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Students and parents at GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai on Thursday. Image Credit: Ahmad Ramazan/Gulf News

Dubai: Thousands of UAE students joined pupils worldwide in receiving their GCSE/IGCSE results on Thursday, with several pupils and schools in the Emirates reporting best-ever results despite “tougher” exams, changes to the grading format and curriculum reforms.

This year, almost all subjects were graded under the new 9-1 or “9 to 1” number grades format, which was introduced last year for some subjects, replacing the previous letter grades format (A to G).

The latest exams were graded with 9 being the highest grade, equivalent to a double A* (A-star) and 1 as the lowest.

The GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) are administered by UK-based education bodies for Year 11 students in British curriculum schools worldwide. Based on GCSE results, students typically chose their subjects for school-leaving qualifications such as A (Advanced) Levels or the IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma.

Record results

On Thursday, some schools reported record GCSE results, including Dubai College, which secured its highest-ever results in the 41-year history of the school, with the 9-7 pass rate up by two per cent from last year, to 89.8 per cent now.

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Jida Sulieman reacts after receiving her GCSE results at GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai on Thursday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Kate Hill, Head of Middle, Dubai College, said: “The results for the new top grade 9 have been truly outstanding. In the UK, only around 3.5 per cent of students achieve a grade 9 in their core subjects, whereas an impressive 50.6 per cent of all results were grade 9 at Dubai College. Remarkably, 18 students in Year 11 achieved a complete set of grade 9s – up from 12 last year – and an additional 31 students achieved a complete set of 9-8 grades; the number of grades 9 and 8 has increased by almost 10 percentage points compared to last year. I would like to thank the staff and the parents for all their support once again”.

Headmaster Michael Lambert said: “On behalf of Dubai College I would like to congratulate our Year 11 students on these very pleasing results which should serve as a real confidence boost as they embark upon their A Levels this year. The new 9-1 marking system will take a few years to settle down and schools often notice what’s known as the saw-tooth effect when a fundamental change like this is introduced. Fortunately, students at Dubai College seem to have weathered this particular storm but anxious parents and critical journalists should go easy on those schools who notice a dip during these early years of the new system.”

‘Strongest ever’

Another school celebrating “our strongest results ever” was GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai, where 65 per cent of students achieved grades 9-7, which is 15 per cent higher than two years ago, said principal Maryssa O’Connor.

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Students and parents at GEMS Wellington International School in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Trisha Dutta, an Indian student at GEMS Wellington, received eight 9s and two 8s, even though she was only expecting around three 9s. “I set up a timetable and I followed it, kind of. I studied at least two hours a day, prioritizing the subjects I needed the most help in. And obviously I got great support from teachers and family,” Trisha told Gulf News.

She added that students who received grades less than expected “should not feel stressed or disheartened. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses – prioristise what you want to do in life and work your hardest”.

‘My advice’

Her schoolmate Nashmeya Ali, from Pakistan, scored between 9 and 7 in all her 10 subjects. “I’m so happy with the results… My advice for GCSEs would be: keep at it every single day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes of revision. It really adds up and you won’t be cramming information on the last day,” she said.

Nashmeya’s father Mohammad Ali Allawala said he and his wife were there to fully support her “irrespective of her grades because we saw her working hard”.

‘Grades not our criteria’

He added: “Our criteria was not the grades, it was we should be here to support her, not to compete or compare grades with others. That’s our role as parents.”

In the GEMS Education group, 16 schools hosted a record 2,800 students who sat more than 17,700 GCSE/IGCSE examinations.

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Sanya Saxena with her father after receiving her GCSE results. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Across the GEMS network, 357 students achieved the highest 9 grade, with 46 per cent of students achieving at least an A* grade across all schools. Of all grades achieved across the GEMS schools, 20 per cent were at A* (9-8) and 67 per cent were A*-B (9-5).

Sir Christopher Stone, Global Chief Education Officer, GEMS Education, said: “I would like to congratulate all of our students upon their outstanding results in both their IGCSE and GCSE Results. These reflect, not only the hard work and determination of these young people but, also, the dedication of our staff and the wonderful support and encouragement they are given by their parents. We wish all our young people every continued success in their future endeavours.”

‘Best year ever’

At Dubai British School (DBS), a Taaleem school, educators announced another record-breaking year for their GCSE candidates. More than half (52 per cent) of the students who sat the exams scored 9 to 7 – up five per cent from last year.

