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GCSE results day, and the numbered grading system explained

Secondary Schools

We are now about halfway through GCSE season, and the last exams should be completed by the 21st of June. There is then an interim of about a month - a stressful period for all students - while the papers are graded. GCSE results day is set for Thursday the 22nd of august, with the results sent from the respective boards to schools across the country. Some schools will provide online access to the results, but they will not be given out over the phone or sent by email for data protection and confidentiality reasons.

The A to E grading system that most people are familiar with, and perhaps still somewhat attached to, was superseded by the number system in use today in England. In 2014 an overhaul of the national curriculum marked the beginning of the change, which was first rolled out in 2017. English literature, English language, and mathematics were the first subjects to be graded with the numerical system; and by 2020 the entire GCSE syllabus followed suit.

For those who are unsure exactly how the new grading system works, the following table will be helpful. The U stands for ungraded, or unclassified - meaning there were insufficient marks for any grade to be awarded.

Old gradesNew Grades
5 Strong Pass
4 Standard Pass

While there is not a consistent one-to-one correspondence between the two grading systems, there are a number of points where the scales do meet.

  • The lower part of a grade 7 aligns with a lower grade A
  • The lower part of a grade 4 aligns with a lower grade C
  • The lower part of a grade 1 aligns with a lower grade G

These comparisons merely serve to ease the transition from one grading system to another. In time there will be no need to point out the correspondences, as the new numbered system will be completely normalised; but for the moment it can be helpful to keep these equivalencies in mind.

A pass has traditionally been classified as a C grade or higher, but with this new system a 4 will be judged to be a `standard pass` while a 5 will be a `strong pass.` In the same way that, under the old system, a student attaining 9 C grades would have passed their exams, now a 5 or above will be the requirement for a pass.

With the best part of a decade now since its inception, the new grading system has proved popular with universities and employers, who praise its ability to offer a finer resolution of marks. The introduction of the A* grade in 1994 better helped differentiate between students of high ability, but with three grades now at the top end of the table, there is an even higher degree stratification now available. There are also three accreditations - 4,5, and 6 - representing the previous B and C grades, again providing greater differentiation.

GCSE results are typically the first standardised exams that have the potential to shape someone`s future. Maths and English are the most important qualifications, as most universities, apprenticeships and employers will require a pass (4 or above) in these subjects. GCSE results will for many students determine what further qualifications, through higher education, are available to them.

Many students will go on to take A Levels, but there are a host of vocational courses available for those not wishing to continue a strictly academic pathway. Many sixth form colleges, which offer a diverse range of courses that are very attractive to employers, will require the following grades:

  • At lest four GCSEs at grade 5 or higher, in order to take a combined programme of A-level and vocational subjects such as Cambridge Technicals or BTECs.
  • At least 4 GCSEs at grade 4 or higher in order to take a practical and vocational subjects such as Cambridge Technicals BTECs

The United Kingdom as a whole has not yet adopted the new grading system. Wales retains the lettered A - U scales. They also have a modular system for particular courses, meaning some exams are taken throughout the two year course; England follows a linear qualification system, with all exams taken at the end of the course. Scotland has an entirely different set of qualifications, which does not include GCSEs. In the summer of 2019 Northern Ireland adopted a nine category grade scale: A* to G, which included a C*.

25 days ago