New GCSE grading system has 'ratcheted up pressure' on teenagers

The new GCSE grading system has "ratcheted up the pressure" on teenagers, school leaders have warned. Picture by Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

THE new GCSE grading system has "ratcheted up the pressure" on teenagers, school leaders have warned.

There are concerns that reforms in England could impact on the mental health of young people.

Head teachers said schools had responded by giving pupils extensive support to help ease stress and anxiety.

Teenagers across Northern Ireland, England and Wales will receive GCSE results on Thursday.

In England, traditional A* to G grades have been replaced with a 9 to 1 system, with 9 the highest grade.

The north's exams' body - the CCEA - is retaining A*-G, although hundreds of pupils also take English board exams.

A new grade C* is to be introduced to align with the level of achievement consistent with the grade 5 on the English 9-1 scale.

On Thursday, those in Northern Ireland will receive both letters and numbers. The majority will receive A*-G qualifications, and will see no change in the way their GCSEs are graded, CCEA said.

Only in summer 2019, CCEA said, will the vast majority notice a change. The C* will appear in the grading for the first time and there will be a decrease in the numbers achieving an A* overall.

This year, as few as 200 pupils could score a clean sweep of 9s in all their GCSEs.

One expert argued that last year, a higher percentage of English and maths entries gained the two new top grades - 8s and 9s - than the proportion of A*s awarded for the two subjects in 2016 under the old system, a pattern that could continue this summer across more subjects.

But some may feel disappointed with grade 8s as it "does not feel as grand as the old A*", it was suggested.

This year, 20 subjects will be awarded the new-style grades - with a 7 broadly equivalent to an A, and a 4 broadly equivalent to a C.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We are concerned that the new grading system for GCSEs ratchets up the pressure on young people another notch.

"It was already very hard to achieve the top grade of A* under the old system, and it is even harder to achieve the top grade of a 9 under the new system.

"Young people striving for those top grades may therefore feel disappointed if they do not achieve them, even though they have done exceptionally well in the grades they do achieve."

An Ofqual spokesman said fewer grade 9s would be awarded in each subject than A*, adding that grades 9s were intended to reward "exceptional performance".

:: CCEA has produced an online guide to GCSE grade changes -

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