If you’ve arrived here looking for a list of topics and their new GCSE grade next to them … you’ll be disappointed.

Two things arrived today that got me going “grrrrrr” so before I start let me just get this off my chest: “There is no such thing as a grade B topic, or a grade E topic … they have all been made up by textbook publishers and revision product companies”. Even if you don’t agree with me do read on, because this is worse than just saying “circle theorems is going to be a Grade 5 topic”. The examples I am going to provide you with are just plain wrong!

Before I go “off on one” I need to say this IS NOT about being able to provide SLT or parents with a forecast grade – that is a massive whole other hornets’ nest. I am talking about producing lists of topics or textbooks saying that certain topics are a specific grade under the new GCSE (9-1).

So let’s deal with the FACT that the current GCSE only ever had “grade descriptions” for certain grades as shown below from the spec of the current Edexcel 1MA0 GCSE – F, C and A and then people started publishing stuff (most of the textbooks and other revision resources did .. it was everywhere!) for ALL THE GRADES. This means that for the vast majority of topics any grade that it related to, was in fact just “made up” based on someones opinion and nothing more. I’ve always had an issue with this as I find it limiting too – not just for students but also for us as teachers. There are some teachers that will refrain from teaching certain topics because it’s not targeted at their student’s ability … I don’t want textbook publishers (or anyone else that gets worse results than me for a start – harsh I know! and I’m not as arrogant as that statement makes me sound by the way!) telling me what my students can and can’t access. I actually find this quite “de-professionalising” of me, as a teacher.


In my opinion, this practice of categorising topics for the new GCSE would be just plain harmful and goes against the philosophy of the changes to the new GCSE – so let’s have a look at the grade descriptors (note I’ve used the word descriptor and not description) for the new GCSE which were published by the DFE in November 2014 (actual document can be found here -> Grade Descriptors )  

Grade 8 Grade 5 Grade 2Well I never!! NOT A TOPIC IN SIGHT

In fact according to the .gov site they developed ‘grade descriptors’ for the new GCSEs graded 9 to 1 and they are different from ‘grade descriptions’, which apply to GCSEs graded A* to G. The idea is that the descriptors “give an indication of the expected mid-point performance at grades 2, 5 and 8”. This suggests the government also (OMG I can’t believe I may be agreeing with a government policy for a change!) want to move away from this way of categorising topics.  

Aside from the fact that there isn’t a definite grade 3 or 7 or any number topic in the “new 9-1” GCSE we received two “things” today that very clearly label topics as specific grades (I’m not naming specific products). As you do, you give them a cursory glance before adding to the pile of other “free” stuff that arrives in your pigeon-hole during the first week back and once I’d noticed the grading I found a couple of examples that shows how arbitrary doing this is:

   Topic                     Product 1             Product 2

Venn Diagrams            Grade 3                Grade 5

Frequency Trees          Grade 2                Grade 3

Exact Trig Values         Grade 5                Grade 7

Trigonometry                Grade 5                Grade 6

 … so there you have it! These lists and saying things like “venn diagrams is a grade 3 or a grade 5” (depending on which of the two things I’ve had today!!) is just made up and I for one am not prepared to limit neither myself nor my students. People are just making shiz up and in my opinion, this is just plain wrong. I know they’ve probably used their professional judgement but doing this is not helpful to the cultural shift we need in Maths education right now and I think if people want to continue to do this and to play on the naivety of others they need to add a caveat that their grading is a gauge of difficulty in their opinion and not linked to the official grades that will be awarded at GCSE.

PS: As always I reserve the right to change my mind at a later date .. on this point I can’t see it happening.

PPS: On the basis of a long and arduous discussion on Twitter earlier AQA kindly tweeted me a photo of their Q and As from January which supports the fact (as per the 2nd paragraph)  that it is “it is question papers, not individual questtions which carry grades. Assigning grades to questions is unreliable”.