Yet more confusion about the new GCSE Grade 9 to 1

There is yet more confusion about the new GCSE grade 9 to 1, with the government saying that there will be a different yardstick to measure the success of a school from that used to measure the success of a particular student, based on the new grading system that takes effect this summer.

From this summer 2017, GCSE students will be awarded pass grades as high as 9 or as low as 1 in English and Maths. Over the next couple of years or so, all the other subjects will be graded in this manner, instead of the outgoing grading system of A* to G as pass grades.


New GCSE Grading from 2017

Old grading structure New grading structure
9 A*
7 A
6 B/C
3 D/E/F/G


Grade 5 in now the minimum accepted as a good pass grade


According to the new system as shown in the table above, grade 5 is accepted as the lowest of the pass grades and it was widely accepted as suggested earlier by the government that both schools and individual students will need a minimum of grade 5 in the most important subjects to be judged as having achieved a high standard. According to the EBacc (The English Baccalaureate), which was introduced by the government less than a decade ago, under the outgoing system, a student needs to achieve a minimum of C grade in English, Maths, two Science subjects, one Language (French, German, Latin and so on) and either History or Geography to reach the EBacc standard. Now with the new grading system, the government is now saying that a grade 4 in each of these subjects is sufficient for a student to achieve EBacc, whereas for a school it has to be the number of students who achieve grade 5 in those subjects that will be taking into consideration in judging how successful a school is in meeting the EBacc requirements. This idea is perceived at complete and utter confusion as teachers and parents do not understand why there has to be a different measurement for individual students from that of the school and they could not understand the inconsistency.

Allaying the fear of parents

The government has had to make an announcement in order to allay the fear of parents because grade 5 under the new system is equivalent to upper grade C or lower grade B under the outgoing system. This means that it is harder to reach the EBacc standard as if it was set at grade 5, so only the students who are at least close to a B grade under the old / outgoing system will get a grade 5 and so the EBacc.

Whilst many parents will be relieved that their child now only needs to achieve a grade 4 in Maths and English for those to count as part of the EBaac, schools are worried that the bar for measuring their success, based on the number of students who achieve the EBacc has been raised. They perceive this as unfair as they fear that their school will be judged as less successful.

How many students will get straight grade 9 at GCSE?

The other confusion about the new grading system is that some experts had earlier thought that only about two students in the whole country will achieve a straight grade 9 – equivalent of the very top A* under the old system of grades A* to G each year.

A researcher at Cambridge Assessments – Tom Benton – has said that the new grade 9 is not much harder to achieve than the old A*. He is suggesting that hundreds of students will achieve straight A* in all the GCSE subjects they take.

For me, I don’t think it really matters so much if only two or ten thousand young people get grade 9 in all the 10 or 12 GCSE subjects they take. What matters most is that standard among young people is raised and they are encouraged to challenge themselves and aim high. I would rather have a child who secures eight grade 9 grades and two grade 7 or 8 and who is well-balanced and has other skills that are necessary to be successful and to live a happy, exciting and independent life that someone with twelve grade 9s who has less to offer other than achieving the very top grades in all the subjects. The very top universities agree with me on this and this is taken into consideration in their selection criteria for both GCSE and A-level.


My view on all the second controversy surrounding the new grading system is that the young person should just focus on what they need to do to try and secure a grade 5 or higher in all the subjects they take – particularly those subjects that are part of the EBacc requirement. Although the government is saying that, now grade 4 is sufficient; who knows if the position will change soon, after so many students achieve grade 4. Another point to bear in mind is that the universities and top employers do not have to follow the government recommendations as each institution decides its own selection criteria. All we can do as parents is to support our young people and encourage them to bring out the very best in them.