EXAM results days are stressful – for students, family members and the colleges or universities dealing with applications for further study. This year that stress will have a new dimension, with the introduction of a new grading system.

The Government is phasing in a new GCSE qualification, which aims to better prepare students for employment and further education. It was introduced in English literature, English language and maths in 2015, with students taking their exams this summer and getting their results on Thursday.

The first exams for most other new GCSE subjects will take place in 2018 and 2019, and by 2020 all exams will be in the new format.

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The idea is to create more grades at the top end of the scale to better recognise the higher achievers.

The new grading system has a nine to one structure (with nine being the highest) rather than A* to G, so until 2020, students will see a combination of letters and numbers on their exam certificates.

To further complicate matters, the new grades do not directly correlate with the old ones, so a nine is not the same as an old A*.

The Department for Education (DfE) says broadly the same proportion of students will achieve grade seven and above as achieved grade A and above in 2016.

Achieving a grade C is crucial for many, as a pass at this level holds the key to employment and further education. Under the new system, the bottom of grade C will be the same as the bottom of grade four i.e. grade four is now the standard pass required by many employers and colleges.

The DfE says that although the exams cover more challenging content, they do not mean that students will get a lower grade than they might have under the old system.

SO if the grades are not actually changing, why the need for the reform? School Standards Minister Nick Gibb says: “The new GCSEs are more rigorous so that young people can gain the knowledge and understanding they need to succeed in the future and compete in an increasingly global workplace. A new grading system was needed to distinguish between the old and the new reformed GCSEs. The new grading system also provides stretch for the highest performers by showing greater distinction between the top marks.”

He adds: “This is the culmination of a six year process of curriculum and qualifications reform, which has involved wide consultation with teachers, schools and universities.”

However this process has not gone down well in the North-East. The network which supports schools in the region, Schools NorthEast, describes the rollout of the new GCSE as “verging on the chaotic”.

Director, Mike Parker says: “In principle, we have no issue with the Government pushing for higher standards and creating greater opportunity for differentiation among more able students.

“But, the roll out of the new GCSEs has been rushed, verging on the chaotic. Schools were given little time and scant support to embed such a critical change to Key Stage 4 education. The tiered exam choices – with pupils funnelled either into ‘foundation’ or ‘higher’ level papers – has created a nightmare selection roulette for teachers who were given insufficient materials by struggling exam boards to decide in advance which route was most suitable for their students. By rushing the introduction of these tougher qualifications, the Government effectively created a lottery for pupils who may end up with grades that do not reflect their ability.”

The issue of how schools are rated is also a worry, according to Mr Parker. The DfE says for measuring school performance, the proportion of pupils achieving both grade four and above and grade five and above will be published.

It recognises grade five and above as a ‘strong pass’, which it says is a benchmark in line with the expectations of top performing education systems around the world.

But Mr Parker says: “Due to the high stakes nature of education today, schools will suffer on progress and attainment scores with damaging consequences.”

He adds: “Schools NorthEast is concerned that there is very little understanding outside of schools about the changes and their impact. This will be a confusing period for employers and students alike.”

*For live GCSE results, photographs and reaction on Thursday, see northernecho.co.uk