Life after levels: GCSE 9-1 survey results

Before half term, I sent a small survey to 10,000 teachers in UK secondary schools. I already knew that a popular “life after levels” alternative to NC Levels at KS3 was to extend GCSE grading all the way down to Y7, but I needed more detail to help plan our future grading strategy at Yacapaca. We got 201 responses – 2% is very creditable for an online survey. There were only three questions, and here are the results:
Just over half – 53.3% use GCSE 9-1 at KS3.  I don’t know what proportion of the “in future” respondents will use it at KS3, but if we assume half of them, it pushes the total usage up to 60.5%. Like or lump, it’s becoming the default for KS3.
Oh dear me. How on earth are teachers supposed to communicate student progress to each other, when two thirds record it on one basis, and one third on an entirely different one?
What makes it worse is that, as you can see below, it is not at all clear that many teachers even know there are two bases in common use. Too many teachers are likely to be labouring under the delusion that their way universal. I leave the kind of disastrous cockups that might ensue to your imagination.

What else is important to you about GCSE 9-1 grading?

This open question was designed to illuminate the thinking behind the raw statistics, and indeed it did. I don’t have permission to credit these quotes, sorry:
There is a lot of confusion over the grading system. Accurate mapping from A* – G is not available
  • nor can it be, due to Grade 9 being norm-referenced. At the top end of the ability spectrum, you can only predict a GCSE grade if you have national data for that cohort.
The difficulty is that we don’t truly know the accuracy of what we are doing as the way the governmental has set this up has made it quite impossible to judge 1-9 outcomes. We can only really guess.
  • Got it in one.

It’s grade inflation proof.

  • They promised us that, didn’t they. Actually, only Grade 9 is norm-referenced and therefore grade inflation proof. After a few years, student results will just pile up at Grade 8 instead.
There is no link to the IDEAL / Blooms theory, or if there is nobody in my school is aware of it.
  • This is a very interesting point. NC level descriptors focused attention and teaching effort onto high-order skills such as evaluation and understanding. One of the very unwelcome consequences of pulling GCSE grading further down the school is that it will focus teaching back onto knowledge – the very bottom of  Benjamin Bloom’s pyramid.

It is a total Joke. Nobody appears to know what is going on. It is a grade now or a scaled down Y11 grade. I’m already completely sick of it and haven’t started to use it properly.

  • Pretty much sums it up.


6 responses to “Life after levels: GCSE 9-1 survey results”

      • Hi Ian,

        Sorry – I’ve only just seen your reply.

        In brief, I don’t see much point in swapping levels for stuff like Bloom and SOLO, when there is a national taxonomy in the GCSE descriptors – why not just use those in KS3 too?

        I’m not going to go into a thesis about the problems with Bloom’s taxonomy – these are easily googled. This is also true, I suspect, of SOLO.

  1. With limited information from the exam boards and next to no exemplar material it’s often a wild stab in the dark. With ofsted looking at accuracy of school predictions on progress it’s becoming so much harder to accurately predict terminal outcomes. Frustration is brimming. As for blooms it has been a standard that has run through much of the miasma, that is assessment levels/grades etc for many years. It’s made it easy to quickly differentiate questioning, tasks and for students to self assess. Not sure that it can be called ‘junk’, it still has a use.

  2. Working in an SEN environment, many of our pupils take Entry Level qualifications at KS4, which can be mapped directly to the old KS3 levels 1-3 and enable more effective mapping for Level 1 and 2 14-19 qualifications. Unfortunately, a lot of the qualifications I would like to offer as the best tailored learning options for my pupils’ needs no longer count towards QCF points and the new GCSEs don’t seem to take accommodation of learning difficulties into account – pupils at both ends of the bell curve are being let down and set up to appear to underachieve.

    The biggest difficulty I had in mainstream was target inflation as predictions for ICT performance were based on an average of Eng/Ma/Sci KS2 SATS scores, even though many pupils had achieved high levels in these thanks to intensive teaching at the expense of subjects that were not The Big Three and as a result were actually at a significantly lower level in… well, everything else!

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