Harrow drops GCSE maths and history for being too 'banal'

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The Independent Online

The school that finished top of a league table for GCSE results is ditching the exam for both maths and history.

Harrow, the internationally-renowned public school, tops the independent sector league table with a point score of 655.74 per pupil – the equivalent of just over eleven A* grade passes for every pupil. But its headmaster Barnaby Lennon revealed yesterday the school decided that the GCSE courses in maths and history were inadequate preparation for A-levels. It has instead opted for the International GCSE exam, built along the lines of the old A-level with an end-of-term exam and no coursework.

Harrow, an all-boys' boarding school with fees of more than £22,000 a year, is just one of a growing number of private schools to make the switch.

"Many independent schools have opted for the IGCSE in maths because they consider the coursework included in the GCSE is banal," he said.

"It is much better for the more rigorous approach needed for A-levels. It is a similar with history. In the state sector going up to GCSE, you find yourself doing the Second World War again and again and again. We don't do that."

The school benefits under the GCSE points score system because it puts its pupils in for more exams than other private schools. But Mr Lennon insisted: "We don't cram them in for as many exams as possible. We benefit from being an all boarding school because pupils can study subjects out of school time. For instance, the head of IT has had pupils doing their coursework before school."

Mr Lennon said that – unlike some of his colleagues in the independent sector – "we quite like the current GCSE".

"I'm not as pessimistic about the state system as some of my other colleagues," he said.

But he had one message to exam boards over the future of the GCSE following claims that the exam is being made easier. A report by the Joint Council for Qualifications, the body which represents all the exam boards, suggests that the second tier GCSE paper in science – for which candidates can gain a C to G grade pass – should include more questions with simple right or wrong answers. "Don't dumb the exam down," he said.

Yesterday's results showed an increase both in the percentage of A* grade passes as well as A* to C grade passes. Nineteen out of 20 entries qualified for a top grade pass with 57.4 per cent being awarded an A* or A grade pass – 0.2 percentage points up from the previous year.

In 231 of the 577 schools belonging to the Independent Schools Council every pupil obtained five A* to C grade passes. The schools' scores are worked out using the department for Children, schools and Families GCSE point score system.