Our children are probably over-examined and over-graded. But in their desire to distinguish between genius goats and merely brilliant sheep, the education authorities have excelled themselves this year.
A new GCSE grading system comes into play for the first time, replacing the old alphabet A* to G with numbers, 9 to 1. This, however, is a transitional year so the new scheme will be used only for English and maths, meaning that this year’s students will end up with a mixture of numbers and letters.
The main rationale for the change is that A*s were no longer considered sufficiently discriminating. Under the new system, the top grade 9 will be reserved for a small band of the highest achievers, while grade 8 will include most of those who previously would have earned an A*.
Level 7 will be equivalent to a grade A.
Level 4 will now broadly represent the old grade C pass – ie regarded as an acceptable pass by most universities.
But even here matters are not so straightforward. For English and maths, some universities such as University College London and King’s College, London reportedly will consider only passes at level 5 or above as good enough. That could be important in determining resits.
To cap it all, the new GCSEs courses have been made more challenging in content, particularly maths. More now depends on summer exams as coursework has been all but eliminated.
But despite the efforts, some believe overall standards remain too low. The Education Policy Institute says a larger percentage of students should be achieving above a minimum pass in reading and maths to keep up with the best-performing countries.