New GCSEs - What does it all mean?

Recently, when reporting on the work of Dame Alice Owen’s and Aldenham Schools, we have often mentioned the ‘new’ GCSEs and how the schools have been adapting to these.  But what does it mean?  The information below is summarised from an information paper published by the Association of School and College Leaders and gives an overview of the changes.


  • GCSEs are now graded on a new ‘reformed’ scale of 9 to 1, with 9 the highest grade (rather than A* to G for the ‘unreformed’ GCSEs).


  • The new grade scale will not be directly equivalent to the existing one.  However, to be fair to the students and to give meaning to the new grades, Ofqual has decided there will be some comparable points between the old grades, and the approach to awarding will ensure that, in the first year of a new qualification, broadly the same proportion of pupils will:
    • achieve a grade 7 and above, as currently achieve a grade A and above
    • achieve a grade 4 and above, as currently achieve a grade C and above
    • achieve a grade 1 and above, as currently achieve a grade G and above


  • The introduction of the 9-1 system increases the number of higher grades than the previous A*- G system. By using 9-1, there are now six different grades from 4 to 9, rather than four in the old system (A*, A, B, C), which means individual students can be more accurately recognised in terms of their results.


  • Because the same proportion of candidates will get a 4 and above as currently get a C and above, aiming for 4 and above is equivalent to aiming for C and above. This is, and will remain the level that pupils must achieve so they are not required to continue studying English and maths after secondary school. The government has defined a grade 4 as a ‘standard’ pass.


  • The government and Department for Education (DfE) specified that the new GCSE syllabuses will include more challenging and knowledge-based content, with exams only at the end of the course.


  • English and maths were graded 9 to 1 in 2017, and in 2018 the following 17 subjects had numbered grading: ancient languages, art and design, biology, chemistry, citizenship studies, computer science, dance, combined science, drama, food preparation and nutrition, geography, history, modern foreign languages (MFL), music, PE, physics, and religious studies (RS). Most others will follow in 2019.


  • The government will publish schools’ results, not just at the ‘standard pass’ (grade 4 and above), but also at the ‘strong pass’ (at grade 5 and above) in school performance tables only. The number of pupils achieving a ‘strong pass’ will be one of the measures by which schools are judged.