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GCSE pass rates rise after major shake-up of grading system

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GCSE pass rates have risen this year, as the government rolled out huge changes to the grading system in England.

More than one-fifth of pupils were awarded top marks, with 20.5% taking home either a 7, 8 or 9, which have replaced A*s and As.

It is the first year-on-year rate rise since 2011.

Angus Toms, James Thistlewood, Amy Buck and Katja Ruda celebrate after collecting their GCSE results at Norwich School
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Angus Toms, James Thistlewood, Amy Buck and Katja Ruda celebrate after collecting their GCSE results at Norwich School

Alongside making exams tougher, the government has brought in a numerical grading system, with 9-1 replacing the grades of A*-G.

After a trial last year, 23 exams were graded in this way in England, with all entries expected to be marked with numbers instead of letters by 2020.

The sciences, popular foreign languages, history and geography have all moved over to the new system, following on from English and maths, which moved over last summer.

Only 732 pupils in the whole country scored a clean sweep of top marks, consisting of all 9s.

More than two-thirds, 66.9% received a C, or a 4, or above, which is up from last year, and back to 2016 levels, which is the first year-on-year rise since 2015.

The overall pass rate, anyone getting 1 or G or above, was 98.3%.

This is down from last year’s 98.4% and the lowest overall rate since 2007.

Schools minister Nick Gibb told Sky News: “Over 80% of parents understand the new system.



Hodkin's Lymphoma patient completed GCSEs




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Hodkin’s Lymphoma patient completed GCSEs

“We changed it because the new GCSEs is more demanding, there’s more content to learn over the period of the GCSEs.

“Employers were complaining that old GCSEs were not educating people for the world of work and there was too big a gap between GCSEs and A levels.”

There is less coursework for pupils over the two years of GCSEs, instead with a larger focus on the end of year exams.

George Wicks collects his GCSE results at St Mary Redcliffe Temple School
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George Wicks collects his GCSE results at St Mary Redcliffe Temple School

Despite a progressive roll-out of the new system, pupils in England have admitted to being left somewhat confused by the new system, with some translating the new grades back into the old letters before they shared results with parents.

:: New GCSE grading will demoralise teenagers, headteachers warn

Matt Brady, headteacher of WMG Academy in Coventry, told Sky News: “These are no doubt tougher exams, these students are under lots of pressure in a new system and we have felt the strain for them.

Alice Bentley, Ellen Harris, Grace Evans and Hannah Gardner celebrate in Bristol
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Alice Bentley, Ellen Harris, Grace Evans and Hannah Gardner celebrate in Bristol

“Any change is difficult to comprehend, but the reality is settling in that they are in a 9-1 environment.

“For us, the biggest challenge is making that make sense in a business environment.

“A wider range of grades will mean a wider range of differentiation.

“The government has brought this in to help provide more differentiation at the top end of the spectrum.”

Students celebrate as they collect their GCSE results at Brighton College
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Students celebrate as they collect their GCSE results at Brighton College

Sky News reporter Sarah Hajibagheri said: “Exams boards had billed the new 1-9 GCSE grading system as the ‘biggest time of reform for a long time’.

“But under the new number scoring system, girls are still consistently outperforming boys across subjects – except in physics and maths.

“At the top end, 732 students got a clean sweep of 9 grades in 7 or more GCSEs. 4.9% of entries by girls got a 9 grade, compared to only 3.6% of entries by boys.

“Overall outcomes are stable with a slight increase of 0.5% of students achieving an A/7 (20.5%).

“There was also a similar 0.5% increase in students achieving a C/4 grade (66.9%) – but overall results are in line with those from 2016.”

In terms of regions, Northern Ireland had the best pass rate at entries graded C and above, with 81.1% of pupils awarded the high marks.



Sandra from WMG Academy in Coventry opens her results




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Students begin to open new number graded GCSE results

Wales’ results were down though, with 61.6% of pupils this year picking up Cs or higher.

London had the highest 4/C or above rate in England, at 70.3%.

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