GCSE Grading Is Changing

As a result of the UK government initiative to review national curriculum in England, GCSEs have experienced a major change. The reform brought a revision of all GCSE subjects and introduced a new grading scale.

From August 2017, the new 9 to 1grading scheme will be used instead of A* to G, where grade 9 is the highest award equivalent to top ofgrade A* and grade 1 is aligned with the bottom of grade G.The bottom of grade 4 is aligned with the bottom of grade C and will be generally considered as a ‘standard pass’, whereas grade 5 will be considered a ‘stronger pass’.The new grading scheme introduces more awards for the top students, and as a result, fewer students will achieve grade 9 than the A*of theolder scale.

The reform will be happening gradually up until 2020, when all subjects are expected to have switched to numbers instead of letters. As stated on the official factsheet provided by the Department of Education, “between 2017 and 2019, GCSE exam certificates may have a combination of number and letter grades, depending on the mix of subjects taken. By 2020, all exam certificates will contain only number grades.” However, it is important to note that the change does not apply to students in Wales and Northern Ireland, who will continue to receive most GCSE grades in letters (A* to G). More guidance on the differences between GCSE and A-Level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be found here:


Changing from letters to numbers is said to ensure clearer differentiation of students’ achievements. The reform will also allow higher education institution to identify whether a student has taken an older GCSE or a new and more difficult GCSE qualification.School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: "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.‎"

Students should keep in mind that universities and other educational providers will to set their own GCSE entry requirements, so they should check each university website carefully for any updates.

More useful information about the reform can be found on factsheets provided by Ofqual for parents, students and educators, which are available on the GOV.UK website.


Factsheet for teachers and educators provided by Ofqual:


Factsheet for parentsprovided by Ofqual:


Additional useful information can be found through UCAS and Ofqual (the qualifications regulator in England), where you can also subscribe to the 9 to 1 e-bulletin.

UCAS: https://www.ucas.com
Ofqual: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-gcse-9-to-1-grades-coming-soon

Other useful resources:


The International Baccalaureate (IB) : a global success.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) by IBO has become a very popular choice for many families and their children around the globe. The IB was developed in 1968 spans from the Primary Years Programme (PYP), to the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the most well-known two-year Diploma Programme (DP). In 2012, IBO has also developed and introduced the additional Career-related Programme.

The IB curriculum is renowned for its global transferability, which means that students and graduates are equipped with knowledge and skills that are applicable to many different educational systems. In today’s world, when so many families are more mobile as ever, the international curriculum of such high standard, flexibility and recognition is in high demand among parents and their children.

The IB programme seeks to cultivate a community of conscious and well-rounded citizens of the world. Its mission and aim is to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

The curriculum comprises of several programmes:

Primary Years Programme (PYP)

The PYP is designed for students aged from 3 to 12. In addition to the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, the PYP programme puts emphasis on motivating young learners to be curious about studying multiple disciplines, encouraging them to adopt an inquiry-based method of learning. Children are taught to pose questions, investigate and solve problems, and develop their thinking and research skills. The PYP looks at real-life situations and helps pupils find connections between them.

Middle Years Programme (MYP)

The MYP is designed for students aged from 11 to 16 and it introduces eight subject groups, which are the following: Language Acquisition, Language and Literature, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, Arts, Physical and Health Education, Design. The MYP students are also required to work on a personal project, which allows students to express how they understand the real world situations and their connection to knowledge gained throughout studies.

Diploma Programme (DP)

IB Diploma Programme is designed for students aged from 16 to 19. The aim of this programme is to prepare students for further studies at university level. Students can choose up to six subjects, some of which are taught at higher level (HL) and others at standard level (SL). The subject combinations include both humanities and sciences, which gives pupils the opportunity to continue with broad education. The Diploma Programme also includes three core components: Theory of Knowledge (in which students reflect on the nature of knowledge and are assessed by writing an essay and giving an oral presentation); Extended Essay (an independent self-study); and Creativity, Activity, Service (project-based component which includes artistic, sporting and voluntary work).

As to the scores (from 1 to 7), these are awarded for each of the six subjects (42 points in total) in addition to scores for the core components (another 3 points). The highest mark for the IB DP is 45.

Career-related Programme (CP)

The CP is the most recent IB programme, which is designed for students aged from 16 to 19. The programme comprises of academic and work-related courses that provide students with more in-depth knowledge and practical skills, such as teamwork, management skills and other, which they would find useful during their employment. The CP supports and prepares students who seek to pursue a certain career path, internship opportunity or further education.


The IB curriculum is taught in over 4,000 public and private schools around the world. Schools in the UK include UWC Atlantic College, Southbank International School in London, ACS International School, Sevenoaks School, Bradfield College, St Edward’s Oxford School and Bryanston School among other.

What is special about the IB programme?

