New GCSE grading 'will de-motivate less able pupils'

Boy sitting an exam The first of the new exams will be taken in 2017

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New GCSE English exams in England will have a grading system that will de-motivate less able pupils, English teachers say.

Academic Bethan Marshall says she understands the equivalent of a "C" in the new exam will have two grades below it instead of the current four.

Ms Marshall, chair of an English teachers' association, says the grading will be "hugely demoralising".

England's exams regulator Ofqual says no decisions have been made on grades.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is bringing in the changes to toughen up a system which he says was "dumbed down" and damaged by "grade inflation".

New-style GCSEs are due to be introduced in the core subjects of English and maths from autumn 2015, with the first exams being taken in 2017.

New GCSEs in other subjects will follow.

'Why bother?'

Exams will be taken after two years rather than in stages, coursework will be scrapped for most subjects and more marks will be allocated for spelling, punctuation and grammar than at present.

Around the UK

The GCSE changes being announced will apply only to pupils in England.

Scotland has its own exam system, but Wales and Northern Ireland also use GCSEs.

Wales is also planning a shake-up, bringing in its own new GCSEs in maths, English and Welsh, which will be taught from the autumn of 2015.

In Northern Ireland no changes to GCSEs are planned. A recent review concluded there was "no case for replacing A-levels or GCSEs in the short or medium term".

Grading is being changed from letters (A* to G) to numbers from 9 to 1, with 9 being the highest.

Pupils who fail will be awarded a "U" for an unclassified result.

When confirming details of the changes earlier this month, Ofqual said decisions on equivalent grades between the two types of GCSE would follow a consultation and a debate with the public about "where standards should be set".

Ms Marshall, from King's College London, has told the BBC she understands that for English at least, there will only be one or two grades below the equivalent of a C.

"It's my understanding that there will be more or less three levels for A grades, two levels for a B and two for a C," she said.

The original plan was for there to be eight grades but Ofqual said earlier this month this had been raised to nine. Ms Marshall believes that was because English teachers and others complained there was "not much below the C equivalent".

Ms Marshall, who chairs the National Association for the Teaching of English, added: "It's hugely demoralising. Why would you ever bother to do anything if you were a grade E?"

Another academic, who asked not to be named, says he got the same "firm impression" when he attended a meeting organised by exam boards drawing up the new GCSEs earlier this year.

"It became pretty clear there was going to be no difference between getting a D, an E, or an F. For some children, who had worked very hard, those grades would be an achievement," he said.

"The agenda seems to be to create a pass or fail O-level."

Public consultation

At the moment, a C grade in a GCSE is the benchmark set by the government as a "good" GCSE pass, but candidates achieving grades from D down to G have also passed the exam.

A spokesman for Ofqual said: "No decisions have been made. No agreement has been made about where the equivalencies might be set.

"We do intend to have a public consultation on standard setting in the coming months."

Mr Gove had originally wanted to scrap GCSEs and replace them with a different exam, but that plan was opposed by the Liberal Democrats who believed it would bring in a two-tier system, which would damage teenagers who were not academic enough to pass the new exams.

He has, however, already brought in the changes to existing GCSEs.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, supports the changes and hopes the C grade equivalent will be set at one of the lower numbers.

"It may seem hard on children in the short term but in the long term it will be better because their grades will have credibility," he said.

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