New GCSE, AS and A-levels

Changes made by the Government to the exam system and qualifications mean that only the new qualifications which have been accredited by Ofqual can now be offered by awarding bodies. It is important to check with your Course provider that you are studying for the correct qualification.

GCSE Changes

9-1 Grading

The most significant change for the New GCSEs will be 9–1 grading, rather than A*–G. Grade 9 is the highest grade, higher than the current A*. The grades will be used for the first time in 2017 exam results.

Progress 8 Is another important change to  GCSEs. It measures a student’s progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 over eight key subjects. Progress 8 essentially shows whether a student has performed to expectations. It is based on a value-added measure using Key Stage 2 English and Maths as a baseline.

A Level Changes

AS levels will be stand-alone qualifications and will no longer contribute to A-levels.New specifications will be examined in 2018.  Individual candidates cannot be entered for both new and outgoing specifications in the same subject.

A new set of GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications have been developed, though some old qualifications remain.  This has been the case particularly for low or declining entries, indicating that a qualification no longer meets the needs of students.  Some candidates will be disappointed, though for students who have taken these qualifications in the past, a suitable alternative has been suggested.  Since these changes relate to all Awarding Bodies – a list of those discontinued subjects will be found on their individual websites for both GCSE and A- Level.  Re-sit opportunities for GCSE and A Level discontinued subjects are available in 2017 and 2018.

What did the changes mean for A Level students?

The BBC News website offered an insight as thousands of teenagers prepared to sit the new GCSE and A Level examination for the first time in 2017.

Were the changes necessary? Why were these change brought in?

The change was brought in by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove with the intention of making the exams more “fit for purpose” – or harder. The new AS- and A-levels syllabuses have been phased in across schools in England from September 2015. The DfE says: “The content for the new A-levels has been reviewed and updated. Universities played a greater role in this for the new qualifications than they did previously.”

What is happening to AS-levels?

The AS-level is being decoupled from the A-level, which means it operates as a stand-alone qualification and the results do not count towards A-level grades – although in Wales and Northern Ireland, they will still count towards an overall A-level mark. Provisional figures from the Department for Education show that the number of entries for AS subjects has fallen by 42%in 2017. Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said it “sounded the death knell for AS-levels”. “The great benefit of the old system was that it gave students a broader range of knowledge and allowed them to keep their options open for longer,” he said.”The decision to decouple these qualifications was an entirely unnecessary reform, which is narrowing the curriculum and reducing student choice.”

Which subjects are being phased in and when?

This year, new A-level qualifications were taken in:• art and design• biology• business• chemistry• computer science• economics• English language• English language and literature• English literature• history• physics• psychology• sociologyIn  2018, candidates will sit the new A-level qualifications in the following subjects: • ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin)• dance• drama and theatre• geography• modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish)• music• physical education• religious studies.

In the summer of 2019, new exams will be sat in:• accounting• ancient history• ancient languages (biblical Hebrew A-level only) • classical civilisation• design and technology• electronics• environmental science• film studies• further mathematics• geology• government and politics• history of art (A-level only)• law• mathematics• media studies• modern foreign languages (Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, Greek, Japanese, modern Hebrew, Panjabi, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish, Urdu)• modern foreign languages (Chinese, Italian, Russian)• music technology• philosophy• statistics

How have the teenagers involved coped with these changes?

Young people and teachers have told the BBC that preparing for the new qualification has been stressful, especially as there were no past papers to refer to and some text books were written before some of the syllabuses were finalised.  Rosamund McNeil, from the National Union of Teachers, said: “The upheaval of a hastily reformed curriculum and the changes leading to a reduction in much of the coursework elements, created unnecessary stress and concern for pupils and teachers alike.”While results nationally may have remained in line with those in the previous year, some schools and colleges will no doubt see considerable variation. “The volatility around results and the accountability measures which use them can have damaging and unfair consequences.


Change is inevitable, however, for private candidates in some respects these changes have been particularly difficult as they struggle to understand the new rules.  Candidates attempting to take A level Chemistry, Biology or Physics have experienced barriers, under the new rules.   Particularly in relation to the new procedures for practical experiments.