February 2015

The know zone

  • Sixth-form scrutiny
    How are inspectors awarding the new numerical grade for sixth forms? Suzanne O’Farrell digs into the detail. More
  • Timetable for change
    Cherry Ridgway highlights the key dates for implementing the latest set of reforms and their implications for schools and colleges. More
  • Lifting the barriers
    Twilight, half-day and regional events are bringing continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities to more people. More
  • Red Nose Day 2015
    Red Nose Day is back – a chance for schools and colleges to have fun and raise money to help change lives forever. More
  • Top tips when using iPads in the classroom
    The pace of adoption of iPads and other tablets into the classroom has rapidly accelerated in recent years. With this in mind, and with help from some tech-savvy teachers, we’ve put together some top tips for using iPads in the classroom. More
  • Perfect partners?
    Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt recently said that independent schools should do more to partner with state schools – how do you feel about this? Would they work for all schools? Where could they add most value? Here, ASCL members share their views and highlight the many successful partnerships between the two sectors that already exist. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    ASCL members concerned about leadership issues should call the Hotline on 0116 299 1122 or email hotline@ascl.org.uk More
  • Pastures new…
    Changing schools is a chance to start afresh, leaving behind your misdemeanours and presenting yourself to colleagues in a new light. If only it were that easy. More
  • Efficiency drive
    Richard Newton Chance summarises the changes looming in the new financial year. More
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Cherry Ridgway highlights the key dates for implementing the latest set of reforms and their implications for schools and colleges.

Timetable for change

Curriculum and qualifications have been subject to major reform over the last year. The timeline below shows the main changes, when they come on stream and how they affect the students in each year group.

Key Stage 4

Most important here is the introduction of new GCSEs, the uncertainty around IGCSEs and the changing picture of vocational qualifications. The accountability changes related to this have massive implications for schools and their leaders and it is vitally important that all stakeholders understand them. 

New GCSEs in English and maths will come on line for first teaching this year. Other subjects will follow in 2016 with some possibly starting in 2017. The only GCSEs that will count in Department for Education (DfE) accountability measures from summer 2017 are those that have been accredited by Ofqual. Remember, if there is a new, accredited GCSE in a subject, then the old ‘legacy’ qualification will no longer count in performance tables. This rule also applies to IGCSEs. If a new GCSE is available for teaching, the IGCSE in the same subject will no longer count. It is important that, when choosing which new qualification is right for your students, the decision is made by looking at accredited specifications only – and not draft specifications. The list of accredited specifications is available here: http://tinyurl.com/kjuxvhh. It is possible that new accredited IGCSEs may be available in the future.


A student must either study GCSE combined English (available for the last time this year) or study separate English language and literature. The two pathways must not be mixed.

Both English literature and language should be studied, irrespective of entry for an exam, as the new National Curriculum makes clear. If students are entered for both language and literature and achieve a grade in both papers, the highest grade is double counted as part of the Progress 8 English measure. If a student is absent, does not sit a paper or otherwise obtains a grade X in one area, the English grade will not be double counted.

First entry rules

Rules brought in in September 2013 still apply to first entry: if qualifications taken by the same student have any overlapping content, the grade from the first exam will count in school performance tables, although both grades (or the highest in the case of a resit) will count for the student. Details of discounting rules can be found at www.raiseonline.org/documentlibrary/ViewDocumentLibrary.aspx under ‘Further details of the revised performance tables qualifications, discount rules and early entry guidance from 2014’.

New GCSE grades

New GCSE grades 9–1 will be introduced as the new accredited qualifications come on line. The new grades will have ‘hard-wired’ points linking old GCSE grades to new ones. The bottom of the new grade 4 will be set at the lowest boundary of the old grade C, the bottom of the new grade 7 will match the bottom of grade A and the bottom of grade 1 will match the bottom of grade G. In addition, the top 20 per cent of those who get a grade 7 or above will get a grade 9 and grade 5 will be the top third of those who would have achieved a grade C and the bottom third of those who would have achieved a grade B.

The grades, and links to old grades, will be set using comparable outcomes and it is important that school leaders, governors, teachers and parents understand what this means in practice. In order to set grade boundaries, the ability profile of the national cohort in a given year will be determined. This will be done by looking at the year group’s national end of Key Stage 2 ability profile. Ofqual will then find another year group from the past where the national ability profile of the cohort was similar and, for each subject, look at the percentage of students who achieved each grade at GCSE in the past. They will then set the grade boundaries to ensure that they award the same percentage of students the same grade.

Pre-16 vocational qualifications

The new pre-16 vocational qualifications will have an even larger element that is externally assessed and also a requirement for synoptic assessment. The list of which qualifications will count in performance tables from 2017 is at http://tinyurl.com/n9aatnu

Some qualifications, which many schools use, are not on this list and we are in discussion with the DfE about the issue.


Our guidance on A level reform can be found here www.ascl.org.uk/reform The DfE is currently looking at how discounting and/or first entry rules may be applied to A levels.

Post-16 vocational qualifications

As Leader went to press, the DfE had not released the list of qualifications that will count in post-16 performance tables. 

Post-16 English and maths

Any student who has not achieved grade C in English and or maths must now study and take GCSEs in these subjects post-16. The department has now accepted that GCSE study is not appropriate for all students but students must still study a course that will, ultimately, lead to or have a progression route to, GCSE. The vast majority of students who have not achieved a grade C will be expected to study GCSE post-16 but for a very small minority a route that you can evidence will ultimately lead to GCSE is acceptable.

Cherry Ridgway is ASCL Curriculum and Assessment Specialist.