Thousands of students are set to receive the wrong GCSE mark this week under the new numerical grading system, experts have said, as they warn of its “alarming” consequences.
The proportion of pupils who will receive an unreliable grade for their English GCSE this Thursday is set to rise from 30 per cent to 45 per cent, statisticians predict, as they call for a system where students are awarded percentages rather than grades.
Robert Coe, a professor in Durham University’s School of Education, said that in some cases a child’s grade will be “not much more than chance”.
When you start to look, it is quite alarming... Grades really do matter
Professor Robert Coe
“Part of the reason for the re-grading process was because the top grades ad become a bit too common, and you want something that discriminates a bit more,” he said.
“But the trade-off is that it is more likely to be wrong, with people awarded a grade that they shouldn’t have got. When you start to look, it is quite alarming. Individual subject grades can make a huge difference to someone’s whole life course. They do really matter.”
Students will receive their GCSE results this week for the first time under a numerical system which uses grades one to nine, rather than from A* to G.
The grades were designed by former Education Secretary Michael Gove as part of a package of reforms to toughen up syllabuses and to counter grade inflation at the top end, since A and A* are split between seven, eight and nine.
Pupils will be marked under the new system for English Literature, English Language and Maths, while the rest of their subjects will be marked under the old A* to G grades.
Under the new system, the grade boundaries that affect the vast majority of candidates have increased from four (A* to D) to six (nine to three).
Since there is uncertainty around each grade boundary, the chance of a candidate getting a wrong grade multiplies when more boundaries are added, expert say.
Prof Coe, who is director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, one of the UK’s leading educational research centres, said a solution would be to abolish grades altogether and give marks as percentages.
Neil Sheldon, vice-president for education and statistical literacy at the Royal Statistical Society, said that the new process "is bound to produce inaccurate results".
“Even though [examiners] are doing their best to get things right, inevitably more will fall the wrong side of the boundary,” he said. “Near every grade boundary there are going to be candidates that have the wrong grade. If there are more boundaries there will be more children getting the wrong grade – there is no doubt whatsoever about that.”
Mr Sheldon, a chief examiner with one of the UK’s leading exam boards, said that “doing away with grades altogether” would be the best solution, and instead pupils should just be given their a mark as a percentage.
Ofqual warned last year of the "profound impact" that grading overhaul will have on likelihood of correct grades.
Dennis Sherwood, a consultant who has previously carried out research for Ofqual, said that the new system is a “catastrophe”.
“This affects everyone but the people on the bottom end are getting an extra kick in teeth,” he said. “If you are a child from a disadvantaged school and can’t afford to appeal, and you got a D instead of a C, you will be in the dustbin for the rest of your life.”
Michelle Meadows, Ofqual’s executive director for strategy, risk and research, defended the changes, saying: “New GCSEs have been designed from first principles to deliver better differentiation on the new nine to one grading scale.
“The new GCSE exams and mark schemes have been created to support better spread of grade boundaries and reliable assessment.”