5 Problems with the new GCSE Numeric Grades

Daniel Harvey, 17th October 2016

5 Problems with the new GCSE Numeric Grades

You can see the official definitions of Progress 8 here.

The rationale behind this appears to have been driven by ex-education secretary Michael Gove attempting to raise standards by introducing a grade higher than A*. I talk to a lot of teachers and I’m struggling to find one who agrees with this. So what is so wrong with this re-badging of achievement?

Problem #1: Making your amplifier go to 11 does not increase it's volume.

In any case, adding an A** would have achieved the same effect. Or making A* harder. You could argue, yes, that the 9 is harder than the old A* - but then some of those kids WOULD have got the 9, so you can't penalise them for ONLY having an A*. And what will colleges / employers look for? The same thing as they always did - the top mark (regardless what that is). Like Spinal Tap, it doesn't really work because in the real world it doesn't have any effect.

Problem #2: If you want to measure change, don't change the measure

Instead of introducing an A** or similarly named additional grade, the decision was made to completely replace the Grade system with numbers. Not numbers that match the grades (or old CSE numbers) by having "1" as the best, but one where 8 (or 9) is the top.

Problem #3: The new and old are not compatible

With 8 new numeric grades (initially) against 8 old letters, one would have thought it would make sense for the mapping to look like this:

Grade G F E D C B A A* (A**)
Numeric 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

But NO! It's actually completely vague, and no one is sure whether a C is a 4 or a 5 or a 4.5 or what. I've seen various charts that look like this:

Numeric Grade

Therefore there is no simple, clear way to map from old grades to new numbers.

Problem #4: Students in the 2016/2017 cohort CAN'T GET a 9

For some logic utterly lost on me, in the first year students cannot get the "extra" 9 - something to do with smoothing the transition or other rubbish. In years to come these students will be disadvantaged. When their CV reads an 8 and someone else's reads a 9 an employer isn't going to say "oh yes, but I remember in the 2017 cohort, the maximum achievable was an 8. So that's the top rung, so they are essentially an A*. Sort of. For these children, this is the most tragic problem of them all.

The top universities/work placements simply want "the top achievers" so that's the 9s or the A*s.

Problem #5: Progress measures are also changing

At the same time as Numeric Grades causing widespread confusion / anxiety, the DfE are also changing the way progress is measured with another similarly convoluted system called Progress 8. See http://pupilasset.com/blog/how-to-solve-a-problem-like-progress-8

Watch out for more news on how Pupil Asset are supporting Progress 8 and Attainment 8 over the coming months.

Here's what the papers are saying:

Congratulations to Hartismere school in Suffolk whose Progress 8 score is an impressive 0.22 (GCSE equivalent grade of 81% at C or above)