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Getting to grips with GCSEs

Last year saw the introduction of a new assessment structure for GCSEs across England. Part of a parcel of revisions to the curriculum initiated in 2014, the bulk of the changes to GCSEs come into effect this summer. So what exactly is happening, and what does it mean for students preparing to take their exams in just one month’s time?


GCSEs are designed to test children’s ability at the end of key stage four. Although they’re usually sat in year 11 – when children are 16 – they can be taken earlier or later. While subjects such as maths and English are compulsory, there’s an element of free choice, with students electing for subjects that will set them up well for their future studies.


Students begin their journey to GCSEs in year 10, and have in the past been assessed throughout the two years through a combination of module exams and coursework, with a set of final exams in year 11. However, under the new assessment structure, the majority of testing takes place at the end of the two years. Furthermore, the traditional grading of A*-G is being replaced with a numerical scale of 9-1.


With more emphasis placed on final examinations, students, parents and teachers alike have voiced concerns over the increased pressure this may bring. Some have estimated that the move means children will sit an extra eight hours of exams over an incredibly short time period. Avis Gilmore, assistant general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has said that the “reforms to GCSEs have only succeeded in exacerbating the high-stakes testing culture which has cursed the education system for too long.”


However, the government argues that the changes are designed to bring UK pupils up to a world class standard, and the new grading structure will help combat the grade inflation that has been the subject of much debate over recent years.


So what does this mean for children preparing to sit their GCSEs this summer? Although maths, English literature and language moved onto the new grading structure in 2017 – and the majority of subjects are set to follow this year – many students will end up with a mix of the old and new grades. With the levels broadly equitable, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem – however, it is important that children are given extra support in the coming months to ensure they’re equipped for what will undoubtedly be a challenging time of change and uncertainty.


We’ve dedicated this month’s blog to the most common signs of exam stress, along with our top tips to help parents and students through the summer. But if you need any further support, or would just like to chat through the changes in more detail, get in touch with the Figtree team.

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