The new GCSE grading system - a parent's guide to understanding the changes

Has your child recently taken their GCSEs, or perhaps they sit them next summer or in 2019? In that case, the way their exams results are graded is undergoing a major overhaul. If you’re unclear about any of the changes or what it means for your child’s education, then this quick guide will give you all the details you need as well as resources for further information.

Do these changes apply to Wales and Northern Ireland?

No. Education is devolved to the regions, so these changes only apply to English education.

What do the new grades mean?

The following diagram shows the new grading structure. 

 Current grading New grading 

A*, A

9, 8, 7


B, C

6, 5, 4


D, E, F, G

3, 2, 1

  U U

As you can see from the diagram above, the highest grade a student can attain is 9. The lowest grade they can attain is 1. Numerical grades are replacing the long-standing alphabetical ones.

What does the examining board look for in deciding how to grade my child's exam?

The Department for Education has information on each subject of what level of knowledge and critical thinking a student is expected to display in order to reach higher, middle and lower grades. It doesn’t differentiate between every grade on the 9-1 numerical scale, but gives a useful overview.

What else is changing?

The content of the exams promises to be more “challenging”. This means it will be harder than in previous years for pupils to reach the top few grades, and a smaller proportion of students will achieve the highest ‘9’ grade compared to the previous highest A* grade. However, roughly the same proportion of students will attain grade 4 or above as would have been marked as grade C or above in the old system.

Why are these changes being made?

The government says that then new grading system will be better than the previous model at reflecting students’ individual achievements. This is because, with more grades in the scale, it’s easier to differentiate between students of different abilities. Whereas previously the top grades were ranked across four letters (A*, A, B and C), the same proportion of children attaining the equivalent levels will be split across six tiers.

When will the new grades be introduced?

The new grades were introduced in 2017, but only for the following three GCSE subjects:

  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • Maths

A further 20 subjects will adopt the new grading system for 2018. All remaining subjects (barring a few rare foreign languages) will have adopted the new grading system for the 2019 exams, with every subject using the numerical scoring system by 2020.

Further reading and resources