We mustn’t let GCSE Grade 4 become the ‘Poundland’ pass

The message from the DfE is clear – Grade 4 and 5 are both equivalent to a C. But, grade 4 is Poundland C, and grade 5 is a Waitrose C, writes one head of humanities in Tes.

They may be numerical next-door neighbours, but in terms of social status, the numbers four and five have been drifting apart from each other for many years. Number five has done very well for itself, coming to be associated with wholesome healthy achievement – the 5 A Day campaign for healthy eating, the Famous Five adventurers, high-five celebrations and so on. 

In contrast, number four seems to have gone in the opposite direction, bringing to mind four-letter words, the notorious “Gang of Four” political faction and the well-publicised past failings at security firm G4S. So wide is the social gorge between the two numbers that the famous old football score “Forfar four, East Fife five” now looks like less of a tongue-twister and more like a humiliating thrashing for East Fife. 

So when the Department of Education first let slip that the new GCSE grade 5 would be a “good” pass we could immediately sense the ground crumbling beneath the feet of vulnerable little grade 4. Even though they then altered the word “good” to “strong” and reassured everyone that 4, too, could be called a pass – a “standard” pass – the underlying message was clear to all: grade 4 was going to be – in their middle-class world – a flaky Poundland grade C, while 5 would be the equivalent of a Waitrose C.

Even those of us with merely a “standard” grasp of maths could predict from the start that grade 4 would struggle to maintain a grade C exchange rate in the new, ill-conceived 1 to 9 world order. Whereas  C (relative to G) could legitimately hold its head high among the upper GCSE echelons, grade 4 has no fewer than 5 grades below it.

Some of us in schools must also share part of the blame for the widespread devaluation of grade 4, in many instances now refusing students onto an A-level course unless they have at least a “Waitrose” in the subject.  Many worthy grade-4 students are finding an increasing number of doors closed to them.

Read the full article We mustn’t let GCSE Grade 4 become the ‘Poundland’ pass

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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