Curriculum Change – Will these new grades “go up to 11”?

I know that all parents have memorable points in the development of their children.  For me it was when they started explaining things to me, or, even better, introducing me to ideas I’d not met.  In the case of one of my sons it was the iconic film “This is Spinal Tap” – a mock documentary about a rock band.  In it lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel proudly announces that his amplifier “goes up to 11.”

We already knew that GCSE grades would be altered to a numbered scale from 1 (low) to 9 (high) when the specifications are revised.  I’m old enough to have sat O levels, which also had a numbered scale (but the other way round – I’m dropping the grades from my CV as it’ll look pretty sick now).  Maybe going up to 9 opens the door subsequently for further grades, though I think it’s more that a new grading system emphasises that these are new qualifications.

Other details are emerging as well.  There won’t be a one to one correlation with existing grades and there’s talk of grade 7 being equivalent to a current A – in other words having two grades above that, instead of the current one.  This is quite important – it could mean that the new grade 9 is higher than the current A* but even if it goes no higher it means that the threshold for a 9 will be higher than for the A*.  Getting a top grade won’t be quite as easy and challenging able students will be even more critical.

The midpoint grade will be a 5 but is likely to be pitched higher than a current C.  We don’t know what the new threshold will be for RAISEonline reports (to replace the current A*-C) but if it’s ‘5 and above’ it’ll be harder to hit.  Once again, the agenda is to raise the bar.

It may be that grade 4 is pitched as being equivalent to the current C.  In this case students reaching that level or higher will be spread across six grades as opposed to the current four, thus allowing for greater differentiation.

You may well recall that there’s been debate recently about the supposed evil of ‘grade inflation’ – in which the percentage of candidates passing the C grade threshold each year slightly rises (could be down to better teaching of course but, hey).  A proposal is that testing prior to GCSEs in English and Maths will establish whether a cohort has actually become more competent; if it has, the idea is then to allow more higher grades to be attributed.  (Interesting idea?  Aired in this column last year.)

The new grades will, of course, provide evidence for whatever replaces the ‘four levels of progress’ indicator.  Attainment at the end of KS2 in English and Maths will be reported as a test score and some whiz of a statistician will indicate how that correlates with GCSE grades five years later.  More grades means more detail in the targets.  Similarly, the incoming ‘Progress 8’ indicator can be calibrated to show how effective a school has been with all of its students in some detail.

Now, this is all in the future.  The future, however, has a habit of being not that far away.  Colleagues in English and Maths are due to start teaching courses using these grades next year.  Have a point of view?  Great – go to  The consultation runs until the end of June.

Ed Walsh

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