  • Rigorous academic training helps students develop depth of knowledge and skills and builds character.
  • A lot of emphasis is put not only on intellectual development, but also on emotional, social and physical balance.
  • Programmes are rather flexible and provide a breadth of choice.
  • All IB programmes are internationally transferrable.
  • The IB DP provides students with a strong university preparation: this includes independent study, essay writing and research, all of which will make the transition to university much more successful and effortless.
  • According to the study by the International Schools’ Assessment (ISA), the IB students outperform the non-IB school students.
  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency 2016 Report found that IB students have high chances to be accepted to top ranked universities and are more likely to achieve higher grades than the non-IB school students.

Challenges to consider:

  • Some students may wish to narrow down their options and focus on specific subjects. In this case, A-level programme would be typically considered a better fitting choice, as students focus only on three or four subjects.
  • The IB DP students are expected to perform well in all subject over the course of two years, which can be challenging in terms of workload and time-management.
  • Additional coursework and assignments that come with the core components of the DP (Extended Essay; Theory of Knowledge; Creativity, Activity, Service) can be challenging as well.

All in all, IB students and graduates develop into active learners and critical thinkers, capable of independent study and work. They become ‘global citizens’ who possess a multitude of transferable skills and are not afraid of challenges.

Additional Information for Educators

For educators, school and university practitioners, the IBO hosts a number of events, workshops and conferences, which are aimed at sharing experiences in and ideas on international education: https://www.ibo.org/conferences/

More information on the IB Programmes can be found on the official IBO website: https://www.ibo.org

What is an IB education? https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/what-is-an-ib-education-2017-en.pdf


When applying to universities, most international students are required to present evidence of their proficiency in English. Although student applications are reviewed on an individual basis, it is highly likely that international students will be expected to takethe IELTS or theTOEFL exam, both of which are widely accepted by over 9,000 institutions around the world.


The International English Language Test System

The IELTS is an English language proficiency exam for those seeking tolive in an English-speaking country for studyor work. People preparing to study will take anIELTS Academic, and others who seek tomigrate to an English-speaking country (namely, the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia), work or undergo training will have to pass the IELTS General Training test, which“focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts”. The test is accepted worldwide by various universities, immigration authorities, professional originations and other institutions.


Test of English as a Foreign Language

The TOEFL iBTis a computer-basedtest designed for prospective students planning to study in English-speaking countries. It focuses on measuring the students’ ability to listen, read, speak, and write in an academic environment.TOEFL is conducted in American English and is therefore applicable more to the American institutions, although it is also accepted bymany institutions worldwide.

Exams Components


IELTS: the speaking exam is up to 15 minutes long and is taken face-to-face with an examiner. Contrary to TOEFL, it won’t necessarily happen on the same day as other exam parts.

TOEFL: the speaking part of takes about 20 minutes, during which applicants are required to answer questions using a microphone.


IELTS: the written component of the IELTS is paper-based and consists of two sections:the first task asks to summarise or describeinformation presented in a form of a chart, graph, diagram or other visual. The second part is a 200-250 word long essay-response to a prompt.

TOEFL: the written component of the TOEFL exam is typed and consists of an opinion-based essay between 300-350 words long and a task, which requires you to listen to a lecture or a conversation, take notes and then create an essay-response (150-225 words) based on the content provided.


The reading component in both IELTS and TOEFL includes three sections each 20 minutes long, all of which are taken from academic content. In the TOEFL you are required to answer a number of multiple-choice questions, and in the IELTS you willfind a wider range of questions, such as short answers, for example. Allquestions are designed to assess your comprehension skills.


IELTS: students are allowed to answer questions while they are listening to the recordings. They are then asked to respond to a series of questions and exercises.

TOEFL: the TOEFL listening test requires applicants to take notes while listening to a lecture excerpt, conversation or similar, and then give answers to multiple-choice questions.


TOEFLiBT is scored on a scale of 0-120 (0-30 for each section). The scores for Reading and Listening sections are calculated by a computer, and the Writing and Speaking are determined by several reviewers.

The IELTS is graded on levels from 1-9, with your overall score being an average of your separate scores in all four components.

The scores for both the TOEFL and the IELTS expire 2 years after your test date.

General Differences

Type of Exam:
Paper-based. Computer-based (via Internet)
Length of Exam:
Around 2 hours and 45 minutes. Up 4 hours.
Style of English:
Either British English or American English. TOEFL follows American spelling.
Types of Questions:
A range of different question types, e.g. short answer, gap-filling and short essay tasks. The majority of questions are multiple choice.
Speaking component:
Face-to-face with an examiner. Six questions which have to be answered into a microphone.
Other differences:
Students taking the IELTS have to be prepared to demonstrate broader comprehension and memory skills.
The IELTS has more of a ‘real-world’ feel.
TOEFL questions are primarily multiple choice, so students are required to think criticallyin order to be able toidentify the differences between their options.

Both IELTS and TOEFL are standardized tests, which means that if you follow the guidelines and practice diligently, you will feel confident and do well in either exam.

Studying in the UK and the US

Generally speaking, it is necessary to achieve a minimum score of 6.5/7.0 (with a minimum of 6.5/7.0 in each module) for the IELTS and a minimum score of 100 for the TOEFL iBTto be admitted to one of thetop league universities in either the UK or the US.Needless to say, each course has its own entry requirements, so it would be wise to check this information well in advance.