Skip to content ↓

Guide to the Reforms to GCSE

Facts About the Reforms


New courses at GCSE were introduced between September 2015 and September 2017.

The way examinations are graded has been changed.

The introduction of these new courses is being staggered in three stages from September 2015 to September 2017 (which is referred to in this document as the transition phase).

During the transition phase, students will possibly be taking a mixture of new and old courses and, in the case of GCSE between 2017 and 2019 , they will be receiving results, some of which are graded in letters (old courses) and some in numbers (new courses). The changes at GCSE will impact on all those currently in Year 10 and below.

a) What these changes are and when they will happen

1. GCSE – New courses to be taught from September 2015 and first examined in June 2017

  • Maths, English language and English literature (no single English)

  • More content, more demanding, more extended writing

  • Exam at the end of the course in June 2017, November resit for sixth- formers only

2. GCSE – Further new courses to be taught from September 2016 and first examined in June 2018

  • Science (double and triple), Modern Foreign Languages, History, Geography, Computer Science, Art and Design, Drama, Physical Education and Music

  • Internal teacher assessment / coursework only where essential

  • More content, more emphasis on literacy and numeracy

  • Exam at the end of the course in June 2018, no resits except for English and Maths for sixth-formers

3. GCSE – Final group of new courses to be taught from September 2017 and first examined in June 2019

  • All remaining subjects

  • Similar approach in terms of teacher assessment, content and emphasis on literacy and numeracy

  • Exam at the end of the course in June 2019, no resits except for English and Maths for Sixth Form students

4. Grading of new GCSEs

  • 9 (highest) to 1 (lowest) will replace current grades A* to G in the new courses only between 2017 and 2019

  • Top 20% of those awarded a 7 or above will be awarded a 9.

  • 4 roughly equivalent to a C, Grade 5 will become the ‘new good GCSE pass’

  • 7 and above roughly equivalent to an A and above

To provide more differentiation, particularly among high achievers, and for the students who "bunch" in the middle grades.

By raising the standard of the benchmark midpoint grade. The boundary for the new grade five will be set at about half to two thirds of a GCSE grade higher than the current requirement for a grade C. Ministers say that this will bring England's exam benchmark up to the level of students in in the world's leading economies such as China, as measured in the international Pisa education survey.

It is intended that the bottom of a new grade four will correspond to the bottom of a current grade C. So, broadly the same proportion of candidates will achieve a grade four or above as currently achieve a grade C or above. It will be important to note that under the changes those candidates will be spread among six different grades (four up to nine), and not four (C up to A*) as at present, helping to distinguish between middle and top performers and giving pupils heading for grade C a higher goal to aim for.

At the top end of the grade scale there are several possibilities. It suggests the new grade seven boundary could be equivalent to the current grade A baseline, providing three top grade bands instead of two. This leaves the potential for grade nine to become the holy grail mega-grade marking exceptional performance achievable by only the top half of those students who currently achieve the highest grade of A*.

For weaker students it is proposed that the proportion of students who achieve a grade one (1) in the new GCSEs will be about the same as those who currently achieve either a grade F or G. Although applicable to a small minority, for these youngsters it can represent real progress.

A new national reference test will also be introduced. This is designed to provide extra information about a year group's performance and to ensure that any changes year-on-year are reflected in the grades awarded. This test will cover English and Maths, and be applied to a representative sample of year 11s across the country shortly before they take their GCSEs. If, overall, students' performance in the reference test is better than in previous years, then the proportion of students in the national cohort achieving higher grades in that year may be increased accordingly. Such evidence is not currently used when exam boards make GCSE awards.

b) How will they affect your child for 2017 - 2018?

1. If your son/daughter is currently in Year 11:

  • New GCSEs in English, Maths, Science, Modern Foreign Languages (MFL), Geography, History, Art, Drama and Music are graded 9 - 1.

  • The other three subjects - Media, Product Design and Business Studies remain unreformed and are graded A* - G.

2. If your son/daughter is currently in Year 7, 8, 9 or 10:

  • All GCSEs will follow the new reformed qualification and graded from 9 to 1.