Covering GCSE results day made me wonder what madness Albie would face in 16 years’ time…

An A* for cuteness, or should that be a 9? Or a 1?!

GCSE and A-level results days are a hugely stressful time for students, teachers and lecturers alike – but they’re no fun for journalists, either.

This year was my first set of results days in an editor role, providing a peek at the logistical nightmare which comes with the territory.

How do we cover a dozen schools/colleges with a handful of reporters, a photographer or two, and less pool cars than journalists? How do we pull all the reports together across four editions of the paper, so each takes a unique combination of results suitable for their readerships? What happens when a school tells you to turn up at 11am but all the students instead turned up at 10am to pick up their envelopes?

All of this was a far cry from my own GCSE results day. I was on work experience for the Swindon Advertiser and had to receive my own grades before turning on reporter mode and covering my school’s results for the paper. Fortunately, I didn’t flunk my exams!

As we broke the back of GCSE coverage today, I wearily wondered how the education system would compare in 16 years’ time when Albie was that student.

I hoped it would be better.

“Someone got a D*. I thought it meant they’d failed but had a sympathy star added because they had tried hard. It turns out it was the top grade for a certain type of qualification!”

The education system in Sussex, where I live, is far from rosy, judging by the countless stories we’ve run on funding shortages and campaigns for a fairer deal. We have lots of excellent schools and colleges but, like the majority of the public sector, it’s not an easy time.

Putting all that aside, the sheer madness of a new GCSE grading system no doubt had many a parent (and journalist!) scratching their head.

The age-old A*-U way of doing things is no more. Students now receive a grade between 1 and 9. 9, obviously, is the highest. It’s no longer about being number one!

It’s not as simple as directly comparing an old grade to a new grade, either. It’s a complex system which some poor soul in my company has attempted to explain here. It’s not just the grades; the way courses are examined have changed, too.

Comparing 9-1 and A-G
Credit: – how the GCSE grading system sort of compares to the old one…but probably doesn’t exactly

Essentially, it appears it was felt that the old system didn’t differentiate students well enough. I can understand this, with an awful lot of people registering straight A*s every year when I scan our papers.

But why did we need to confuse things by altering a straightforward alphabetical system to a completely new numerical one? Could we not have kept things simpler by introducing a new top grade, an A** for example?

As things stand, students will get their heads around grades 1 to 9 – but when they head off to college, it’s back to good old letters again.

Soon, we’ll need a separate qualification for working out what it all means! I had to do a double take when I read about someone getting a D*. I thought it meant they’d failed but had a sympathy star added because they had tried hard. It turns out it was the top grade for a certain type of qualification!

As a parent, I began to worry about having to get my head round all the latest gradings when Albie’s turn came. I then decided that there was nothing to worry about, as in 16 years’ time everything will have completely changed and we’ll probably be awarding grades like ‘Jupiter’, based on their proximity from the Sun.

My advice to Albie will be not to stress too much. When it came to being a journalist, no-one cared what my history mark was. They didn’t even care about my degree – despite it being in journalism.

“Can you write 100 words a minute in squiggly gibberish,” they asked. I could – and I was in!




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