Education & Family

GCSEs: Pass mark raised in exams shake-up

GCSE exam room
Image caption GCSE exams will be "more rigorous" from this September

Pupils will have to score more highly to gain a "good pass" in their GCSEs, under changes to England's exams.

Candidates will have to obtain a Grade 5, equivalent to a low B or high C now, as grading switches to numbers nine to one in exams to be taken first in 2017.

The aim is to make standards comparable to top-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says raising the bar on GCSE exams will help pupils achieve in life.

The new grading system, which replaces the A to G system with a new nine-to-one numbered scale, comes as new "more rigorous" GCSEs are being introduced for first teaching this September.

The new grading system has been designed to reveal the differences between candidates at the top end.

Currently, candidates are expected to achieve a C to attain a "good pass", although grades below this are still officially considered passes.

The government has also appointed school behaviour guru Tom Bennett to draw up plans to help teachers address problems of "low level disruption" in classrooms.


  • GCSEs to be graded from nine to one, replacing A*-to-G grades
  • Grade 9 will be highest
  • Grade 5 will be considered a good pass, equivalent to a current low B or high C. It will be linked to standards in high performing countries
  • Grade 4 will be equivalent to current low C grade
  • Grade 1 will be lowest
  • Introduced for new-style GCSEs in English and maths to be taught from September 2015
  • First of new exam grades awarded summer 2017

The announcement comes just a week after the government said all pupils would have to study English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects to GCSE.

It means they must sit English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language.

Mrs Morgan said: "This means ensuring children study key subjects that provide them with the knowledge they need to reach their potential - while setting a higher bar at GCSE so young people, their parents and teachers can be sure that the grades they achieve will help them get on in life."

Mr Bennett will lead a new group that will develop training for teachers on behaviour.

He said: "Behaviour has been the elephant in the classroom for too long, and the amount of learning time lost because of disruption is a tragedy.

"At present, training teachers to anticipate, deal with and respond to misbehaviour is far too hit and miss - great in some schools and training providers, terrible in others."

The government says the new measures will place England's education system on a par with the best-performing countries, pushing expectations and aspirations of young people and ensuring they can compete with peers across the globe.

National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: "From September, the EBacc will in effect become compulsory.

"A bad idea has suddenly become much worse. It will cause dismay among parents.

"Parents, like teachers, want a broad and balanced curriculum for their children.

"It is the responsibility of government to translate that aspiration into a curriculum that reflects the many demands that are made on the school, and that can involve and engage all learners."

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