Making the grade: GCSEs 2017

This summer’s Year 11 pupils are experiencing a new style of GCSE.

Schools across the country have been preparing for major national changes in the way GCSEs are assessed and graded for this year’s exam takers.

In this first academic year of the government’s new system, the focus is on English and Maths. The new format will be rolled out to other subjects in the years ahead, with 20 subjects changing over in the next academic year alone.

As part of the changes, this year’s English and Maths examinations were more demanding than previous assessments. The government argues the new standards are designed to challenge pupils’ knowledge and skills.

Alongside the exam content change, there’s a major difference in the way results are measured and recorded. The results for English and Maths to be released on Thursday 24 August will look very different from the familiar A to G system.

Instead a new grading structure running from 9 to 1 is being introduced, with 9 being the highest grade attainable.  The grade table below provides a guide for pupils to understand the new grades for English and Maths in relation to the marks they will receive in their other subjects, with Grade 4 considered a standard pass and Grade 5 a strong pass.

Despite apparent correlation between the new system and the previous one, the new system is only broadly comparable to the previous one. This means there is no easy way of knowing if the results for Maths and English will go up or down from the grades given.

This is complicated by wider changes in the national calculation of GCSE grades for English and Maths starting this year. Progress 8 and Attainment 8 are complex processes which will be used by government to benchmark results, calculate standards and measure accountability in schools.

Progress 8 is a longer term calculation of this year’s grades which is not due to be available from the Department For Education until October.

Taken together Progress 8 and Attainment 8 relate to how results will be calculated in the future, in a very different way from before.

These changes are the reason why this year’s results mark the start of a new era for GCSEs.

More information:

Attainment 8
This measures overall attainment for schools at Key Stage 4 across the following eight subjects.

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Three other English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects (sciences, computer science, geography, history and languages)
  • Three further subjects, which can be from the range of EBacc subjects, or can be any other GCSE or approved academic or vocational qualification

Progress 8
This measures how schools are performing by looking at how pupils progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11 in the above eight subjects.

Department of Education Website: