Skip to main content

Numbers, numbers everywhere

17 June 2015

What’s in a number? Well from 2017, quite a lot. That’s because it’s when the new grading system for GCSEs will come into force. Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, has confirmed the new grading bandings which will be coming into force in two years. She’s announced that under the new 1-9 system, a grade 5 will be considered a ‘good pass’. It will be comparable with the current good C/low B. Underlying this decision is the wish to bring the English system in line with the standard aimed for by young people in top-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The new system will, of course, have an impact on colleges in terms of the numbers of students needing to retake exams and the setting of entry requirements. The transition from letters to numbers will be tricky – the current system has been in place for over 30 years. Doubtless, this will cause some confusion to start with, especially for parents, students and teachers who are used to the current letter style grades. The question is – will the changes really bring about the raising of standards this Government believe is needed? The jury will be out for quite a while on that, as it’s likely to be a number of years before we see the true impact. What’s particularly concerning is the plans to align the new GCSE good pass (grade 5) with the 16-19 English and maths funding condition for colleges. While this will be a phased approach, with funding for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years being based on a GCSE grade 4, the detrimental effect this could have on college funding is worrying. However, instead of solely looking at the grading system, why not look at the exams themselves? For a while now, the Association of Colleges has been calling for different ways of looking at the way qualifications are assessed. The decision to reduce and even end modular teaching and assessment in academic qualifications will have a detrimental impact on the standards that the Government want to raise. Everyone learns in different ways. The fact we learn in the workplace and at university incrementally should be considered, and is why AoC believes that assessment should not solely be through end of year exams. Placing total emphasis on this style often becomes a test of memory, rather than understanding. Catherine Sezen is the Senior Policy Manager for 14-19 and Curriculum at the Association of Colleges.