Starting secondary school can be stressful, especially as there are so many new things to get used to. From the bigger size of the school itself and larger number of other students to the increased homework and need for independence. Arguably, one of the biggest differences is your upcoming GCSEs, the first formal, external exams you’ll take. As the main focus is often on preparing you for GCSEs, even from Year 7, students are often introduced to a clear grading system from early on.
Continue reading to learn what is included in the grading system for Year 7s, Year 8s and Year 9s and how it has changed over the years, particularly if you are about to start secondary school.
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What grades can you get in Year 7, 8 and 9?
While every secondary school is different, there is often a big push on preparing for the start of your GCSE education, even from as early as Year 7. Due to such a focus, it is even more important for you to understand how the whole grading system works.
Is there a national grading system for Year 7, 8 and 9?
Since September 2014, when the national curriculum level system was removed, there has been no national grading system for secondary schools at pre-GCSE level. This was decided in order to give teachers more flexibility when it came down to assessing their students and tracking their progress. Alongside this, it suited the reformed national curriculum better, which was also introduced in 2014.
For more information about the removal of national curriculum levels and the introduction of this reformed national curriculum, check out this governmental guide. Also, to learn more about national curriculum levels, check out its respective heading below.
Do secondary schools use GCSE grades for Year 7, 8 and 9?
While there isn’t officially a national grading system before GCSEs, many schools use the new GCSE levels to mark Year 7, 8 and 9 tests and exams. GCSE grades are also commonly used for predicted secondary grades.
However, these grades can then be used in a number of different ways. For example, some schools such as Eden Boys’ School, Preston will use the new GCSE levels in line with the difficulty of the work being done. For this reason, Year 7s in schools like this will not be able to receive more than a grade 4 and Year 8s no more than a 5. For more information about Eden Boys’ School, click here or click here for the Year 7 and 8 grading systems respectively.
Alternatively, other schools, such as Charter Academy, may alter the grades to predict how a child would be performing should the work be GCSE standard. This means that, whilst a student may be able to obtain a grade 9 in Year 7, they are not actually working at GCSE grade 9 standard.
There is, of course, still the option for schools to use the old national curriculum levels, despite it no longer being a legal requirement. As Charter Academy does both, you can learn more about the Year 7 system here, the Year 8 system here, and the Year 9 system here.
What are national curriculum levels?
Before being removed in 2014, national curriculum levels were grades used to track the progress of secondary school children’s learning. This was done by setting national expectations for where children in a certain year group should have been performing. This was then compared with how the child was actually scoring.
National curriculum grades weren’t only used for Year 7, 8 and 9 students. The levels were made for students in Key Stage 1 (KS1), Key Stage 2 (KS2) and Key Stage 3 (KS3). This means every year group from Year 1 all the way to Years 8 and 9 used the system. For more information about Key Stages, check out this guide from the government.
The national curriculum level grading system consisted of eight levels. Each of these levels was then split into three sub-levels: a, b and c, with a being the highest and c being the lowest. The national expected grade differed between year groups, and students were only expected to go up a sub-level or two per year. For more information about these level divisions, check out this guide from The School Run.
By the end of KS3, students were expected to have reached a Level 5 or 6 on the national curriculum system. Students were expected to finish Year 6 with a Level 4. This means that from Year 7 to Year 9, students needed to have progressed by 1 or 2 whole levels, indicating a student’s ability to progress and therefore perform well in GCSEs. For more information about this, check out this article by Ed Place.
What is the 9 – 1 GCSE grading system?
As it is often used to grade Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9 students, it is important that you understand how the reformed GCSE grading in England works. You’ll need to know this for Years 10 and 11 anyway, so it’s good to understand it well now.
In 2017, the government began to reform GCSEs in England in order to better prepare students for A-Levels, university and employment. As part of this, they introduced a 9-1 grading system to reflect the changes in the content and structure, especially the increased difficulty. The first qualifications that used 9-1 grades were English Language, English Literature and Maths exams. The other GCSE qualifications followed in 2018 and 2019.
Other than the fact that the new system now uses numbers instead of letters, there are also now a new number of available grades. The A*-G grading system contained 8 grades whilst the 9-1 obviously has 9. This means the grades do not completely line-up with each other. Below, you can see how the two systems equate:
The information above can be found in this governmental guide, this guide by Ofqual or this article from the BBC. If you would like to learn more about this grading system and how it compares to the old GCSE grading system, check out the links above.
How do national curriculum levels relate to GCSE grades?
As national curriculum levels ended in 2014 and the 9-1 GCSE grading system began in 2017, these grading systems had no point of overlap. However, some students may have been graded using both systems at some point in their academic journeys. Some schools still choose to use national curriculum levels as a way of marking their students’ progress.
