Monday, 10 April 2017

GCSE 9-1 grading

*********************** UP-DATE DECEMBER 2017*****************************
I have up-dated this post to reflect the situation for the 2017-2018 academic year, including suggestions about gradings of mock exams and some useful phrases in letters to parents.




This blogpost is focussed particularly on ML in the context of the reformed GCSE currently being studied by Year 10 but the principles and messages are exactly the same for

(a)    Current Y11 in maths and English
(b)   Other reformed GCSE subjects for current Year 10

People are asking how they can use the results of mock exams being taken by current year 10 pupils to estimate final GCSE grades.

Being fair to all the pupils of all abilities at a time of major transition and change (and by extension to their teachers) taking a wide range of GCSEs  in a real world of historical legacy and political realities, not starting from scratch, we need to be sophisticated and thoughtful and avoid simplistic solutions.

It's a complex situation but there are a few key principles to help through this transition period to ensure fairness for pupils.

There is a range of information available from Ofqual itself (the body responsible for ensuring the quality of standards in qualifications which have been written by exam boards within the constraints set by DfE) and from ASCL (the Association of School and College Leaders).

There is also much rhetoric around which is confusing the situation and so it is important to unpick some of the political rhetoric, failed logic etc. etc.  For example, 'the content is more demanding'.  Yes, the specifications do appear more demanding.  They have stripped  out any mention of what pupils can be expected to know understand and do at lower levels.  However, grades will be awarded according to 'comparable outcomes' (see below), not according to any statement-related criteria.

At a time of transition, change and uncertainty this can open a floodgate to discussion (e.g the value of statement-related criteria).  This may be very interesting, but it can unnecessarily distract from the task at hand,  It’s important to focus on what is happening in order to ensure fairness to pupils during this transition.


The Ofqual Blog has some extremely useful posts.  Here are some examples:

(a)    a 9-1 campaign including a chart to show how grades 1, 4 and 7 will compare with current grades G, C and A

(b)   Grade boundaries: the problems with predictions 3/2/17  This blogpost explicitly says that it is unhelpful to estimate grade boundaries in mock exams.  Three reasons are given for this, and I copy and paste the third of  these below:

Statistics will play a key role in making sure this year’s students are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit these new GCSEs. Exam boards will use prior attainment at Key Stage 2 for the 16-year-old cohort to predict likely achievement at the key grades – 1, 4 and 7. The bottom of these grades will be aligned with the bottom of grades G, C and A respectively so the proportions of students achieving these grades or higher will be broadly similar to the previous year. We, and the exam boards, will have the full national picture; other organisations will only have a sub-set of the cohort, which may not be representative of the national situation.

(c)    Setting grade 9 in new GCSEs  This post sets out how the number of grade 9s will be caluclated

 2.      ASCL ADVICE

ASCL has provided advice to students,parents,teachers and  headteachers.    This link includes links to downloads for the following:

  1.  FAQs for school leaders
  2.  FAQs for teachers
  3.  FAQs for parents
  4.  FAQs for students
  5.  Technical Notes in Advance of the June 2017 GCSE Results

Here is a copy and paste of the first FAQ in the Headteacher paper:

1 Can I give my governors an estimate of how our GCSE grade distribution in the reformed GCSEs will be this year? What about grade boundaries?

ASCL’s advice is not to rely on any predictions of grade boundary marks for new GCSEs next summer. Statistics will play a key role in making sure this year’s students are not disadvantaged by being the first to sit these new GCSEs, and the setting of grade boundaries will need to take account of the national picture which will not be known until all the papers are marked in the summer. In the School Inspection Update March 2017, Ofsted inspectors have been advised not to press schools for predictions of outcomes this year. It is possible to give an indication of the likely grade distribution because of the statistical linkage specified by Ofqual. ASCL will be publishing more guidance on this in the coming months.

