How do the new GCSE grades work?

In the summer of 2017, students in Year 11 will be the first to receive GCSEs under the new 9-1 grading system. They will be graded in this way for English and Maths. In summer 2018, these grades will be awarded for English, Maths, Sciences, History, Geography, French and Spanish. In summer 2019, all GCSEs will be graded this way.

In this blog I will explain what the new grades mean, and how they are awarded. It is quite complicated, but I have tried to make it as simple as possible! I finish the blog this week with “what it means for students” – and this is the most important bit! – so if you get lost, please skip to the end.

Why are the grades changing?

The Government have introduced new GCSE courses for all schools in England. The content of these courses is more challenging than the old-style GCSEs, including less coursework and focusing much more on assessment in exams at the end of the course. The new number grades will identify whether students have taken the new, more challenging GCSEs, or the old-style ones.

What do the new grades mean?

A grade 9 is the highest grade in the new system; a grade 1 is the lowest pass mark. Below a grade 1 is a fail, and will be awarded “U” for ungraded.

In the first year of each new GCSE, broadly the same proportion of students will get a grade 4 or above as would have got a grade C or above in the old system. This has been called a “standard pass” by the Department for Education. If you get a grade 4 or above in English or Maths, you won’t need to re-sit those subjects post-16. The Department for Education has called a grade 5 a “strong pass” which complicates matters. A grade 5 is equivalent (in the first year of each new GCSE) to a high C or a low B in the old system.

Broadly the same proportion of students who would have got grades A or A* in the old system will be awarded grades 7, 8 or 9 in the new system. This means that fewer grade 9s will be awarded nationally than A*s under the old system.

You can see the equivalence of new grades to old in this illustration from Ofqual, the exams and curriculum regulator:

How will the new grades be awarded?

GCSE grades are awarded after all the exam marking has taken place.

Exams and coursework are marked according to the mark schemes issued by the examination boards. These only have numerical marks on – exams and coursework aren’t graded by markers. When all the marks for everyone who has taken the subject in the country are in, then the grade boundaries are decided so that broadly the same proportion of children nationally get a grade 4 and above as would have got a grade C and above, and the same for grade 7 and above with grade A and above.

Once the candidates at grades 7 and above have been decided, a formula will be used that means that about 20% of all grades at 7 or above will be a grade 9. The grade 8 boundary will be midway between grade 9 and grade 7. The same process applies to the other grades (see Ofqual’s explanation here).

In other words, your grade at GCSE in the new system doesn’t just depend on how well you have done – it depends on how well you have done relative to all the other candidates in the country taking the same GCSE as you. If you are the top 20% of candidates in the grade 7 and above group, you will be awarded a grade 9. If you are outside that, you won’t. This will not be the same each year, and will change with each new group of students taking the exams every year.

This is very significant because it means that if, nationally, lots of children do very well in the exam, the grade boundaries will move up. If it is a hard exam, and students nationally do not do as well, the boundaries will move down. This makes it difficult for teachers to predict grades accurately; we have to make our best professional judgment on the information available to us.

What does it mean for students?


The changes mean that it is impossible for teachers to say “if you do this you will definitely get a grade 5 or above,” because getting a grade 5 depends on how well everyone else in the country does relative to how well you have done. We can’t possibly know how well everyone else in the country has done or is going to do, so all we can do is teach you to get better and better at your own Maths, English, Science, History, Geography and all your other subjects, until you sit the GCSE exam. You have to keep working and pushing yourself to achieve more because what was good enough for a grade 7 last year won’t necessarily be good enough for a grade 7 this year. Don’t settle! You need to keep improving so that you go into the exam at the end of Year 11 fully prepared and confident that you are the best at each subject that you can possibly be – and then you will get the grade that you deserve.

Remember there are posts on this blog to help you to revise effectively, and you can download our guide for families to helping students revise.

Good luck!


A step into the future

I was on duty on the field when I found out. Mr Neale, our Business Manager, came to find me. “We’ve got the new Science and Technology block,” he said. It took a moment to sink in, but then we were both grinning from ear-to-ear and shaking hands. It was the news that we’d been waiting for.


It’s a strange experience receiving the news that the Academy has been awarded £3,905,857 in government funding. When I got back to my office, there was an email waiting for me with the subject line “Application Outcome – Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) 2017-18″. The email went on:

Dear Colleague,

Thank you for applying to the Condition Improvement Fund (CIF) 2017 to 2018.

We received requests for more than £1.3 billion for over 3800 projects to this year’s round. Following our assessment of applications, we have announced £466 million for 1435 projects across 1184 academies and sixth-form colleges.

You can view the full list of successful projects at…

The link takes you to a Department for Education website page. Then you have to download a spreadsheet. Then you need to scroll through the spreadsheet which lists all 1435 successful projects, looking for North Somerset…and there it is. Churchill Academy. “Replacement of Science Labs and Design Technology facilities.” We’ve got the bid.

Only about a third of the bids submitted across the country were successful. We are one of only four bids in North Somerset to be funded this year. For the Academy, it’s the culmination of years of hard work. The first bid to replace our ageing Tudor block was submitted in 2014 – and was unsuccessful. Since then, we’ve been working tirelessly to convince the Education Funding Agency that the building – originally built in the mid-1950s for the very first students to come to the new school in Churchill – was in need of replacement.

Tudor Roof

Photographs from our CIF bid showing some of the issues with the Tudor block roof

We’ve had surveys. We’ve had health and safety and environmental audits. We’ve had structural reports. We’ve been up on the roof to photograph the cracks, leaks and gaps. And we’ve put hours and hours into planning for the replacement buildings, working with our architects and our contractors to ensure that every detail was considered and every eventuality planned for.

In the last cycle of funding, we were awarded £1.3 million to build our new Computing and Business Studies block, which is very nearly finished. That project has run like clockwork, with minimal disruption to the Academy, and is due to be handed over to us by the end of April. We will then fit it out with computers and equipment, ready for students in June.

03 23 17

Computing and Business Studies building – nearly finished!

That building replaces the top floor of the Tudor block, and was called “Phase One.” We submitted “Phase Two” – the replacement of the ground and first floor  – in December 2016. At the top of the submission documents, I wrote a letter to plead our case, which concluded:

“2017 is the school’s Diamond Jubilee year. Our main building has served us well for sixty years, but the students of 2017 deserve better than to receive their education in a building designed and built for the students of 1957. Its replacement is now a necessity.”

All that hard work has paid off. The second phase of the project will go up on the site of “The Cage” behind the Sports Centre, and will include twelve brand-new Science Labs and two modern and fully equipped catering rooms. Work has already begun this week in preparation for the build. Ground will be broken this summer. The first students are due to go into the new facilities at the beginning of 2019. Now all that’s left to do is to bid for the funding to demolish the decommissioned building…

It’s Mr Neale’s last term-time week at the Academy this week, as he is relocating to take up a new role after Easter. He’s been busy tying up loose ends, handing over to those taking over, and in particular seeing our current building project through to completion. I’d like to pay tribute to him here as he leaves us, and thank him for his contribution to Churchill. The facilities that students will enjoy for generations to come are a fitting legacy for him to leave behind – we all wish him well in the future.