All in all, whilst the national curriculum levels are no longer a necessity to use, it’s still important to understand them. Comparing the old system with the new one, as shown in the table below, with the new one could make the new grading system clearly as well:
|Old NC Level||Old GCSE Grade||New GCSE Grade|
In secondary school, students are expected to move up by one level every school year. This means that students are expected to be working towards a B grade by the end of their GCSEs. In the GCSE 9-1 grading system, this is either a grade 5 or 6. For more information about this, check out this guide from Wren Finchley Academy.
Are SATs still important in secondary school?
In the UK, SATs are tests that are taken at the end of Key Stage 1 (KS1) and Key Stage 2 (KS2) by Year 2 and Year 6 pupils. They are used in order to check the standard of education that students are receiving. The acronym stands for standardised assessment tests. To learn more about SATs in the UK, look at this article from Think Student.
Other than measuring how much a child has learnt and how well they’re being taught, SATs have several other purposes that make them worthwhile. For one, the SATs results are given to the parents, and they are told whether or not their child is at the expected standard. Parents may use this to see whether their child needs extra support. They can talk to their child’s teacher or to set up tutoring to help, especially before starting secondary school. SAT results are also used by Ofsted to form part of their primary school inspection criteria.
However, SATs are also used beyond primary school. Secondary schools may use Key Stage 2 SAT results for various reasons. As they are done in about May in Year 6, they are a good indication of what level students are at by the start of Year 7. For more information about how SATs are used, check out this article by the BBC.
Are SATs used to predict grades in Years 7, 8 and 9?
Predicted grades are the grades that your school thinks you are likely to achieve at the end of your GCSE and A-Level exams. Predicted grades are usually set by your teachers for each subject and are updated throughout the school year to reflect a student’s progress.
For more information about how SATs are used to predict grades, read this guide by UCAS. Please note that while this guide is in reference to university applications, its definition of predicted grades can be loosely applied to all stages of education.
As SATs aren’t teacher-generated predictions, they can’t be used to set predicted grades. However, they can be used to set target grades and often are. Target grades are slightly different to predicted grades as they are estimates of what the child could achieve.
However, due to the differences between primary school and secondary school, some schools will only use them as a benchmark. This is because the student’s current level in secondary school could be completely different to what it was at the end of primary school. To learn more about what target grades are, look at this article by Inner Drive.
Are SATs used to choose sets in Year 7, 8 and 9?
The reason students are put into sets in secondary school is so that their education can be more tailored to their ability. This means that students who are high achieving will be pushed to reach top grades whilst students who don’t perform as well can be given the support they need. For more information about sets in secondary schools and their pros and cons, check out this guide by The School Run.
Most schools use sets in secondary school from Year 7. SATs are often used as part of the selection process to decide which students will be in each set. This is particularly the case in Year 7, as secondary schools won’t have very much data on the students at the start of the year.
However, SATs aren’t the only part of this selection process. SAT exams provide limited data as they only test English and Maths. Some schools may use other tests, such as CATs for set selection as well. For more information about how secondary schools use SATs results, click here to find an informative guide by The School Run.
Are CATs important in secondary school?
CATs are tests used to examine a student’s general intelligence. The acronym stands for cognitive abilities tests. Whilst they are not compulsory like SATs, secondary schools often ask students to take them in Year 7. They test the students’ ability to understand verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and mathematics. For more information on what verbal and non-verbal reasoning are, click here.
CATs are designed to help schools place a child’s academic ability. If schools choose to do CATs in Year 7, they are often set in order to try and identify any learning difficulties that a student may have. The tests are important because they can be used as a part of the grading system in Year 7, 8 and 9. For more information about the purpose of CATs in Year 7, look at this article by Pre-Test Plus.
Are CATs used to predict grades in Year 7, 8 and 9?
CATs are used to identify a student’s academic potential. Due to this, CATs are taken in secondary school, normally in Year 7, and may be used to set target grades for students. This process is similar to how SATs are used to set target grades. Without the student having completed any secondary school work, it isn’t truly possible for teachers to predict how they will do at GCSE level without using CATs.
CATs are often considered to be more useful than SATs. This is because they measure the student’s academic potential rather than what the child has learnt. However, as target grades, they naturally come with their own drawbacks. CATs can limit students to the grades that they have been set rather than allowing them to excel further. To learn more about this, check out this article from Education Briefing.
Are CATs used to choose sets in Year 7, 8 and 9?
CATs aren’t set by the government and they’re also not compulsory. This means that it is up to the school to choose whether they do them. It also means that the grades are only returned to the school, who can then share them with parents, rather than being sent to government bodies. For more information about this, look at this article by Parentkind.
In the same way that secondary schools can choose whether to do CATs in Year 7, they can also choose whether to use them to choose sets. As the tests aren’t curriculum-based, some schools may feel that they aren’t relevant enough to the students’ learning or understanding of a subject.
However, other schools may use the results of CATs in order to influence their decisions on sets. This is because they can provide more evidence on the child’s academic ability along with other tests, such as SATs. For more information about this, check out this article by 11 Plus Guide.