First state school drops GCSE for new 'O-level' exam

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The Independent Online

One of the country's leading grammar schools has become the first state school in the country to ditch the GCSE in favour of an exam modelled on the traditional O-level.

Pupils at Bexley Grammar School in Kent will start taking the International GCSE (IGCSE) in science from this September.

The school – where every pupil obtained at least five A* to C grade passes at GCSE last year – is following in the footsteps of more than 250 independent schools that have already switched to the international exam. The move follows changes to the science curriculum, which are due to come into force this autumn and concentrate on engaging pupils of all abilities in science and getting them to debate issues.

Rod Mackinnon, the school's headteacher, said: "We have concerns about the challenge of the new curriculum. It would be the same with the top sets in comprehensive schools; we do not think it stretches our pupils enough.

"We were clear it just wasn't going to stimulate our pupils enough."

The school's decision could pave the way for other state schools to follow suit. However, Mr Mackinnon said he had not come across another state school which had taken the decision to ditch the GCSE.

In the past, it has always been argued that state schools would lose funding if they opted for the IGCSE – because the qualification is not recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the Government's exams watchdog.

However, Mr Mackinnon said the school would not lose out as schools were funded per child at GCSE level, and the pupils would still be sitting other GCSEs. At A-level, the funding is per course so it would be expensive to offer a non-recognised qualification.

But the school will be disadvantaged in government exam league tables.

A new measure showing science results, due to be introduced next year, will register the percentage of pupils getting a top-grade GCSE pass.

"We will register a big zero there," said Mr Mackinnon. "However, I am happy to argue why we've done it. It is in the pupils' interests."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, doubted whether many state school heads would follow suit, because of the effect on their league table position. However, he agreed that the school would not lose funding as a result of its decision. A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that Bexley would not lose out on its funding grant. However, any fee for putting pupils in for the IGCSE would not be paid.

Independent schools that have already ditched the GCSE in favour of the IGCSE include Westminster and Winchester.

The University of Cambridge International Examinations, which is linked to the Oxford and Cambridge and Royal Society of Art (OCR) exam board, has put forward proposals for a new qualification based on the IGCSE to the QCA for approval in an attempt to remove any hurdle to offering an alternative to the GCSE in state schools.