How Have GCSEs Changed Over The Past Few Years?

How Have GCSEs Changed Over The Past Few Years?

In an effort to raise the standard of education in England, the government has revised the 30-year-old GCSE system. This new system is the result of a long process of reform that began in 2011 with the national curriculum review in England, involving extensive consultation with schools, further education, higher education, and employers on the principles of reform and subject content.

The new system has proven to be more demanding, but the idea behind this is to enable young people to be fully equipped with all of the necessary knowledge to compete in the increasingly competitive global job market. According to Michael Gove, former secretary of state for education, making GCSEs more demanding and more fulfilling will give young people the broad, deep and balanced education which will equip them to win in the global race.

These changes have been taking place since August 2017 and by 2020 all new GCSEs will be graded using the new system. The main changes to be aware of in this new system are the new exam and assessment procedures, the new grading system, the exam scopes, and the effects this has on job and university applications. 

What are the new exam and assessment procedures?
Under the new system, pupils will sit for their exams at the end of the two-year period. This is in contrast to how pupils used to take several exams spread out during the course of their GCSE education, which covered various sections of the curriculum.

This new examination system will, of course, affect the content that pupils need to study for their GCSE exams. For example, the new English Literature and History GCSEs require pupils to study the entire curriculum, whereas the previous exam only required pupils to cover a narrower range of content.

The content of each subject will also be more challenging, with more substantial texts in English literature and a number of new topics in maths. The exams will also look different and will have fewer ‘bite-sized’ questions and more essay-style questions.

Coursework assessments and other controlled assessments will also be used less in most subjects, except for practical subjects such as art, drama and dance. In addition, every pupil will also be required to do at least two science GCSEs with single science options having been dropped a while ago.

What does the new grading system look like?
The most noticeable change with the new GCSEs is the grading system. Previously GCSEs were graded with letters ranging from A* – G. However, the new grading system is arranged in a number system ranging 9 -1.

The new grading system will look as follows:

  • 9 is higher than the current A*
  • 8 is between and A* and A
  • 7 is are equal to an A
  • 6 is equivalent to a high B  
  • 5 is between a B and C (strong pass)
  • 4 is equal to a grade C (standard pass)
  • 3 is in between a D and E
  • 2 is between an E and F
  • 1 is a G
  • U refers to an ungraded paper

As you can see, the new grading system has more range than the old system which can narrow how young people are assessed. This also means that far fewer pupils will end up achieving the very top grade available, and many who would have been A* students under the old system could wrongly regard a 7 or 8 as a failure.

How will GCSE resits work?
For pupils that need to resit their GCSEs, they will be able to resit only maths and English in November, with no resits available for any other subjects. Grade 4 will remain the level that students must achieve without needing to resit English and Maths. 

How will this affect university and job applications?
The new system will change the way universities and employers will assess their candidates. This will also rely on further education routes such as A-levels and the new technical qualification called T-levels that will be implemented soon.

Overall the new system will be more challenging for young people, but not impossible as future cohorts will adjust to the new changes. The important thing to focus on is how these changes will set up young people in the global market so that they are able to compete with young people from countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore where the education system is extremely challenging. This will allow young people in the UK to access more rewarding career prospects around the world.

GT Scholars is a not-for-profit social enterprise and registered charity. We run after-school and weekend programmes that help young people achieve their academic and career aspirations. Our programmes include tutoring, mentoring and enrichment sessions for young people aged 11-18. Contact us if you would like to know more about any of our programmes and courses.

GT Scholars

GT Scholars is a not-for-profit social enterprise that tackles educational inequality and improves social mobility by helping young people aged 11-18 gain access to top universities and competitive careers. Our tutoring, mentoring and enrichment programmes are designed to give young people the support, skills and strategies they need to achieve their ambitions.
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