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Education News

Independent schools increasingly move towards the more traditional 'international' GCSE


Four out of five independent schools ditched GCSEs in at least one subject area in favour of the more traditional international version of the exam, according to figures released today.

Figures from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) showed 38.7 per cent of their Year 11 (16-year-olds) entries were for the international version of the GCSE, which is modelled on traditional O-level lines with the emphasis on end-of-course exams instead of coursework, up 18 per cent from 129,288 entries the previous year to 152,170. The number of IGCSE candidates has more than trebled in the past four years.

A breakdown reveals that 438 of the 552 independent schools that submitted their results had pupils taking at least one IGCSE.

Maths, the sciences and English are the most popular IGCSE subjects. English has grown in popularity since the marking controversy of two years ago when the grade boundaries were raised between the January and June sitting of the exam.

Duncan Byrne, deputy head of Cheltenham College, said: “We believe that the specifications for IGCSE are more academically rigorous. IGCSE, particularly in mathematics and the sciences contains content which is more challenging and which prepares students better for further study.”

Other schools have said they made the switch because the IGCSE is free from Government interference and therefore not subject to as many reviews and changes as the GCSE.

Overall, independent schools’ results saw a rise in the number of entries awarded A* or A grade passes from 60.4 per cent to 60.6 per cent. This is set against a slight drop in the UK's overall results. In all, 32.7 per cent of entries were awarded A* grades, up from 32 per cent last year.

Overall, 77.7 per cent of ISC pupils achieved five or more A* to C grade passes, including English, maths, a science and a modern foreign language.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC and former head teacher of Harrow School, said: “ISC schools are pleased to use their independence and freedom to continue to offer both the IGCSE and the GCSE in the best interests of their pupils.”

This year’s GCSEs were the first year to feel the impact of former Education Secretary Michael Gove’s exam reforms, which have also moved away from coursework in favour of end-of-course sudden death exams. The full impact of his reforms with tougher questions and a more demanding syllabus will not be felt for another two to three years.

Ministers have decided the exclude IGCSE results from exam league tables in 2017 - the first year of the full impact of the reforms. However, many independent schools like Winchester and St Paul’s have been using the IGCSE since before they were permitted to be included in the tables and are thought unlikely to change back to GCSEs.