Significant reforms to schools and college exams in the UK are having an impact on the international exams delivered by the British Council all over the world.

Here is a summary of those changes and the position of our awarding body partners Cambridge CIE, Pearson Edexcel and Oxford AQA.

Grading guidance

From June 2017, schools in England, UK began introducing 9-1 grading for GCSEs. Pearson and Oxford AQA’s International GCSEs have switched to the new 9-1 grading structure. Cambridge International provides schools in Administrative Zone 3, the UAE and Oman with a choice between either 9-1 or A*-G grades. This does not affect AS and A Levels which will continue to be graded in the same way (A-G, A*-G).

Here is a summary of the grading changes and how they relate to the current A*-G grading method, followed by our partners' positions regarding the reforms.

Cambridge CIE

  • Cambridge International is now offering schools the choice between A*-G and 9-1 graded Cambridge IGCSEs from June 2019.

  • The 9-1 graded syllabuses have exactly the same syllabus content and methods of assessment as their A*-G equivalent. We are not making any changes to the syllabuses, and the only difference between the two syllabuses in each subject is that they have different syllabus codes and a different grade set.

  •  A choice in grading system allows schools to evaluate the merits of each, and choose the system that best meets their students’ needs. Schools have the flexibility of entering some candidates for A*-G and others for 9-1 in the same subject, in the same cohort. The choice of grade system will be made when you make entries for the June 2019 examination series and at every examination series thereafter.

  • Both grading systems are accepted across the Middle East and around the world. Universities in the UK and around the world have clearly stated that they will continue to accept qualifications using the A* to G grading system which is internationally recognised. Students presenting qualifications using one system or another will not be disadvantaged.

  • Some UK universities require a C grade at GCSE in Maths and English. Under the 9–1 grading system, some universities will use the new grade 5 as an equivalent while others will use grade 4.

  • Cambridge IGCSEs continue to represent a rigorous qualification that is recognised by universities and employers around the world. Whichever grade system is chosen, the mark students receive will reflect the hard work that each learner has put into their studies, as well as the rigour and excellence of the course.

  • Cambridge IGCSE and England’s 9-1 GCSE syllabuses are very similar. Cambridge IGCSE was a model for the GCSEs, which are based on syllabuses with a linear assessment model and no modular exams.

Read more about Cambridge IGCSE grading choice here (  

Pearson Edexcel

  • Gives greater scope to differentiate across the levels of attainment, rewarding outstanding achievement
  • Reward outstanding achievement with a grade 8 comparable to the old A* and 9 offering a new grade for outstanding achievement
  • Gives teachers more information about students’ attainment to help progress to A Level
  • Internationally relevant: Grade 5 linked with best available evidence of average PISA performance in high performing countries
  • Allows clear comparison with English standards, unlike old A* to G grading
  • Universities will welcome the new scale
  • Primary purpose of International GCSE is to guide progression to A level
  • International universities follow the UK government’s recommendations and structure
  • Pearson and British Council communicate with universities and ministries around the world.
  • Edexcel offers International A Level, which will continue with its current structure and is recognised by universities and ministries all over the world
  • The complete suite of Edexcel International GCSEs are being revised for first teaching 2017, first assessments from June 2019, with the new 9-1 grading scale.

Oxford AQA

  • Fully embracing the new scale 
  • The addition of an additional grade allows for greater differential of more able students.
  • Grade 9 will recognise the very best students.
  • The grade for a “good pass” for Maths and English will change – grade 5 becomes the benchmark
  • Candidates for core tier papers will have the opportunity to achieve a better grade.
  • Students in the first 9-1 cohort won’t be disadvantaged.