When is a pass not a pass? When employers, universities and teachers don’t know the meaning of the new GCSE grades.

A little under a year ago, GCSEs had their biggest shake up in a generation with the changing of grades from alphabetical to numerical. A change that was largely unnecessary, confusing and represented the last gasp of Michael Gove’s busy work whilst in the Education post. I wrote at the time (https://edducan.com/2017/06/28/what-now-really-shakes-head-gcse-shake-up-leaves-everyone-sweary-and-annoyed-and-confused/) that employers and universities would struggle to divine or reach a consensus on what was now a pass given that the government themselves seemed a little sketchy on some of those details, the equivalent being that if an autopsy were conducted a corpse could be presented as a little bit dead. Deadish.

Ofqual recently published the results of a survey of nearly 3,000 parents, teachers, employers, universities, school leavers and the chap on the Clapham Omnibus and perhaps rather tellingly of those employers surveyed a whopping 23% thought the top grade of 9 was in fact the lowest mark available with 31% unaware that any changes had been made at all. Worryingly 8% of universities also believed that a grade of 1 was just aces and 15% blissfully unaware of the changes, which makes one wonder how many top flight students may be dismissed as cave dwelling cretins come offer time.

GCSE grades,
A pass is not a straight forward thing when it comes to GCSE grades in this brave new world.

The IoD’s Head of Employment and Skills Policy, Seamus Nevin quite rightly makes the point that good students and candidates may well lose out as employers who are short on time in the midst of a CV sift are likely to revert to the CVs that more instantly make sense to them rather than the ‘gibberish’ they are being presented with now.

So far only a handful of subjects have been affected by these changes but another 20 will convert this year with most others being numerical by next year.

What’s the big deal you may think. What indeed? People will of course catch up, confusion is likely to be shortlived and a consensus likely reached tacitly or otherwise about what now constitutes a pass but the larger question is why bother? The old season wasn’t perfect as grade inflation showed an ever upward trend of pass success but at least people understood it, this will suffer the same inflation over time but for many the understanding will come too late. Gifted, bright students will have pieces of paper that may as well be in Babylonian as far as many employers and even universities will be concerned. A missed place at university, falling victim to the papersift in an application process. You can call it the cost of doing business but with the teacher retention crisis, the funding crisis, the careers crisis and the other myriad crises facing the sector one can’t help but wonder whether titivating the edges for the sheer fun of doing so might not have been time and money better spent elsewhere.

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