Gove plans to change GCSE grading

Top GCSE marks of A* and A could be replaced by a one to four numerical scale, education secretary Michael Gove told MPs on Wednesday, as one option to distinguish between high achieving candidates and make a break with the previous grades awarded.

“Rather than having A*, A and B, you might have one, two, three, four, and it might be the case that one, two, three, four cover the band of achievement that is currently A* and A,” Gove told the Commons education select committee. Changing the marking scale “would help re-fix the level at which people could recognise outstanding behaviour,” he said.

Gove’s comments add some detail to the department for education’s desire to change the marking scheme as part of its reforms to GCSEs, although no decision has been made and consultation with exam standards regulator Ofqual would have to be taken into account. “As we have stated previously, the new more rigorous GCSEs will include more demanding assessment structures. Ofqual is considering how we can improve the current A* to G grading system. This is one option. Ofqual will be consulting on a range of options shortly,” a government source said.

Gove also announced that some plans for controversial reforms to the national curriculum and GCSEs could be watered down, as he acknowledged that criticism of the changes from teachers and experts was being taken into account. The education secretary told the Commons education select committee that he was considering scrapping plans for single, tougher, GCSE exams and that he might bow to arguments favouring retaining a tiered system with two exams aimed at pupils of different abilities.

“My overall instinct is to try and move away from tiering. But of course, I want to take a pragmatic approach,” he told the MPs. “If the strong advice, not just from [standards watchdog] Ofqual but also one of the awarding bodies, is that it would be easier to have more reliable assessment if you had some form of separation, then I will take that into account.” What form the second tier exam would take remained under consideration, with Gove suggesting that it could be altered to a stand-alone test with a lower-grade ceiling or be an extension paper. A climbdown over the issue means the department for education would avoid an embarrassing turf war with Ofqual, which has defended the use of tiered exams.

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