Majority of private schools 'ditched at least one GCSE'

The vast majority of independent schools have ditch-ed the GCSE in at least one subject in favour of a traditional O-level-style exam.

Research by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents 250 priv-ate schools, shows nine out of ten are putting their pupils in for the IGCSE – an international version of the exam which eschews coursework.

Their main fears are that the GCSE does not stretch the brightest pupils or prepare them for more demanding A-level courses.

The research also gives a massive thumbs down to the Government's proposed new diplomas for 14 to 19-year-olds – designed to boost vocational education – showing that only two out of 100 private schools are certain to offer it.

But it provides comfort to supporters of A-levels – revealing that more than two-thirds of the schools are unlikely to offer the new Cambridge Pre-U exam being touted as a more robust alternative.

Bernard Trafford, chairman of HMC and head of Wolverhampton Grammar School, said ministers should welcome the findings, adding that it had revealed, "a few cracks in our national examinations monolith".

The research revealed that 90 per cent of HMC schools were now offering the IGCSE – compared with just 57 per cent a year ago. The most popular subject for the alternative exam was maths – offered by 52 per cent of schools – followed by science (on offer in 22). English came third with a 15 per cent take-up.

Head teachers said the findings put a question mark over the future for the GCSE in highly selective HMC schools.

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