Understanding Ofqual's GCSE Numerical Grade Scheme

Author: Louise Raw

Posted: 24 Apr 2014

Estimated time to read: 3 mins

ofqual grading system
Ofqual have really shaken things up with their new grading system by changing the grades from ABC to 987... What are your thoughts?

The new marking scheme announced by Ofqual in November 2013, is one that has shaken up the way that teachers and schools alike will have to conduct their teaching and marking. From September 2015 onward, this will come to fruition, where we will see students awarded with anything between a grade 1 and 9 in the first GCSE exams in July 2017.

Numerical vs. Alphabetical

Under the new framework, grades 7, 8 and 9 would equate to the current A grade or above, whereas the current grade C would be positioned at a 4. With the dilution of students per grade, the ramifications would mean that just 1.8% of students would achieve a 9, the highest mark, compared to 3.6% who currently score the top grade of A*.

Here’s what our team had to say about the initial pros and cons of the Ofqual grades 1-9.


There will be improved and more accurate differentiation between grades. A student who misses out on an A Grade by one mark vs a student who scrapes one mark over a C, will no longer be (perhaps unfairly) bracketed together.

This will also avoid bunching, where the majority of students will naturally fall into e.g. B or C grades. It will give us a much better representation of how students are really performing.

It will be easier to see progress; if students put in the effort, they will be more likely to move up a grade boundary that they are under the current system.

It won’t put the grade A students at any disadvantage, it will simply highlight those who have done exceptionally well, and who should receive recognition! If a grade 9 will only be awarded to a tiny percentage of the population, then the 7s and 8s will still be seen as a great achievement.

This will avoid ‘Grade inflation’ and the stigma that comes with the saying ‘They were much harder when we were at school.” This will also make steps towards a more international standardisation.


This puts increased pressure on students who are aiming for the highest mark. No longer is an ‘A’ grade something achievable for many as long as they put in the work.

Students who traditionally would have been bracketed in the top grade boundary may now miss out. There is a worry that this may create unreasonable expectations on students who are ‘expected’ to be the high achievers, whether that’s from their teachers or their family.

The grade boundaries and differentiation must stop somewhere. If we continue down this route, soon students will just be given an overall percentage for each subject.

This has stemmed from the PISA grading system, which although international, cannot always yield accurate and comparable results, with allegations that some countries have excluded certain students from their tests to boost the national average.

With a change to the system, it may no longer be clear to students what they are required to do in order to achieve a certain grade. The traditional A-U grades are also well known in the UK. Universities, employers and older generations may no longer see the value in students who are achieving a 5 or 6, when they are aware that they highest grade is a 9.

Final Thoughts

This is a big change that will impact the way teachers, students and parents as when the new grading scheme is introduced the marking of classwork and homeworkwill need to be reflective of this in order to avoid confusion. There are clear benefits to the new ofqual grading system, but the journey to get all teachers and students, (not to mention the rest of the country) comfortable with the guidelines and expectations of this system, is paramount to the overall success. 

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