A Guide to New KS4 Qualifications & Grading

As a result of recent government reforms to examinations and qualifications, the structure of KS4 courses has changed. Features of the new GCSE examinations are:

  • A grading scale that uses numbers 1-9 to identify levels of performance (with 9 being the highest)
  • Tiering of examinations will only appear in Maths, Science and Languages
  • Linear GCSEs, with an assessment to be taken at the end of the course in May/June of Year 11
  • Assessment by external exam only
  • For most GCSE subjects, 5% of the total marks available in the final written examination paper are allocated to spelling, punctuation and grammar

Colleges, employers and now, even more so, universities ask for certain GCSE grades and subjects as entry levels for courses, employment and degrees.

The majority of subjects from September 2017, for students across England, follow the newly formed GCSE courses. These courses are graded 1-9, with 9 being the highest grade and 4 (basic pass) or 5 (strong pass) regarded as the national ‘pass rate’.

How do the new 9-1 grades work?

The new grading scheme was brought in alongside a new GCSE curriculum in England.

9 is the highest grade, while 1 is the lowest, not including a U (ungraded).

Three number grades, 9, 8 and 7, correspond to the old-style top grades of A* and A – this is designed to give more differentiation at the top end.

Fewer grade 9s will be awarded than A*s and anyone who gets a 9 will have “performed exceptionally”.

A 4 is broadly being compared to a C grade.

The same proportion of teenagers will get a grade four and above as used to get a grade C or above.

Strong pass and standard pass – what is all that about?

It’s confusing, but there are two pass marks – 4 is a standard pass and 5 is a strong pass.

This means that a candidate who gets nine 4 grades has, technically, passed all their exams.

Are there any other changes?

There are changes to the way in which grades for combined science are being allocated.

This qualification is worth two grades. Under the old system, candidates would be given a combined score that was effectively a single grade doubled up – so A*/A*, A/A, B/B and so on.

The new system allows for a little more differentiation so that students will be given two equal grades (for example 5/5) or adjacent grades (for example 5/4).

In total, there are 17 possible grade combinations from 9/9 to 1/1.

Why have the grades been changed?

The new GCSE grading scheme is part of a new curriculum introduced in England’s schools in 2014 by the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

The new GCSE courses include much less coursework than before, with grades in almost all subjects depending on exams.

Courses are designed to be more challenging with exams taken after two or three years of study, rather than in modules with exams along the way.