What do the new GCSE 1-9 grades mean and how do they compare with A*-G system?

Is a 4 a pass or a 5? Is a 1 the top score or a 9? All your GCSE grading questions explained


This summer sees the first introduction in England of a new grading system for three GCSEs – Maths, English Languge and English Literature. The new system, which grades exam results from 1-9, is running alongside the old system, with 9 being the top grade and 1 is the lowest.  


Depending on how you see numbers, you may think this is the logical – the higher the number the higher the grade – or illogical – we usually view No 1 as being the top spot.

Logical or not, we’re all going to have learn what the 1-9 grades mean compared with the grading system we’ve known for years.

What do grades 9-1 mean compared with the old grades?

New grades for GCSEs

Grade 9 – this is higher than the current A* grading.

Grade 8 – this sits between A* and A – so a lower A* or a high A

Grade 7 – this is being seen as comparable to a solid A

Grade 6 –  this is a high to middle B

Grade 5 – this is being called a Strong Pass at GCSE, and is currently placed between a low B and a high C

Grade 4 – this is also a pass at GCSE, described as a Standard Pass, and is equivalent to a C grade

Grade 3 – straddles D and a high E

Grade 2 – straddles low E and high F

Grade 1 – straddles low F and G

U is still around for the unlovely Unclassified

So will schools, sixth form colleges and apprenticeships want 4s or 5s in Maths and English?

Lots of confusion here. The DofE initially said that a grade 5 will be seen as a good pass. But that students getting a grade 4 would not have to resit Maths and English. Earlier this year, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced that grade 4 will be a Standard Pass and grade 5 a Strong Pass.

However, the state school that my children attend is asking for Grade 5 at Maths and English in order to stay on in the Sixth Form. Last year, they required a Grade C. There have also been murmurings among the teachers that Grade 5 will become seen as the proper Pass grade in the next year or two.

A survey by UCAS found a similar situation: 38% of 6th forms said they were asking for Grade 4s as a minimum requirement, whereas 42% said they required a Grade 5 or above. 40% said they didn’t feel confident with the new 1-9 system to assess a child’s ability.

I’ve heard the new exams are harder than the old ones. Does that mean that students will get lower results than if they’d taken the exam in 2016?

The exams are designed to be harder – even the DofE states that “the exams will cover more challenging content”. They’re also reducing the coursework and practical assessment elements for future exams – so results come down to how a student does in final exams in Year 11.

However, the DofE states that the “more challenging content” doesn’t mean students will get a lower grade than they might have done under the old system – presumably because there will still be a set ratio of students across each grade boundary.

How difficult is it to get a 9?

Difficult. Far fewer grade 9s will be awarded compared to A* currently. Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) which regulates exams predicts the following for this first year:

  • Maths Grade 9 3% predicted compared with 7% A* in 2016
  • English Language Grade 9 2% compared with 4% A* in 2016

It’s also predicted that the number of students who receive 3 Grade 9s in 2017 will be only a few hundred across England. One chief DofE analyst, Dr Tim Leuing, has predicted that when the new grading system is rolled out for all GCSEs that only two students in the whole country will achieve a full hand of 9s.

Should students appeal if they don’t get their expected grades?

The decision to appeal a GCSE grade should always be done in conjunction with the school – they’ll have information about how close the results were to a grade boundary. Undoubtedly more students will question their results in Maths and English, because there are now more grade boundaries.

When will other subjects move over to the new grading system?

A large number of popular GCSE subjects will have the 1-9 grading system in 2018 – new syllabuses have been taught since 2016. The majority of the remainder will then be in place by 2019 and all will be changed by 2020.

1-9 graded GCSEs rollout

2017 exams – Maths, English Language and English Literature

2018 exams – 2017 exams above plus Art & Design, Biology, Chemistry, Citizenship studies, Combined Science, Computer Science, Dance, Drama, Food Preparation and Nutrition, French, Geography, German, Classical Greek, History, Latin, Music, Physical Education, Physics, Religious Studies and Spanish

2019 exams – 2017 and 2018 exams above plus Ancient History, Arabic, Astronomy, Bengali, Business, Chinese, Classical Civilisation, Design and Technology, Economics, Electronics, Engingeering, Film Studies, Geology, Italian, Japanese, Media Studies, Modern Greek, Modern Hebrew, Panjabi, Polish, Psychology, Russian, Sociology, Statistics and Urdu

What about Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland?

This is just an English initiative. While changes are being made to GCSE syllabuses in Wales and NI, they will keep the old grading system. Scotland, of course, has a different exam system.

Confusing? There’s certainly going to be a lot of explanation needed for a few years ahead. Oh, and there are no plans to change the grading system for A’Levels – at least for the moment.

Read more:


Comments ()

Please read our Chat guidelines.