A Level & GCSE Exam grading explained for parents

As well as students bracing themselves for their A level and GCSE results over the coming weeks (Thursday, 16 and 23 August), Nottinghamshire County Council is keen that parents feel clear on how the new A levels are different as well as demystifying the updated GCSE grading system.

Nottinghamshire County Council’s children and young people’s committee chairman, Councillor Philip Owen said: “I know parents can sometimes feel blinded by science as exams evolve and the way results are reported is overhauled.

“With A level and GCSEs, there were some sizeable changes in 2017 which are being brought in gradually over the course of a few years. At first glance they might look complicated to get your head round, but I’d urge parents not to be phased. ”

Last year, for example, was the first results to be published for the new two-year A level in certain subjects where content had been reviewed and updated, assessment was mainly by exam at the end of the course with modules removed.

A and AS levels have been uncoupled so that the AS results no longer count towards an A level in the way they have until now.

Last year the subjects affected were: art and design, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, English language, English language and literature, English literature, history, physics, psychology and sociology.

In addition to the list above, students who sat A level exams over the summer (2018) would have been assessed under the new qualifications in ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin), dance, drama and theatre, geography, modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish), music, physical education and religious studies.  Further subjects are set to undergo reform next year.

And whilst teaching for the new A Levels subjects began in September 2015, a phased approach will introduce new subjects year on year, so that from summer 2020, all related exam results published will be in the same format.

“We know that some students perform better when subjects are coursework assessed, so you should be aware that this change may also have a bearing on your son or daughter’s ability to achieve their desired grades,” continued Coun Owen.

“By way of reassurance though, students right across the country who have been studying the affected subjects will be operating on the same footing, so in this respect, it’s a level playing field.”

GCSEs are also now subject to more challenging curriculum and end of key stage exams. Other types of assessment is used only where they are needed to test essential skills.

And for these qualifications, the new grading system introduced last year in English language, English literature and mathematics, remains with more subjects being added this year.

The additional subjects are ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin), art and design, biology, chemistry, citizenship studies, combined science (double award), computer science, dance, drama, food preparation and nutrition, geography, history, modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish), music, physics, physical education, religious studies

In all these subjects as well as English language, English literature and mathematics, students will receive their grades in numbers where a 4 is equivalent to a C in the previous grading system.

The new grading scale goes from 9 to 1, with 9 being the top grade. Most other subjects will adopt the number reporting by 2020.

Other subjects, for example, business, design and technology, economics, engineering, Italian, Japanese, psychology and sociology will be reported this year, as they have been in previous years, ranging from A*-G, so students who have taken GCSEs in England this summer will receive a mixture of number and letter grades.

The new grading structure has been designed so that broadly the same percentage of students achieve a 4 or above. However, instead of the current A*, A, B and C, which most students get, the new scale will feature six grades (9, 8, 7, 6, 5 and 4) and fewer 9s will be awarded than A*s currently.

Broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 7 and above as achieve an A and above. And the bottom grade 1 will be the equivalent to the bottom grade of G.

Grade 4 will be the level that pupils must achieve in order not to be required to continue studying English and maths post-16 and should be the level employers, further education providers and universities accept where historically they accepted a grade C.

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