Changes to GCSE

Many parents and grandparents throughout Southend will be aware that some major changes are coming soon to the way GCSEs are graded. This will affect all the 16 year olds leaving school before 6th Form in the summer of 2017.

Goodbye coursework

This follows changes that have already been made – namely that most coursework has now been outlawed, meaning that nearly all subjects are examined in the summer term. Most Headteachers see the dropping of coursework as a good thing because pupils and schools alike were getting very bogged down with the competing needs of all the coursework, usually squeezed into the spring term. Of course, relaxing the pressure on the spring term just means that pupils have a very intense summer with multiple exams to sit within just a few weeks. End-of-course exams definitely suit some pupils more than others and the new system it is a bit unfair, but it is probably better than the overwhelming pressure of coursework.

New grading system

The new changes come in two forms. First of all the grading system is changing from the familiar A*, A, B, C etc – to ‘9’, being the top score and ‘1’ being the bottom score. I think we can all see the immediate benefit here of being able to add the scores up and come up with a easily calculable average score per subject. However, the government have deliberately moved the goalposts here by creating a new scale with 9 grades (9 to 1) whereas the old scale only had 8 grades (A* to G). This means that we cannot make a direct connection between the old scale and the new one. So what is the new equivalent of a C grade, I hear you ask? And it is a good question; nobody is entirely sure yet but it is looking likely that a grade 5 will be considered a ‘pass’ rather like the C grade is now. In effect, that means that the ‘pass’ grade for GCSEs just got a little bit harder.

GCSEs just got harder

Many would argue that making GCSEs harder is good thing – it raises the bar and means young people have to work even harder to achieve an acceptable standard. It also combats (at last) the issue of ‘grade inflation’ which has dogged education for the last 20 years. I think the new 9 to 1 grading system will go along way to halting grade inflation along with the system now being applied by the government by which only a fixed percentage of pupils get each grade in each subject each year – adjusted slightly to allow for ‘good’ years and ‘bad’ years. However, if I was 16 and just approaching my exams I would no doubt have a different view!

Being told what to study

The other major change to GCSEs is the attempt by the government to effectively force pupils to study some subjects in preference to others. The way in which the overall GCSE performance of each pupil is calculated – and it is complicated – means that pupils are being forced to study subjects like French, Spanish, History, Geography and Religious Studies in favour of subjects like Art, Music, Drama, Media Studies. I think this is a shame because I do not like to see any subject given preference over another one – with the possible exception of English and Maths (though that is whole other debate in itself).


There is still quite a lot of uncertainty about the changes which will come into effect next summer – and whether parents, friends and family will ever get to fully understand the new system remains to be seen. Some people still refer to age 16 exams as ‘O’ Levels and they went out near 30 years ago! It is probably fair to say that the general public takes around ten years to catch up with changes in the country’s exam system – in the meantime our young people face gaining scores that no one really understands.