If you employ school leavers or apprentices, the CVs coming across your desk will include General Certificate of Secondary Education, “GCSE” grades based on the new grading system. If you’re not already aware, the GCSE grading system had an overhaul beginning in 2017 which among other changes saw grades change from letters to numbers.
Instead of grades A* to G which were awarded prior to 2017, you see the numbers 9 to 1, with grade 9 being the highest grade.

What is the new GCSE grading system?

The numerical grading scheme was introduced as part of a 2014 curriculum overhaul by then Education Secretary Michael Gove. The objective was to make the qualifications both more challenging, with exams taken after two years of study, and more accessible to students of different abilities. Previously pupils covered the syllabus through a series of modules with regular assessments throughout the course which often resulted in achieving a grade before the exam.

By moving from letters to numbers it would be clear whether the student had taken a new, more challenging GCSE, or an old GCSE so that fairer comparisons could be made for GCSE equivalent grades.

Students who completed their GCSE exam papers from 2017 to 2019 were in a transitional time and will have been given a mixture of letters and numbers for their grades from the exam board on results day. English Language, English Literature and Mathematics were the first qualifications to change in 2017 with the remaining subjects using the new GCSE grades in numbers by 2019.

GCSE 9-1 Grading

There is no direct comparison from the old to the new grades, but the following gives you a good feel for what the new numbered grades mean.

  • the bottom of grade 7 is aligned with the bottom of grade A
  • the bottom of grade 4 is aligned with the bottom of grade C
  • the bottom of grade 1 is aligned with the bottom of grade G
  • three number grades – 9, 8 and 7 – correspond to the two previous top grades of A* and A

So, what grade is a pass in GCSE?

Historically, many employers will have looked for a grade C pass in English and Maths to demonstrate standards of literacy and numeracy.

Broadly speaking, a “Good Pass” will be a 5 and above in the new GCSE grades, with 5 being the top of a grade C in the old system. A grade 4 would be the equivalent of the bottom of a grade C.

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