Candida Dearing, secondary network lead teacher for dyslexia

The new GCSEs were introduced in September 2015, meaning that all students starting year ten last September began the new GCSE courses. There have been growing concerns about the implications of these new courses for students with literacy difficulties. Looking at the following overview of the new GCSE’s there is a genuine basis for these concerns.


20 per cent of marks for written exams will be awarded for accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG), there will be no set texts and students will be expected to read widely.

It should be noted that students requiring a scribe will automatically lose 20 per cent of the mark awarded for SPaG. If they use voice to text software, they will lose 5 per cent (this will also apply to geography, history and religious studies)

The table below gives an indication of the impact losing 20 per cent of the total mark would have on outcomes for students that require a scribe to access examinations.

English literature, which will no longer be compulsory, will give students an unseen text in the exam.

Marks will no longer be awarded for teacher-assessed speaking and listening exercises. Although these components will still be assessed and reported separately, grades won’t contribute to the final qualification.

Written exams are now worth 60 per cent of pupils’ overall grade compared with 40 per cent in previous years.


The new maths GCSE will be more ‘challenging’, with a greater emphasis on problem solving and worded questions. No marks will be lost if a student requires a reader.


Most subjects will be assessed by exam only, and students will be awarded one of nine grades, represented by the numbers 1-9, with 9 representing the highest level of attainment. Those who fail to meet the minimum standard will be graded with a U – as before. The following table shows the estimated grade boundaries for the new GCSE.


Current (old) GCSE New GCSE 2017 New GCSE Grade Boundaries


































U U <10%


A good pass, under the new GCSE will be a grade 5 and above (top of C). An awarding pass will be grade 4 and above (bottom of C and above).

Many subjects will see the end of coursework, unless it’s decided that it’s vital to judge how a student is doing. This will be decided on a subject-by-subject basis.

Subjects including the sciences, geography, history and modern languages will be introduced as new GCSE qualifications in 2016.

The English Baccalaureate (eBacc)

This is very much part of the Progress 8 ‘bucket’ system and is a progress measure for schools awarded when students gain a C or above at GCSE across a core of five academic subjects. The EBacc was introduced in 2010 and is used as a performance indicator for all schools. The DfE expect all students beginning secondary school from 2015 onwards will follow the EBacc pathway. However there are ongoing debates about the suitability of this pathway for all students.

Buckets 1 and 2 have all the EBacc subjects (English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language) bucket 3 has the rest. This narrows options for students who would like to take more creative subjects such as art, music, drama, dance and design technology.

In addition to this the new GCSE specifications mean that many subjects are more theoretical than practical. For example, both drama and PE GCSE’s will be assessed with a 30 per cent practical and 70 per cent theoretical split.

Implications for students with literacy difficulties

  • Options are greatly reduced for students who have strengths in more practical subjects. These are often students with literacy difficulties.
  • An emphasis on exams rather than coursework may disadvantage students with working memory difficulties, speed of processing problems and who have difficulty accessing text. This in turn could impact on a student’s ability to gain qualifications necessary for higher education or even employment.
  • The changes to access arrangement regulations see a shift to using technology as opposed to human readers and scribes. Whilst this is positive in terms of equipping young people with the skills they need to be independent the cost implications for schools already facing budget deficits are significant.

The future

The implications of these reforms have yet to be realised in terms of results and the impact these will have on national data and league tables.

There are ongoing arguments that the new GCSE’s discriminate against students with learning difficulties under the Equality Act (2010). It is hoped that in light of this the system will be reviewed.