Get an overview of the new 9–1 awarding from 2017 for GCSE qualifications and find out how grade boundaries are set.

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Download our Grading from 2017 PDF to find out more about awarding and grade boundaries. 

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What is the new grading scale for GCSE qualifications?

The reformed GCSE qualifications will be awarded on a grade scale of 9 (the highest grade) to 1 (the lowest).

This new scale will be aligned to key grades on the current A* to G scale.

  • broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as currently achieve a grade C and above
  • broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 7 and above as currently achieve a grade A and above
  • broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 1 and above as currently achieve a grade G and above.

All other grade boundaries (except Grade 9) will be set arithmetically, as they are now.

For example, the boundaries at grades 5 and 6 will be set based on the difference in marks between grades 4 and 7; grade 5 will be set at one third of the difference in marks, and grade 6 at two thirds the difference in marks. Find out more about the grade scale

The introduction of Grade 9 in the new GCSEs aims to allow greater differentiation between the most able candidates.

Ofqual have confirmed that in the first year, the Grade 9 will be set using a formula that will see approximately 20% of all GCSE entries that achieve Grade 7 or above across all subjects achieving a Grade 9.

This is a change from the approach previously stated, which would award a Grade 9 to 20% of candidates achieving Grade 7 or above in each subject). The previous approach may have been unfair for subjects with a high ability cohort as more students compete for the top grade than in a subject with a typically less able cohort.  

All awarding organisations will apply a formula to the results of each reformed GCSE specification in the first year, in order to calculate the correct proportion of Grade 9 outcomes for that cohort.

This approach means different subjects will see different proportions of Grade 9s awarded, because the ability of the cohort needs to be taken into consideration.

The Grade 8 boundary will be set arithmetically, meaning it will be set midway between Grade 7 and Grade 9.

Ofqual has published more information about how the top grades will be awarded on their website.  

Attainment of a GCSE for individual students at any grade should be considered an achievement where a student is reaching their potential.

Broadly speaking, a C is equivalent to the new ‘4’ in reformed GCSE qualifications and Grade 4 will be the grade required for progression by most universities, FE providers and employers. This is - and will remain - the level that pupils must achieve in order not to be required to continue studying English and maths post 16.

The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that Grade 4 will be considered a 'standard pass' and Grade 5 a 'strong pass' for the purposes of performance tables. This is a change from the previous position, where Grade 5 was to be the headline performance table measure. 

You can read more about the DfE's position on the 'standard' and 'strong pass' here.