New GCSEs explained

GCSE subjects and the system for grading them are being overhauled, with changes being rolled out over the next few years. Here's what you need to know 

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The main change: a new grading system

A numerical grading system of 9-1 will replace the current system of A*-G, with 9 as the highest achievable grade and 1 as the lowest (although there will also be a grade U for those who fail to achieve the minimum requirements for grade 1).

Grade 5 will be considered a 'good pass', with performance tables focusing on students achieving grades 9-5. 

The old system takes a grade C as a benchmark for a 'good pass', but the new grade 5 will be equivalent to a low B or high C - thus a 'good pass' mark will become harder to achieve than previously. 

The new system has been designed to reveal differences between candidates at the top end of the spectrum. The current top two grades (A* and A) will be replaced with three top grades (9,8 and 7). 

Grade 9 is being referred to by some as an A**, as it will only be awarded to approximately the top 3%. 

When will the new GCSEs be introduced?

New GCSEs will be introduced in three stages over the next three years. 

  • New GCSEs in maths, English language and English literature started being taught in September 2015. 
  • GCSE English has ceased to exist; all students must instead take GCSE English language. Most will also take English literature as a separate subject, although it is not compulsory. 

Current year 10 students will sit new GCSEs in maths, English language and English literature in June 2017. However, they will still be awarded 'old-style' GCSEs in all other subjects. 

Current year 9 students will take new GCSEs in most subjects. However, they may still be on an 'old-style' syllabus if they opt for a more unusual subject.

  • New GCSEs in all other subjects (for example, ancient history, economics and media studies) will be taught from September 2017.

Students who are currently in year 8 or below will take new GCSEs in all subjects. 

What else will change?

  • Course content will be more demanding across all subjects. For example, in English language candidates will be required to read a greater range of challenging texts from a variety of periods.
  • The majority of subjects will be assessed solely through exams taken at the end of two years of study (ie no controlled assessments or coursework).
  • 'Tiering' will be dropped in most subjects. This means that for most courses, all candidates will sit the same paper, rather than opting for a foundation or higher paper according to their ability. The main exception to this is maths, although it is worth noting that a lot of content previously only included in the maths higher paper will now also be tested at foundation level.
  • November resits will only be available in maths and English language. 

Are IGCSEs still an alternative?

No - alternative qualifications such as IGCSEs (International GCSEs) are set to be phased out or brought in line with new GCSEs, as they will no longer be recognised in government performance tables.

What do Mumsnetters think of the changes?

  • "I'm concerned for my youngest daughter doing the 'new' exams obviously, but also for my eldest being the last cohort to do the 'old' exams. Are they likely to be de-valued?"

  • "I think the issue is more about how little time teachers will have to get to grips with the new curriculum." 

  • "I'm worried by the fact that study after study has shown that the final exam model disadvantages girls, who do far better through coursework and continuous assessment. I worry that the problem of boys' underachievement and the consequent gender gap in results is being addressed by bringing the girls down, rather than finding a way to bring the boys up."

  • "As a parent, I won't miss controlled assessments etc as no one ever seems to know exactly when they are or what's going on."

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Last updated: about 2 months ago