The amount of nonsense being talked about the new GCSEs in English and maths, whereby exams have been graded 9-1 rather than A*-G, is astonishing. The new grading system is ‘gibberish’ and will cost young people jobs, according to the Institute of Directors. The NSPCC thinks greater differentiation at the top end, with 9 being worth more than A*, will take a terrible toll on children’s mental health, while Mary Bousted, the General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says the new system is ‘inherently ridiculous’. ‘To put 1 at the lowest and 9 at the top when the grades go alphabetically in a different order from A* to G just seems to put the icing on the cake,’ she says.
Let us take these points in reverse order. There are two reasons why 9 is the highest grade and 1 the lowest. First, in most other countries that use a numerical system, 1 is the lowest grade so to do the opposite would create confusion. Second, it makes it easier to add higher grades in the future — a 10, for instance. If Ofqual, the exam regulator, had made 1 the highest grade it would effectively be saying that the most brilliant students of tomorrow can never be better than the most brilliant students of today, which is obviously nonsense.
What about the NSPCC? Its argument is that the existence of an even more rarefied grade than A* might make children try harder. No, I’m not making that up. ‘Children may feel worried about being the first to go through this new grading system,’ a spokesman for the charity told the Times, ‘and with an extra level achievable it’s possible some might feel pressured to get the top level.