Why and how are GCSEs, AS and A levels changing?

Mr Knowles explains some of the changes taking place to England's exam system.

GCSEs and A levels in England are being reformed, to match the best systems in the world and keep pace with universities’ and employers’ demands.

  • GCSE content will be more challenging but still suitable for all abilities
  • GCSEs will be graded on a new scale of 9 to 1 rather than A* to G as now, with 9 the highest grade, to distinguish clearly between the reformed and unreformed qualifications
  • A levels will allow more time for studying and better prepare students for university
  • AS levels will be stand alone qualifications to reduce exam burden on students and teachers.

When do these reforms affect GCSE students?

Download the timetable of reforms below. The reforms start with English and Maths in 2017 exams, and more subjects will be reformed later. All reforms will be finished for students taking exams in 2020. 

What changes are being made?

  • Content:  New and more challenging content
  • Structure:   All exams at the end of the course
  • Assessment:   Mainly by examination. Non-exam assessment only where necessary.
  • Tiering:  Foundation and higher tier permitted only in maths, science and modern foreign languages
  • Grading:  New numbered scale (9 to 1 plus U), 9 is the highest. New Government ‘good pass’ set at grade 5

How do new grades 9-1 match up with the old A*-G? Download the chart below to see.

What does the GCSE ‘good pass’ mean?

  • In the future, for the reformed GCSEs, the Government’s definition of ‘good pass’ will be set at grade 5.
  • Grade 5 will be awarded to around the top third of pupils gaining the equivalent of a grade C and bottom third of a grade B. This means that there will be fewer pupils achieving a ‘good pass’ than in previous years.
  • Grade 4 will continue to be a level 2 achievement (equivalent to a low grade C now). We would not expect employers, colleges and universities to raise the bar to a grade 5 if, for example, a grade 4 would meet their requirements.
  • Important to remember that the GCSE ‘good pass’ allows parents and students to hold schools and the Government to account – it is currently set at a GCSE grade C.

What a GCSE certificate might look like in 2017 

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