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Students along with their parents receive their GCSE results. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Simon Jodrell, principal of DBS, said: “Despite concerns by some global commentators about the new GCSE courses and how their increased difficulty would affect outcomes, we are pleased to announce that we have had our best year ever for these results. These outcomes are a testament to our staff, students and parent’s hard work, support and dedication, I sincerely congratulate them all.”

Alan Williamson, CEO of Taaleem, said: “These results are tremendously encouraging as they are the best ever achieved at DBS and on a par with results from the world’s leading schools. It is also heartening to see such results achieved in a community school that has a non-selective and inclusive policy; the value-added factor is incredible. As the students at DBS now commence the next stage of their journey in education, they can rest assured that they have built solid foundations for their future career and life aspirations.”

100% streak

Also on Thursday, Kings’ School Al Barsha in Dubai announced its results – where over 60 per cent of students received A* to A grades, with particularly notable performances in English with 93 per cent A* through B – and an impressive 100 per cent A* through A in History.

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Tejas Venkataraman along with his mother receive their GCSE results. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“Following on from the success of our first A Levels cohort last week, we are delighted that our students have again performed beyond expectations. The translation of and improvement on previous successes with a much larger student cohort this past academic year is a testament to the excellent learning community our children and staff are building here at Kings’,” said Michael Bloy, Secondary Head Teacher, Kings’ School Al Barsha.

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Ahmad Mohmoud from the school received one “9 Distinction”, seven 9s, and one 8. The Year 11 students celebrating today from the school included Sheryl Rizvi, who achieved straight As in Science, Maths and English.

‘Incredibly proud’

Sheryl said: “All those months of revision have paid off and I am incredibly proud of my results. I will be studying Biology, Chemistry and Maths at A-Level as I am interested in a career in medicine. Having the opportunity to do work experience at Saudi German hospital as part of my Biology GCSE was particularly relevant, and the way that Kings’ has nurtured me as an individual has prepared me for what’s beyond the classroom with values that I can apply in everyday life.”

Rebecca Gray, Kings’ School Al Barsha’s Principal and Director of Education for Kings’, said: “We pride ourselves on being a school that seeks to develop the whole child rather than focusing purely on academics. Our holistic approach ensures that our children are very well prepared for exams and wider life. Our practices develop their self-belief and give them the confidence to push their own boundaries. This is why our children have yet again achieved incredible GCSE results…”

Meanwhile, Repton School Dubai, part of Evolvence Knowledge Investments and a partner school of Repton School in the UK, is celebrating with 31 per cent of the 105 exam entries awarded the maximum A* (9-8) grade, and 51 per cent securing the A*-A (9-7) grade. Overall, 82 per cent of the exams taken were graded B (5) or above.

‘Extra benchmark’

David Cook, headmaster at Repton School Dubai, said: “I would like to thank our superb teaching staff for their dedication and expertise, and also thank our parents, for their support and encouragement. We are truly proud of the exceptional results that our Year 11 students have achieved and that they can reap the rewards of their conscientiousness and hard work of the past academic year. Top universities around the world look to this qualification as an extra benchmark of performance when considering applications and with the impressive grades, and we are confident that our students will succeed in the next phase of their academic career.”

Abu Dhabi and Al Ain

In Al Ain, the overall pass rate for GCSEs exams this year for A*-C (9-4) was 97 per cent at Brighton College Al Ain. 39 per cent of exams taken this year by Brighton College Al Ain students resulted in top grades A*/9-8, and 60 per cent of exams taken resulted in grades A*- A/ 9-7. Its student Ruba El-Houni achieved seven 9s, one A*, and one A.

‘Beyond predictions’

Dr Ken Greig, headmaster of Brighton College Al Ain, said: “This year’s results are the best ever achieved at Brighton College Al Ain for GCSEs. I’m delighted that once again our pupil’s hard work and dedication has confirmed that the College is amongst the very top tier of academic schools in the UAE. Many pupils achieved results beyond our predictions, showing how much hard work that they themselves and their teachers have put in, especially in the last few months before the exams. These results give them a really strong foundation for their A Level studies and beyond that, university. Congratulations to all our achievers!”

As well as Brighton College Al Ain, Bloom Education operates a Brighton College campus in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Brighton College Abu Dhabi’s results were: 24 per cent grade 9, 47 per cent grade 9 - 8 (A*); 72 per cent grade 9 - 7 (A*-A), 89 per cent grade 9-6 (A* - B), 99 per cent grade 9 - 4 (A*-C).

