Today is the first results day for GCSE students in the UK under the new educational reforms. Under these reforms, students are graded on a numeric system (1-9) with 9 representing a grade above an A* and a 1 is equivalent to the current G grade.
The new grading system goes hand in hand with changes to the content of exams in order to make them more “rigorous and challenging”, allowing for further distinction between the top students. These changes have arisen after cries of “grade inflation!” have deafened educational discourse for some years.
Yet Ofqual explains that the number students achieving the A* equivalent grades (8-9) will be greater than those currently achieving the A*. Furthermore, whilst the content is supposedly more challenging, the grade boundaries will continue to shift accordingly. This will ultimately leave almost identical proportions of pupils achieving the same grades as before: C-grade pupils will continue to get C-grade equivalents, B-grades will continue to get B-grade equivalents, and so on and so forth. The only real distinction is the introduction of the ‘9’ for the top ~2% to further distinguish themselves.
Realistically the switch to a numeric system, especially with 9 as the highest rather than 1, will allow for further grading changes as we introduce the ’10’, then the ’11’, and so forth. We saw this happen in 1994 when the A* was introduced, and since then it has effectively been a waiting game as to how the government can introduce a further level to top the A*. Numbers, it seems, is the answer to this.
GOV.UK states that:
Changing from letters to numbers will also allow anyone – for example an employer – to see easily whether a student has taken a new, more challenging GCSE, or an old GCSE.
Yet the question has not really been asked – why do we need these extra levels of distinction at GCSE level? Why do we need to be separating the top students even further aged 16? These high achievers are likely to go on and do well in their A-Levels, and most likely get good degrees further down the line – so do employers really care if they have a 9 in a “more challenging GCSE” rather than an A*?
Instead of A-Levels I took the Cambridge Pre-U Diploma, a qualification I really enjoyed due to the difference in course content from traditional qualifications. I took English Literature, Spanish, and History – achieving a D1, D2, and D3 respectively. The D1 serves the same purpose as the 9, adding a grade beyond the A*; the D2 is an A*; the D3 is a low A*/high A. Instead of engaging in debate about what a D1 is with whoever I am presenting my grades to, I just say I got A*A*A – effectively undermining the point of the D1, but saving a lot of hassle.
I did fairly well in my GCSEs, better at 6th form, and much better at university – but I can safely say that I do not put my GCSEs on my CV. I have yet to have a potential employer ask me anything about my GCSEs, and having applied for numerous jobs over the past few years across a range of sectors, this seems to be fairly representative of a wider pattern.
Instead these changes, being introduced in drips between now and 2020, have caused a great deal of hassle and frustration for teachers, parents, and – most importantly – students.