Reform of GCSE

The vast majority of our year 11 students are following IGCSE, rather than GCSE, courses. The IGCSE is completely unaffected by the governmental reform and so the procedure at MPW will be very much ‘business as usual’. We are not anticipating any disruption to students taking exams in summer 2017 or thereafter.

We run full-time courses over two years for students joining in Year 10 or over one year for students transferring to us at Year 11.  Students come to MPW for GCSE courses primarily because of our average of six students per class and absolute guarantee of fewer than 10. There can be other reasons too, e.g. that we are co-ed, that we don’t have school uniform etc, but it’s when pupils really need the extra personal attention that they can get in our small classes and via our outstanding pastoral support system that we can offer the most help.

As a GCSE pupil at MPW, you’ll feel that we’re less like a school than your old school, but you won’t have as much freedom as our A level students.  For example, if you’re under 16 at the beginning of the school year, we provide a much closer level of supervision in between lessons and you will have timetabled library sessions during which you can complete some of your homework.  There is one compulsory and one optional sport session per week and a compulsory study skills and PSHE programme.


  1. How are things changing?
  2. Why are things changing?
  3. What is the timetable for reforms?
  4. Why is it so complicated?
  5. Are the new GCSEs harder than the unreformed exams?
  6. What will MPW be doing and why?
  7. What about retakes and transfers to MPW at the end of Year 10?

1. How are things changing?

In 1986, the government introduced GCSEs to replace the O level system. All students were put on the same scale with a range of seven grades from A (the highest pass mark – later increased to A*) to G (the lowest pass mark). The idea was to make qualifications more accessible by increasing the choices available, both in terms of subject and level. One of the ideas of the reform in traditional academic subjects is to return to examinations in the style of the old O levels.

The grading system for GCSE qualifications is also changing: students will now be awarded the numbers 1-9 as a performance indicator rather than a letter. 9 is the highest mark available and is approximately equivalent to a top A*. 1 is the lowest pass mark available and is a grade equivalent to just above an old GCSE G grade. The letter ‘U’ for ungraded papers will still be used under the new system.

The second significant change, in line with the A level reform, will be a reduction in coursework and a continued reversal of the modular nature of GCSEs, which facilitated re-sits. This linearity has been in place since 2012 and will continue under the reform.

Finally, the specification content of some subjects will broaden in order to stretch students. For example, in English Literature students will be expected to read a wider range of texts and in Maths they will learn a little more about certain practical applications such as financial mathematics. In some cases, it is likely that examination duration will increase to accommodate this.

2. Why are things changing?

The fundamental reason behind the change is a desire on the part of the government to raise standards and better align GCSE qualifications with their international equivalents. It will also allow for increased differentiation between students, with the highest grade (9) being awarded only to students who are at the top of the current A* band. This will lead to greater demand for the equivalent of a current grade C (4 or above) which is broadly in line with high performance in countries such as Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Many critics of the GCSE say that its value has decreased over time and public perception of the qualification is that it is becoming ‘easier’ to obtain high grades. Other criticisms include the use of coursework in some subjects and the modular structure of GCSE courses facilitating re-sits. The government has responded to these criticisms by developing a new GCSE. The structure will give students the time to develop a more profound understanding of the material in their subjects and, through removing the opportunity for modular re-sits, provide a fairer means of assessing and discriminating between students. Assessment by exam wherever practicable will remove the coursework element of most subjects and an increase in difficulty for some syllabus content will stretch and challenge students, better preparing them for A level study.

3. What is the timetable for reforms?

These changes are being phased in between September 2015 and September 2017 in three waves. In September 2015 the first batch of reformed GCSEs was introduced. Students will sit their GCSEs in these subjects in the summer of 2017. In September 2016 the second wave of subjects will follow and finally, by 2017, all subjects will be taught to the new specification. The first GCSE examinations for subjects in these last two blocks will take place in the summers of 2018 and 2019 respectively. 

The table below shows which subjects will reform when.



2015  English literature 
English Language
2016 Ancient Languages (Classical Greek, Latin)
Art and Design 
Citizenship Studies
Computer Science
Double Science
Food Preparation and Nutrition
Modern Foreign Languages (French, German, Spanish)
Physical Education
Religious Studies
2017 Ancient History
Classical Civilisation
Design and Techonology
Film Studies
Media Studies

4. Why is it so complicated?

These are significant changes which have no precedent in the recent history of education in England; there is a concurrent overhaul of the A level system. Ever since a return to linearity was announced, Ofqual, the regulatory body charged with overseeing standards in public examinations, repeatedly adjusted the way in which the reforms were to be introduced because of issues raised by government, schools and colleges. The result is the complex, three-wave process which in effect leaves schools without a unified system of GCSEs until 2017.

5. Are the new GCSEs harder than the unreformed exams?

The new GCSEs will, in some respects, be more challenging than in previous years. This is primarily because:

  • There will be an increase in syllabus content in many subjects - for example Mathematics, with pupils expected to learn key formulae by heart, or English, where students will be expected to read a greater range of literature
  • Examination times will be lengthened to allow for this additional content
  • Non-science subjects will place greater emphasis on students’ use of spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • Coursework will, for the most part, no longer be a means of assessment. Students are likely to take more examinations as a result

Students will understandably be nervous about the implications for their grade prospects and for progressing into the sixth form. The good news, however, is that Ofqual has made it clear that grade boundaries will be adjusted to ensure that there are no significant changes to the number of students achieving particular grades under the new system compared with the old. 

6. What will MPW be doing and why?

In the vast majority of subjects, MPW teach the IGCSE rather than the GCSE specification. The IGCSE already benefits from many of the standard-raising features of the new GCSE, is unaffected by the reform and will continue as usual. For this reason, students entering year 11 need not be concerned as the changes for MPW will be minimal. You can learn more about the I/GCSE subjects that MPW offer on this page.

Central to MPW’s ethos is its commitment to designing a bespoke academic programme to cater to an individual student’s best interests. Students may choose to study any number and combination of subjects in an environment where they will receive excellent tuition and support. Students are urged to continue to choose their subjects in year 11 based on their personal interest, future plans and ability, just as they have in the past, rather than becoming preoccupied with the differences between the reformed GCSE, legacy GCSE and IGCSE and trying to make choices accordingly. Of course, our team of Directors of Studies will always be more than happy to discuss subject choices with students and offer advice.

7. What about retakes and transfers to MPW at the end of Year 10?


It is still possible to retake GCSEs under the reform. Most sittings are in the summer, so students who want to retake all of their subjects are able to join for a one-year intensive course.

The most common GCSE retake subjects are Maths and English Language. MPW teach both as IGCSEs. IGCSEs are unaffected by the governmental reform and there is a winter sitting available for both. Students retaking Maths or English are usually able to progress into year 12 studying three A level subjects alongside their GCSE retake course. They will then sit the IGCSE in the winter and have two remaining terms of year 12 to focus solely on their A levels.

Transfers at the end of Year 10

MPW offers self-contained one-year GCSE courses as well as the more typical two-year programme. Students are able to transfer to the college in the summer at the end of year 10. They then follow the one-year course and take their examinations as planned the following summer. MPW has been teaching this course for many years. Its availability and feasibility will be unchanged by the governmental changes and, as previously stated, most of the subjects follow the IGCSE curriculum which is untouched by the reform.