High-achieving pupils celebrating top grades this year at the Abu Dhabi school include Ismael Ibrahim Iranzo and Ines Shammah, who both received nine grade 9s and one A*.

Impact clear

Simon Corns, headmaster of Brighton College Abu Dhabi, said: “Once again, I am absolutely delighted with our pupils’ outstanding GCSEs. Year on year they consistently produce spectacular results and we celebrate their success… The impact of fantastic teaching and learning is clear for all to see. My thanks go to all the teachers, pupils and their parents for the wonderful teamwork that has led to this achievement…”

Emma Parsons, Head of Years 7 – 11, said: “We are delighted that once again our pupils’ results have exceeded our expectations and we are celebrating their achievements today. The fact that almost half of all GCSE grades scored either 9 or 8 demonstrates that the pupils’ hard work and determination has paid dividends. We are incredibly proud of all our pupils and the commitment and the dedication of our teaching staff is outstanding. Well done all!”

Also in Abu Dhabi, the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK), the number of students achieving top grades has increased for the third consecutive year. An “exceptional” 19 per cent of all of BSAK’s GCSE entries were graded at the highest possible grade 9, which is nearly five times the UK average. This is an increase from 18 per cent in 2018. The percentage of students achieving 9 or 8 is also the highest ever for the school, at 37 per cent of all students. This year BSAK’s cohort of 116 students made 1,002 GCSE entries.

Headmaster Mark Leppard MBE said: “This is another set of outstanding results for our brilliant students, with more than a third of them achieving an 8 or 9. The UK National average is at 11 per cent, which just shows how amazing these results are. I am incredibly proud of our students’ achievements as they continue to exceed all expectations.”

Student Farah Harfoush who received 9 in Chemistry, 9 in Biology, 9 in History, 9 in Physics, 9 in Maths and 9 in Music, 8 in Drama, 8 in English Language and 8 in English Literature, said: “The exams were really tough this year, but scoring six 9s is really incredible. I am beyond pleased; I still cannot believe it.”

New number grades for GCSE explained

Students across the UAE and other GCC countries received their Pearson Edexcel International GCSE results, which were awarded using the new nine-point grading scale (9–1), introduced by the UK government to raise standards and recognise top-performing students.

Making a decision from the outset to move to 9–1 grading, Pearson Edexcel said they have ensured that their International GCSE qualifications have been carefully re-developed to be appropriate for this grading scale. This has been set out in the design of the updated qualification content, assessment objectives, and question papers, and ensures effective targeting of the requirements of the new scale and prepares students to be fully equipped for the A level standard.

Last year, only English and Mathematics International GCSEs were awarded using the new 9-1 grading scale. This year’s Pearson Edexcel International GCSE results have seen the scale being applied to all other subjects as well. By using this method of grading, it is ensured that the grading meets the same standards as Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) set in the UK for GCSE, so students can successfully progress to qualifications such as GCE A level, International A level and on to university.

Greater differentiation

With nine levels of performance rather than eight, the numerical grading scale also provides greater differentiation of the highest performers at the top end, rewarding student achievements and, in turn, helping them make informed decisions about their A level and university choices.

Kathryn Booth, Head of Academic Qualifications for Pearson Middle East, said: “We welcome the expansion of the new 9-1 grading scale to include more subjects. As there is so much exceptional performance at the top of the scale, this new system better rewards student achievements. It provides greater differentiation of the performers at the top end, helping them make decisions about their A level and university choices.

Paul Asir Joseph, Principal, St Mary’s Catholic High School, Dubai, said: “The new GCSE/IGCSEs (9-1) grading scale provides greater differentiation, which rewards the top-performing students. Our students’ attainment for the first batch of results as part of the full suite of 9-1 qualifications is outstanding, and we strongly believe this is because specifications are well-aligned with local requirements.”

Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs (9-1) are globally recognised qualifications with academic content and assessment designed specifically for international learners.

Aligning standards

“Over 5 million GCSEs and International GCSEs are awarded using the 9–1 grading scale worldwide, including in the UK, making it the most used and recognised grading scale for GCSE and International GCSE globally. Pearson Edexcel led the way with 9-1 grading, as the first international examination board to adopt this awarding scale, to fully align with the UK government’s intention to raise standards. We also wanted to ensure that international students have the same opportunities as students in the UK, which is why our International GCSEs now use the 9–1 grading scale, instead of the A*–G grading scale,” added Booth.