GCSE grades 2021: new numbers grading system explained, grade equivalents for your results, and what’s a pass?

With exams having been cancelled for a second year in a row due to the Covid-19 pandemic, GCSE results were determined by teachers

Today (Thursday 12 August) marks the day that students will be receiving their GCSE results, despite not having sat any exams since they were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the controversial Ofqual algorithm grading system that was introduced last year scrapped, this is what you need to know about how results in 2021 were determined - and what the numerical number system means.

How were GCSE grades determined in 2021?

A student at the Fowey River Academy receives his GCSE results (Photo: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)

Initially, the grades were supposed to be calculated using the same Ofqual algorithm that sparked a huge controversy over A Level grades.

However, due to the backlash, this decision was quickly overturned. Instead, grades this year have been determined by teachers.

Cath Jadhav, Director of Standards at Ofqual, said: “In summer 2021, teachers will judge the standard that a student is working at, based on a range of evidence produced by that student over their course of study, and covering only the content they have been taught.

Teachers will make the initial judgments and they will then be subject to internal quality assurance within the school/college, and grades will be signed off by the head of department and head of centre - usually the headteacher or principal - before they are submitted to exam boards.

“In simple terms, a GCSE student who is performing consistently at a grade 6 standard, should be awarded a grade 6.

“It should be no harder or easier to achieve a particular grade than it is in a normal year when examinations take place.”

Jadhav explains that teachers will have based their assessments using a range of evidence, including coursework and mock exams.

She added: “We are asking teachers to take an evidence-based approach, so that students, their parents and carers, and all those who use the grades awarded this summer can see how their final grade has been arrived at and know that they have been determined objectively.”

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What do the numerical grades mean?

The Government changed the GCSE grading system ahead of the 2017 exams, changing it from the lettered grades such as A*, A and B, to the numerical system.

In the numerical system, 9 is the highest grade available and 1 is the lowest.

This is how the numerical grading system works out compared to the previous letter grading:

- 9 = High A* grade

- 8 = Lower A* or high A

- 7 = Lower A grade

- 6 = High B grade

- 5 = Lower B or high C

- 4 = Lower C grade

- 3 = D or high E grade

- 2 = Lower E or high F grade

- 1 = Lower F or G grade

- U remains the same

What is a pass?

The AQA explains that a 4 is considered a “standard pass” and that a 5 is a “strong pass”, and respectively work out to a high C and low B in the old grading system.

“Grade 4 remains the level that students must achieve without needing to resit English and Maths post-16,” the AQA says.

How can I appeal my grade?

While some students may be overjoyed by their GCSE results, it’s inevitable that others might be disappointed with what they have received.

If you think your grade is wrong, you should first speak to your school or college and request a centre review. This is an internal review by a school or college so they can check for any errors.

If a student still thinks their grade is incorrect after their school or college has checked it, they can ask their school or college to appeal to the exam board.

You should be aware that following your appeal, your grades could be changed to higher or lower than what you originally had.

The final route of appeal you can take is through Ofqual’s Exam Procedures Review Service (EPRS).

To apply to EPRS, you must email the public enquiries team at [email protected] with the subject line “EPRS application”.

In your email, you must state:

- The qualification you want Ofqual to look at (e.g A Level, GCSE etc)

- The name and address of the school, college or other centre which decided your teacher assessed grades

- The name of the exam board

- The date of the letter from the exam board with your final appeal decision

From here, the EPRS will consider whether your case can be looked at - if not, you will be given advice for what you can do instead.

If EPRS does decide to look at your case, you will be sent a link to a form. You must fill out the form in its entirety, and you will need to explain what you think went wrong.