AQA grade boundaries 2017: How the GCSE grading system works

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Half a million teenagers will nervously open their GCSE results today, but a change in the grading system may leave some confused.

Traditional A* – U grades have been replaced with a numbering system from 1 to 9 for English and maths exams.

Just a tiny proportion of pupils are expected to achieve a coveted grade 9 amid fears exams have made it harder for students to gain top marks.

But, why has the new grading system been introduced and what does it mean?

What are the top grade boundaries?

9 is the highest grade pupils can achieve in the new GCSEs and 1 is the lowest.

Results day: Students will open results under the new grading system (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

Grade 9 is the equivalent of a top A* in the previous marking system.

But, just 2 per cent of pupils are expected to achieve this in English and 3 per cent in maths.

Grades 9, 8 and 7 correspond with the current top grades of A* and A.

A grade 6 is the equivalent of a B while grade C is split between a “strong pass” at grade 5 and a “standard pass” at grade 4.

The Department for Education has claimed that the new system cannot be directly compared to the lettered marking system.

However, the current grade C and the bottom of grade 4 is a key point of correlation between the two.

What about the bottom end of the scale?

Grades D, E and F correspond to grades 1 and 2.

The lowest current grade G equates to the bottom of a grade 1.

How will schools be ranked?

Schools will be assessed on the number of pupils achieving a grade 4 or above.

They will also be measured on those getting a grade 5 and above.

Results day: Pupils will find it harder to achieve top grades (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

Are the exams harder?

The Department for Education called on exam boards to make the tests more “challenging” and the way in which maths questions were set out was different to previous years.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said reformed GCSEs would leave pupils sitting more exams within a six-week summer exams season, which was likely to put them under intense pressure.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton, said: “The new GCSEs are more challenging, and there are more papers, and this is putting severe pressure on young people. 

“We support a robust qualification system, but it has to be balanced against the welfare of young people, and we are not sure the balance in the new system is correct.”

What happens next?

Currently only papers in English literature, English language and maths have been moved over to the new system but by next year another 20 subjects will be graded 1 – 9.

By 2019 most other exams will follow, the Department for Education has said.

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