These FAQs are for international schools delivering Edexcel International GCSEs only.
In autumn 2013, Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation in England) set out its plans for GCSE and GCE A level reform in England based on the UK Department for Education guidelines. GCSE reform included significant updates to subject criteria and a new 9–1 grading scale, with 9 as the top grade. Reforms were designed to ensure that students were better prepared for a more demanding global market.
It is important that International GCSEs are comparable to reformed GCSEs in England, in terms of the level of demand and assessment standards, so that they continue to support progression to further study, including A levels and beyond.
Therefore, we have updated International GCSE qualifications so that they reflect the latest thinking in each subject including a new 9–1 grading scale. This is to give the very highest performers the opportunity to achieve a grade 9, rewarding outstanding academic achievement. The new grading scale also provides greater differentiation across all levels of attainment with three grades replacing the old grades B and C. More detailed information on attainment will help students and teachers make more informed choices about progression to A level.
The new 9–1 scale affects all schools taking GCSEs in England and internationally, as many international schools choose to offer UK regulated GCSEs. Additionally, schools offering International GCSEs with Pearson Edexcel will be offering their learners the same opportunities as those in the UK, with the new grading scale.
Though the grading scale is changing, the way in which Pearson Edexcel awards grades will remain the same.
In order to ensure that students receive a fair grade, grade boundaries are subject to change after each examination series. This is because sometimes examiners can set question papers that are harder or easier than in previous years. As it would be unfair for students to get a lower grade just because they sat a more difficult paper, or a higher grade just because they an easier paper, grade boundaries are set for each individual exam.
The process for deciding grade boundaries is called awarding and its overall aim is to ensure that standards are maintained from one year to the next. We have a video which explains how grade boundaries are set.
In the same way that for the A*-G grading scale we are unable to provide grade boundaries in advance of an examination, we are unable to provide grade boundaries for the new 9–1 grading scale.
Our question papers go through a rigorous ten-step process to ensure their reliability and validity. Our examiners go through a robust standardisation process and we have significant processes in place to ensure the quality and consistency of our marking.
Ultimately, the 2018 and 2019 grade boundaries will be dependent on a number of factors we cannot predict until the exams have been sat.
GCSE qualifications were reformed primarily to provide evidence of students' achievement against more demanding and fulfilling content. In the UK GCSEs were also redesigned to be linear in structure, with all the assessments being taken at the end of the course, rather than modular.
The new grading scale has been put in place to ensure it was clear that these new GCSE qualifications are different, and that students are recognised for their achievements.
The new 9–1 grading scale, which will be used by millions of learners including our International GCSE students, is designed to better differentiate student performance compared to the A*-G scale.
‘In coming to its decision, the Board recognised that over time, the proportions of candidates awarded the highest grades had increased while the proportions of candidates awarded the lowest grades had decreased. The new scale would provide more discrimination in the middle to higher levels and less discrimination at the lowest levels.’
The UK Department for Education and Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation in England) has introduced a number of reforms to GCSE and GCE A level qualifications in England. Reforms to GCE A level qualifications have not impacted the current A*–E grading scale of these qualifications. GCE A level qualifications will retain the A*–E grading scale for the foreseeable future. As such, we have no plans to change the IAL grading scale, because we want to ensure that GCE A levels and IALs remain fully comparable.
The two scales can not be fully aligned, as one is an 8 point scale and the other a 9 point scale. However there are some principles which can help you to understand which grades are comparable:
- Grades 7, 4 and 1 are equivalent respectively to the key legacy boundary grades A, C and G. This is where alignment has been set by Ofqual.
- Equivalency for grades between these key judgemental boundary grades should be determined arithmetically, and therefore set at equally spaced intervals. Therefore grades 2 and 3 should be spaced equally between grades 1 and 4, and grades 5 and 6 spaced equally between grades 4 and 7.
- The grade 9 boundary mark is higher than the borderline A* boundary mark.
- The grade 8 boundary mark will be slightly lower than the borderline A* boundary mark, above the grade 7.
The key benefits of the new International GCSE 9–1 grading scale are:
- International GCSEs will still be fully comparable with GCSEs in England, in terms of the level of demand and assessment standards, so that they continue to support progression to further study, including A levels and beyond.
- High performing learners have the opportunity to achieve a grade 9, a higher level of attainment than the current A* grade, rewarding outstanding academic achievement.
- The new grading scale also provides greater differentiation across all levels of attainment, with for example, three grades replacing the old grades B and C.
- More detailed information on attainment will help students and teachers make more informed choices about progression to A Level.
