There has been quite a bit of tinkering with school exams in recent years including the scrapping of modular assessment in 2012 which prevented students from doing repeat resits of modules until the desired grade was achieved.

From September of this year new style GCSEs are being introduced in phases.  The first group of new GCSEs will be  English literature, English language and maths with the first qualifications awarded in August 2017.

What is changing exactly?

Courses will be taken over the full two years, rather than by modular assessment.  One of the main differences with these GCSEs will be the introduction of a new grading system. The current system of grading with A*, A, B, C etc. will be replaced with grades between 1-9, with 9 being the highest grade awarded.

Grade 5 (equivalent to a low B or high C) will be the new benchmark for a “good pass” required by league tables, where currently the required grade is C.   Roughly the same number of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above.  Grade 9 will be reserved for the top 20 per cent of those who get a grade 7 and above.

There has been concern that GCSEs have been getting easier over the years and so these new exams are being strngthened as follows.

Maths: From September 2015, pupils will be expected to learn key formulae by heart, while the syllabus will also cover proportion, ratio and “real-world problems” including financial mathematics.  There will also be a greater emphasis on non-calculator work. Where previously, as little as 25 per cent of exam papers were “non calculator”, new GCSEs will need to include between a third and 50 per cent.  The exams will be lengthened to cover the extra content, with pupils sitting three test papers over four-and-a-half hours.

English language: There will be greater emphasis on the correct use of spelling, punctuation and grammar.  Students will read a greater range of fiction and non-fiction texts from a variety of genres and time periods.  Reading and writing will be equally weighted in the overall grades.

English literature: This will no longer be a compulsory subject but pupils who take it will have to assess a 19th century novel, a Shakespeare play, a selection of poetry since 1789 and a British fiction or drama from 1914 onwards. There will also be emphasis on ‘unseen texts’ in the exam.

What about the other subjects?

From September 2016 new GCSEs will be introduced in Biology, chemistry, physics, modern foreign languages, history and geography.

In September 2017 it will be the turn of economics, psychology, sociology and design and technology.

What about the Ebacc?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) isn’t a new qualification.  It is simply a performance measure that allows the public to see how many pupils achieve a “good pass”  in core academic subjects.  This is defined as at least a grade C (later on a grade 5).  The EBacc is made up of:

  • English
  • mathematics
  • history or geography
  • the sciences
  • a language

In June 2015, the government announced their intention that all pupils will in future have to study these core subjects for GCSE.  They plan to implement this for all pupils starting Year 7 in 2015, who will take their GCSEs in 2020.  This has caused alarm in some quarters who say it risks forcing art, dance, design, drama, music and other creative subjects out of schools.