One of the most common issues being raised on ML fora relates to other teachers or managers either expecting to be able to convert raw marks to grades or having managers who are putting pressure on them to convert raw marks to grades as a way of telling pupils about their attainment / progress. What can you do about this?

You have to assess what is or is not within your control.  Staff are in a complicated situation.  The ideal is to have managers who understand the situation and are not making unrealistic demands.  

What is in your control …
Following tests, give  pupils specific advice on how to  improve - in effect using the assessment formatively e.g.  'you have shown you understand how to form the past tense, but you do not do this consistently accurately.  Learn all the verbs which take 'ĂȘtre' in the past tense.'

What is out of your control ...
There may be requirements set by your management at school, and you have to follow their direction.  However, you could refer them to the Ofqual blog and to ASCL's advice.

I hope this helps,.


I paste below some comments I have offered on the Facebook group Secondarymflmatters regarding using sample papers to judge pupil attainment within the 9-1 framework.

A possible approach to getting a rough idea of how your pupils are performing relative to their target grade.

Step 1: 
Imagine if the spec had not changed. Looking at the current cohort, what would you have estimated for
(a) A*-A 
(b) A*-C and 
(c) A*-G? 

[And I don't think you should have to give the an actual past paper to determine this .. it's what I think most schools do at the start of Year 10 .. an estimation ..and as a new teacher, that's where your colleagues / SMT will be helping, based on prior attainment]

Step 2: 
Work out the raw mark which gives you these percentages on whatever set of exams you administer .

This gives you your 'anchor points':
A = 7
C = 4
G = 1

Step 3: Nobody can calculate the intermediate grades as this depends on the raw mark distribution of all pupils taking the exam up and down the country. However, to get a feeling of what they may be, use the method which will be used, i.e.: rule of thumb:

9 =top one fifth of the combined A and A* grades
8 = half way between boundary 9 and boundary 7
6 = top third of the raw marks between a C/4 and an A/7
5 = middle third of the raw marks between a C/4 and an A/7
3 = top third of the raw marks between a G/1 and a C/4

2 = middle third of the raw marks between a G/1 and a C/4

Here are the percentages of candidates who gained the anchor grades in England last year:
French: 7/A 22.7%; 4/C: 68.8%; 1/G - 99.7%
German: 7/A 22.9%; 4/C 74.3%; 1/G 99.9%
Spanish: 7/A 27.1%; 4/C 69.8%; 1/G 99.4%
Obviously you cannot possibly use these percentages and apply them to your cohort, as every cohort will have different prior attainment. The pattern will be especially different if you are in a school where languages are still compulsory. (Not sure there are many of us left in the state sector!).
From this info, last year in England you can see that there would have been differences in the percentage awarded a 9 across the languages.

Out of interest, the percentages needed in tiered maths papers last year were as follows:
AQA Maths higher,
A = 52% of the total marks available (so feel good if you manage to understand half of what you are faced with!) ,
C = 19% of total marks available. (the argument from Ofqual being that those who are of this standard should really be entered for a foundation paper)
AQA Maths Foundation:
C/4 = 52% of the total marks available and
G/1 = 11% of the total marks available.
Edexcel Maths higher
A = 52% of the total marks available (as AQA)
C = 17% of total marks available. (slightly lower than AQA)
Edexcel Maths Foundation:
C/4 = 51% of the total marks available and

G/1 = 11% of the total marks available.


Useful paragraphs about new GCSE 9-1 grading.  Used 2016/2017.  To be up-dated for 2017/2018

(a) ASCL documents from this link:



This year sees the introduction by the Government of new GCSEs in English Language, English Literature and Mathematics including a new 9-1 grading system for those GCSEs, whilst retaining for this year existing GCSEs in other subjects and the A*-G grading.  To ensure that pupils this year are not disadvantaged, Ofqual, the independent regulator, has ensured that the number of pupils getting new grades 9-4 will be the same nationally as gained grades A*-C last year.  The short timescales and late delivery of materials have made this a very stressful two years for pupils and teachers, and we are delighted that the hard work and commitment shown has resulted in excellent results across subjects.


