The whole purpose of changing the grading structure for GCSE exams was supposed to be to guard against the curse of grade inflation – whereby, over time, it becomes easier and easier to gain a good grade. How unfortunate, then, that the government has inflated the grades before the first exam results using the new system are published in August.
The new scheme replaces the existing A – G grades. In future, candidates will be awarded a grade from 1 to 9, with 1 being the highest level of attainment and 9 being the lowest. The bottom of grade 1 is to be aligned with the bottom of old grade G, and the bottom of grade 4 with the bottom of old grade C. However, in an effort to lift the standards expected of candidates, the government intended that it would base its reporting on school exam results on the number of pupils who had achieved grade 5 – which straddles current grades B and C and was to be known as a ‘good pass’.
When Ofqual announced the new grades in 2014 it justified the change by the need to bring our exam system into a format which would allow the performance of British pupils to be compared with other countries. It stated that the standard required to attain a Grade 5 would be ‘broadly in line with what the best available evidence tells us is the average performance of 16-year-olds in high performing countries’.
However, the government now seems to have had a change of heart, and that grade 4 will, after all, be deemed to be a pass. Today, Education Secretary Justine Greening wrote to the chairman of the Education Select Committee to say that grade 4 will be known as a ‘standard pass’ and grade 5 as a ‘strong pass’.
So much for driving up standards. It seems that the new system will now be really just the same as the old one, only graded numerically rather than alphabetically. What, then, is the point of the change at all, and all the expense that has gone into it? There will be just as many pupils able to boast of a ‘pass’ as before. That might make government ministers, teachers and pupils happy but it is doing nothing to tackle grade inflation.