Standard pass – as clear as mud for stakeholders

By: Andrew Gladstone-Heighton

Policy Leader

Wednesday 19 April 2017


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With less than 4 months to go until the first awards are issued, we received clarification this month on what a ‘pass’ is in the new maths and English 9-1 graded GCSEs and also what’s meant by a ‘standard’ and ‘strong pass’.

In a letter to Neil Carmichael MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening set out that she ‘wanted to provide certainty about how this new grading will work and, in particular, the consequences for individual pupils of achieving a grade 4 or grade 5’.

There has been a fluid policy position from the Department for Education and Ofqual on where the grade C would be pegged on the new numeric grading system. Although the actual proportion of those achieving this grade will only be confirmed once pupils sit the examination, Greening clarified that ‘rather than reporting on the “good pass”, we will instead distinguish between a grade 4 as a “standard pass” and a grade 5 as a “strong pass” and report on both’.

This does seem a little counter-intuitive for those of us who’ve had the C grade threshold drilled into our minds by successive ministers and government policy. Greening writes, ‘under the new system, a grade 4 and above will be equivalent to a C and above. This is - and will remain - the level that pupils must achieve in order not to be required to continue studying English and maths post 16. Therefore, a GCSE pass at new grade 4 will continue to have real currency for individual pupils as they progress to further study and employment.’ 

Helpfully, Ofqual has updated its grading postcards to reflect this new grading regime, illustrating where the grades read across on this new system.

However, Greening also sets out that to continue raising standards, ‘the government will continue to publish not just the “standard pass” (grade 4 and above) but also the “strong pass” (at grade 5 and above) in school performance tables. To reflect this ambition, achievement at the “strong pass” will be one of the benchmarks used to measure the performance of schools – comparable with the strongest performing education systems’. So we can expect further pressure for increasing volumes of achievement at grade 5 and above.

As ever, the real battle here will be in convincing other stakeholders about the new grading system – ‘where employers, FE providers and universities currently accept a grade C we would expect them to continue recognising a grade 4’ – something we’re all responsible for rolling out over the next few months.

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