With GCSEs being graded one to nine from 2017, are these latest reforms the best way to drive up standards?

Pupils Receive Their GCSE Results
From next year, the A*-G grading system will be replaced by a numerical one (Source: Getty)

Rachel Cunliffe, deputy editor of CapX, says Yes.

You cannot raise academic standards simply by changing the metric, but you can signal that the spiral of grade inflation is over. A numerical system that bears little resemblance to familiar A*-G models does just that. More variations across the spectrum will help differentiate between students, while the benchmark for the highest grade – nine – will rise. The new GCSEs will also place limits on resits and modules, and more emphasis on exams over coursework.

But it’s the numerical grading that has made the headlines, which some argue is a spurious surface-level change. It isn’t. When countries suffer hyperinflation, you don’t solve it by printing higher denomination bank notes. You need a fresh currency, to indicate that a new, more stable system is in place. My school graded from one to nine, and the logic was clear: a perfect 10 does not exist, there is no such thing as good enough, you can always try harder. And that’s what the shake-up to the GCSE grading system aims to do.

Read more: GCSE results: Why a laser-like focus on grades is damaging the UK’s economy

Len Shackleton, professor of economics at the University of Buckingham, says No.

Since the 1980s there have been frequent changes in the regulatory bodies for schools examinations, government-induced mergers of exam boards and innumerable alterations to syllabuses, assessment and grading systems. Each new secretary of state wants to make a splash by changing things. This means extra work for teachers and students, worry for parents and confusion for employers.

Marking papers is inevitably more error-prone, encouraging ever-growing numbers of appeals. And endless reforms make it almost impossible for the public to make year-to-year comparisons: yesterday’s apparently worsening results have been distorted by new requirements for continuing students to resit failed papers.

Next year’s reversal of the grading system is possibly the most pointless change yet. Initially only applying to some GCSEs, with old-style grades continuing for other subjects, this gimmick will confuse everybody more. Governments must stop their incessant twiddling and concentrate on raising the quality of recruits to the teaching profession.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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