Schools ditch GCSEs in favour of traditional exams


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The Independent Online

Record numbers of schools have ditched GCSE exams this year in favour of a more traditional exam modelled along the lines of O-levels.

Figures published today show a 100 per cent rise in the number of entries for the IGCSE pioneered by University of Cambridge International examinations (UCIE) – with the number of state schools switching to it more than trebling in the past two years.

The exam, designed along the lines of the old O-level with an emphasis on end-of-year testing rather than coursework, had 50,000 entries this summer. In all, 900 schools have opted to use it for some subjects. There was a major rise in the take-up by state schools from 220 in 2011 to 400 in 2012 .

The increasing interest comes as the Education Secretary Michael Gove has declared his intention to bring back O-levels to replace GCSEs and appears to be a vindication of his desire to make the exam tougher and a better preparation for further study. A consultation paper on exam reform is to be published after the summer recess.

It follows an earlier decision by Mr Gove to fund state schools for the IGCSE as well as the GCSE – and include its results in secondary school performance tables. These twin barriers forced most state schools to stick with GCSEs until two years ago.

Gaynor Deoraj, an English teacher at Tanbridge House school in Horsham, West Sussex, a state school, said the IGCSE allowed students to "creatively and enthusiastically engage with the text". Instead of learning in bite-sized chunks for coursework, they could concentrate on studying the whole text.

"To hear a Year 11 (GCSE) student state that Wuthering Heights is one of the most fantastic novels she has ever read makes my job worthwhile," she said. "When I started teaching the novel, five out of a set of 32 students were positive about the book; when we finished, 25 thought the book was clever, inspiring and beautifully written."

The rise in entries is mostly in English, maths, science, foreign languages and humanities. The biggest was in English language and literature, with 10,000 this year. Two-thirds of teachers said the IGCSE was a better preparation for A-levels while many independent schools say GCSEs are too easy.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "It is excellent that hundreds of schools are taking advantage of the freedoms given them."