GCSE grades in London higher than rest of UK under new 9-1 exam system

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London schoolchildren have outperformed the rest of the country despite an overall fall in pass rates amid the biggest GCSE shake-up in a generation.

Students today received their results for the first time under a system which uses grades 9 to 1 in maths and English. Other subjects were marked under the old A* to G system.

The reforms were brought in to toughen up syllabuses and to make it easier to distinguish which are the most exceptional students.

But the results showed almost 70 per cent of exams taken in London scored a “good” pass – a 4 and above under the new system or a C and over under the old one.

And almost one quarter of London students (24.6 per cent) got the highest grades – a 7, 8 or 9 or an A or A*.

This compares with 66.3 per cent and 20 per cent nationally.

The next best performing region was the South East, and the lowest was the North East. 

Riana Salman, Candle Mabhena and Lia Salman celebrate after collecting their GCSE results at Sion-Manning Roman Catholic Girls school in west London (PA)

Some of London’s free schools were among the best performing in the country. 

At Reach Academy Feltham there was a 96 per cent pass rate in the new English and maths exams, while at Greenwich Free School the figure was 81 per cent.

Nationally, the GCSE pass rate dropped following the reforms, with falls both in the number of top grades and the numbers getting a good pass.

Results published today show nationally:

  • The percentage of exams graded A or 7 has dropped by 0.5 percentage points to 20 per cent.

  • The percentage of exams awarded a C or a 4 – which counts as a standard pass – is down 0.6 percentage points to 66.3 per cent.

  • Overall 51,000 grade 9s were awarded in the tough new English and maths exams – which is a higher grade than the old A*.

  • Just over 2,000 students got grade 9 in all three of the reformed GCSEs – English language, literature and maths.

Mark Bedlow, from the OCR exam board, admitted the changes could cause uncertainty. 

He said: “Yes it’s all new and potentially confusing but I think parents and employers will begin to understand how these new grade changes apply.”

Holly Ryan, Deqa Mohammed, Monica Bustamante, Elise Mouricette-Johnson and Diena Hayder celebrate after collecting their GCSE results (PA)

Figures released by the Joint Council for Qualifications today show that just over 51,000 grade 9s were awarded to the brightest pupils across the three subjects this year – English language, literature and maths.

However, fewer candidates got the top grade compared to those who got an A* under the traditional system.

Girls achieved around 30,000, or two thirds, of the grade 9s, continuing their domination of boys at top GCSE grades.

They outperformed boys in both English subjects, while boys did better in maths at the highest result.

Exam board chiefs said the new 9 grade was “challenging” and that they “take their hat off” to pupils who had achieved it.

Under the new system, the old A* grade is subdivided into the new grades 8 and 9, with only the very top pupils achieving 9s. 

Grade 7 is the equivalent of an A.

In maths, 3.5 per cent of entries – around 18,617 in total – scored a 9, compared with 7 per cent who achieved the A* last year.

In English, 2.6 per cent, or 13,754 pupils, achieved a 9 while last year 4 per cent of 16-year-olds in England scored an A*.

In English literature, 3.3 per cent or pupils, or 17,187, achieved a grade 9 this year

Following the introduction of new tougher exams, results in all regions of the UK fell slightly compared to last year. 

London suffered one of the lowest drops of -0.2%, but still outperformed every other area in the UK. 

The capital’s schools have undergone a dramatic turnaround in the last decade and now consistently outperform the rest of the country. 

This has been attributed to greater collaboration between schools through the London Challenge, the introduction of top graduates into inner city schools through Teach First, and individual inspiring headteachers.

School union leaders claimed the GCSE reforms were causing teenagers more stress and anxiety, and this was likely to increase as more subjects switch to the new grading system next year.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have already had reports from members of increased stress and anxiety among pupils this year, and this will intensify next year.

“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.”

The grading switch is part of wider reforms designed to make GCSEs more rigorous and challenging and to ensure they are the “gold standard” qualification.

The new exams are based on final exams rather than coursework or modules and have been described as the most difficult since the end of O-levels in the 1980s.

Some teachers who have taught the reformed GCSEs complained about working in the dark with a totally new syllabus, few training materials or practice papers for pupils.

Chief Regulator Sally Collier said: “The new qualifications have allowed students in this year’s cohort to better demonstrate their abilities and will have better prepared them for further study if that is their choice. 

“In turn, the new 9 to 1 grade system signals to employers and others that this year’s students have studied new, more challenging content, and better differentiates between their achievements.

“Today’s results reflect years of careful planning.”

Nick Gibb, minister for School Standards, said: “The government’s  new gold-standard GCSEs in English and maths have been benchmarked against the best in the world, raising academic standards for pupils.

“These reforms represent another step in our drive to raise standards, so that pupils have the knowledge and skills they need to compete in a global workplace.”

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