7th February 2017
Dear parents,

As you will be aware, there have been major national curriculum and exam changes at Key Stage 4 over the past two years.  The changes affected both current Years 10 and 11 (but in different ways) and these were outlined in the Upper School Handbook and at Parent Information Evenings.  We are aware, though, that many parents and pupils still have questions about the alterations and so we felt it would be helpful to revisit them in a summary about Year 11 pupils as they approach their final exams.

Year 11 English and Maths
The key changes for English and Maths occurred in September 2015 for current Year 11:
English has moved to an untiered system, i.e. there will NOT be a Foundation Tier and Higher Tier as there was before.  Pupils will be assessed by written exams at the end of the course, so there will not be any Controlled Assessment (or "coursework").

Maths has retained the tiered system, i.e. there is a Foundation Tier and Higher Tier, with an overlap.  The Department for Education (DfE) has tightly specified the content for "Foundation only", "overlap" and "Higher only", and the assessments are designed to cover the material with pupils sitting written papers at the end of Year 11.

However, it is rather confusing (particularly to parents with older siblings) that the same names "Foundation" and "Higher" are used because the grade range covered by each has changed significantly.  Previously the overlap was old grades C and D.  Now it is effectively old grades B and C, i.e. higher attaining pupils than previously are now in the overlap.  The new Foundation tier effectively covers old grades G - B (officially 1 - 5 in 9-1 grades), whereas previously it covered old grades G - C, and so more pupils will be sitting foundation exams than in previous years.   As always, we will be reviewing each pupil on an individual basis to decide which tier of entry will give them the best chance of achieving the best grade.

Year 11 other subjects
These are the existing GCSE specifications being examined for the last time, and the results will have grades A*- G

New grading system and nature of assessment
The most noticeable change for the new Maths and English specifications has been the move to a new grading system.  It is based on numbers rather than letters.  Exams will be graded from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest.  Pupils who fail will be awarded a "U" for an unclassified result.  Crucially, the new grades will not simply map directly onto the old ones, as can be seen in the Ofqual diagram on the right.  Ofqual is the independent exams regulator, and they have decided to fix some comparison points.  The same percentage of pupils will get grade 4 and above in the new system as currently get grade C and above.  The actual percentage varies from subject to subject.  Similarly the same percentage of pupils will get grade 7 and above in the new system as get currently grade A and above (also "grade 1 and above" equal to "grade G and above").  This is important and reassuring news for pupils and parents at a time of much rhetoric about exams being "tougher" etc.  Although there is more advanced content in some subjects, adjustments will have to be made to the type of questions and the grade boundaries so as to ensure that pupils are not penalised, and get the grades they deserve.


Advice from a HOD maths:

  • Don’t get stressed about it; ultimately it made very little difference to outcome for those on the borderline.
  • Make the decision on an individual basis and collectively with students and parents.  Ultimately it depends how the pupil feels (assuming the data says they are on the borderline)
  • Don’t be afraid of entering someone for the higher paper even if they haven’t done all the higher content – they don’t need to get much of it right!  May be try and get them to do both mocks. One in the hall and another in class or at another moment.
  • Delay your decision as much as possible – teach at the boundary between the two specifications to enable this.
  • 9 times out of 10 the students are leaning toward the same decision as you by the time it gets to the exam anyway.
  • Constantly point out that there is now a two grade overlap, they can get a 5 on the foundation, which is equivalent to a low B anyway.  

Comment: Nationally in maths the entry ratio changed from 25% Foundation / 75% Higher to 50% Foundation / 50% Higher - the figure will obviously be different in ML because it is not the whole cohort doing the subject.


. Link to AQA GCSE 9-1 Maths raw mark/grade boundaries last year

No comments:

Post a Comment