On the new 9–1 grading scale, a grade 5 represents a higher level of attainment than the current grade C. Grade 5 will be positioned in the top third of the marks for a current grade C and bottom third of the marks for a current grade B. However the bottom of Grade 4 will align to the bottom of a grade C.
Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, UK
“Under the new system, a grade 4 and above will be equivalent to a C and above. 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. Therefore, a GCSE pass at new grade 4 will continue to have real currency for individual pupils as they progress to further study and employment. Where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C we would expect them to continue recognising a grade 4.”
2017 saw the first assessments for the reformed GCSE (9-1) English and Maths qualifications.
Ofqual (the English qualifications regulator) confirmed that no students would be penalised by being the first to take the new specifications and therefore, as we have seen in this year’s results, that grade distributions are broadly in line with those for the past GCSEs.
As part of the reform process Ofqual committed that in the first awards of the reformed GCSEs, broadly the same proportion of students will achieve a grade 4 and above as had previously achieved a grade C and above, and broadly the same proportion of students who previously achieved an A and above would achieve a 7 and above on the new scale.
This can be seen in our Pearson Edexcel GCSE in English Literature, where provisional grade statistics show that 73.3% of students achieved grade 4 and above in 2017, compared to 73.7% of students that achieved a C in 2016.
What about the Grade 9?
The new 9-1 grading scale has been designed to provide greater differentiation at the top end of the scale, with three grades (7, 8 and 9) replacing the current two grades (A* and A).
As intended, grade 9 was achieved by a smaller percentage of students than previously achieved A*. The 9 is the new, top grade that reflects truly outstanding performance.
For example in our Pearson Edexcel GCSE in English Literature, provisional grade statistics show that 3.7% of students achieved a grade 9 in 2017, compared to 5% of students who achieved an A* in 2016.
A greater proportion of percentage of students achieved a Grade 8 in GCSE English and Maths, in 2017, compared to the proportion who achieved A* grades in 2016.
The full updated suite of International GCSE qualifications were available for first teaching in September 2017, with first assessment in May / June 2019. Centres had the choice in 2016 to teach our English and Mathematics qualifications one year early.
In 2015, we have consulted with teachers, higher education representatives, subject expert groups and other key stakeholders to gain feedback on our suite of International GCSE qualifications. Through this process, we received excellent feedback, which highlighted that International GCSEs are highly valued by teachers and learners across the world. As a result, we will be making some updates to the qualification suite, rather than large scale changes. Changes include more internationally relevant content, increased accessibility for EAL learners, and improved assessment methods.
All specifications and sample assessment materials (SAMs) are available on our website now. We also provide online and face to face training events to ensure teachers feel fully confident delivering the updated qualifications. Each qualification comes with a free Getting Started Guide and Scheme of Work, designed to support you understand the new content and assessment structures of the new qualifications, as well as provide planning materials broken down into lessons.
We will provide you with a wider range of teaching and learning materials, resources and training to support the best possible learner outcomes, in time for first teaching. This support includes schemes of work, exemplar materials, comprehensive textbooks and interactive resources, digital services and tailored International GCSE teacher training. This will complement the wider Pearson support that exists for Edexcel qualifications, such as ResultsPlus, ResultsPlus Direct, and Exam Wizard.
Universities are already setting out their new admission criteria based on the new grading scale. NARIC will continue to communicate with universities internationally, to ensure that where GCSE grades form part of the admissions criteria, students can continue to seamlessly progress onto undergraduate programmes with 9–1 graded International GCSEs.
In the UK there has been some debate over the ‘Standard Pass’. This is because the ‘pass’ affects school performance tables, which in the UK demonstrate the achievements of pupils at key stage 4 (Year 10 and Year 11, for students aged 14-16) and how they compare with other schools in their local authority area and in England. Achievement is measured by looking at what percentage of students get a Grade C or above at GCSE. With two grades replacing the current grade C, in the UK schools need clarification on what the 4 and 5 mean. For school performance purposes, the ‘standard pass’ will be recognised at grade 4 and above, and the ‘strong’ pass at grade 5 and above.
School performance tables do not affect international schools, or independent schools in the UK. The ‘standard pass’ will therefore not have an impact on international schools. A grade 4 and above will be equivalent to a C and above.
In a letter to the Chair of the Education Select Committee on 28 March 2017, Justine Greening stated that, for the new 9–1 GCSEs, grade 4 will be called a ‘standard pass’ and grade 5 a ‘strong pass’. She also stated:
“Under the new system, a grade 4 and above will be equivalent to a C and above. This is - and will remain... Therefore, a GCSE pass at new grade 4 will continue to have real currency for individual pupils as they progress to further study and employment. Where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C we would expect them to continue recognising a grade 4....”