new 9-1 grades, appearing later this year for English and maths first, do not line up evenly with the old A* – G, so cannot be directly compared. The reason is twofold: firstly to set apart the highest achievers and secondly to denote a new, harder, set of exams.

Grade 9s will not be awarded as often a grade A*s have been.  This, says Ofqual, is to reflect that the new GCSE content will be more challenging.  In fact, according to the AQA video, the new grade 9 is a higher score than the current A*. It explains that the reason for the new grades is to make it easier to differentiate more clearly between higher and lower achieving students.

Whilst cynical speculators will wonder why an additional level of A** was not simply added to allow for direct comparison year on year, it is a deliberate move by Ofqual to recognise the higher achievement of the new cohort who take these new, more challenging exams.

What can heads expect from this summer’s results?

School leaders will now be asking themselves what a 7 looks like in comparison to an A, and indeed how many of their students will get a 9.  Students want to know what is required to get into sixth form. The answers, it seems, will have to be devised at school level.

The Association of College and School Leaders (ASCL) has released a very helpful set of Frequently Asked Questions which give good examples of specific scenarios to help school leaders assess where their school will stand in August. You can link through to their FAQ document here.

The value of a grade 4 is an important point to consider: whilst the 4 is a pass, it is not a ‘good’ pass and will result in a resit after 2019. Schools will now have to decide whether their students should resit until they get a 5, in case a 4 does not carry the currency of a pass later for employers. This will put schools in a difficult position, explaining to parents that their child passed, but must endure the stress of a resit. The Fisher Family Trust estimate that shifting the ‘good’ rating from students achieving A*- C in English and maths to students achieving a 5 or above in English and maths (not a 4) will cut out as many as 23% of students (58% vs 35%).

Tougher tests don’t themselves raise standards

The ASCL’s own research confirms that tougher tests are not expected to raise standards by themselves. Critically, because the outcomes are statistically comparable nationally, one school can only improve if another declines. Around 65 – 70% of 16 year olds will be awarded a 4 or above.

This also affects predictions for SLT and governors: you simply will not be able to compare year on year or predict scores.

As for employers, in reality, they will invariably draw their own lines when considering staff and graduates, as they did when O-levels were replaced.

The progress 8 model still stands

Because exam results continue to be based on the Progress 8 model, and relative as tranches of score nationally with half of schools being under 0 and half over 0, the new grades still can’t be used as a static scale by which to measure teachers’ or students’ progress. This also puts schools in a difficult position where they cannot use average class scores to track the performance of their teaching staff. How then can you fairly deal with a teacher whose class attainment suggests they are underperforming? In their closing paragraph, the ASCL recommends that headteachers take on an external advisor who ‘understands the current turbulence to support them during performance management discussions’, although quite where the funding for this additional resource would come from is up to you.


References: Ofqual Factsheet https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/596393/Grading_new_GCSEs_from_2017_v4.pdf


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