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The new GCSEs

The new GCSEs in England have a 9 to 1 grading scale, to better differentiate between the highest performing students and distinguish clearly between the old and new qualifications.

Grade 9 is the highest grade and will be awarded to fewer students than the old A*.

The first exams in new GCSEs for English language, English literature and maths were sat in summer 2017. A further 20 new GCSEs were examined for the first time 2018, and in summer 2019 there were 25 new GCSEs examined for the first time. For GCSEs in a small number of languages, new exams came in in 2020, but most students will have had all their GCSEs graded 9 to 1 in 2019.

The new GCSE grading scale is not directly equivalent to the old A* to G one. However, there are some comparable points between the old grades and the new ones:

  • The bottom of grade 7 is aligned with the bottom of grade A
  • The bottom of grade 4 is aligned with the bottom of grade C
  • The bottom of grade 1 is aligned with the bottom of grade G

Although the exams cover more challenging content, the first students to sit the new GCSEs were not disadvantaged. The approach used by Ofqual, the qualifications regulator in England, ensures that, all things being equal, broadly the same proportion of students will get grades 1, 4 and 7 and above in the reformed subjects, as would have got G, C or A and above in the old system.

The Department for Education recognises grade 4 and above as a ‘standard pass’ in all subjects. A grade 4 or above marks a similar achievement to the old grade C or above. It is a credible achievement for a young person that should be valued as a passport to future study and employment. A grade 4 is the minimum level that students need to reach in English and/or maths, otherwise they need to continue to study these subjects as part of their post-16 education. This requirement does not apply to other subjects.

Employers, universities and colleges will continue to set the GCSE grades they require for entry to employment or further study. We are saying to them that if they previously set grade C as their minimum requirement, then the nearest equivalent is grade 4. The old A* to G grades will remain valid for future employment or study.

The Department for Education created a diagram showing how the old and new systems compare - GCSE grading chart (PDF, 68KB).

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