State schools keen to sign up for old-style exams

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The Independent Online

The number of state schools considering ditching GCSEs in favour of an exam based on traditional O-level principles which eschews coursework in favour of traditional end-of-term testing has tripled in the past couple of months.

Many independent schools have already made the switch to the International GCSE – particularly in the core subjects of maths, English and science – saying it offers students more challenge and a better preparation for A-level study.

A total of 300 UK schools – most independent – will receive their IGCSE results today, 12 days before GCSE results are released.

Their numbers will swell to 500 next year but it will be 2012 before the growth in state schools switching to the new exam comes into effect.

Last month, the first since the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, announced that state schools could teach the IGCSEs, the Cambridge IGCSE received 26 new applications to start taking the exam from September – 16 from state schools and 10 from the independent sector. In addition, 60 state schools have signed up for a session to be trained in teaching the exam in September.

Ann Puntis, chief executive of Cambridge International Examinations, said: "By 2012 we shall start to see the match between independent and state schools become more equal. The number of inquiries from state schools has tripled since the Government's announcement." The previous Labour government refused to allow state funding for schools to take the exam, arguing that its syllabus did not follow the national curriculum.

The then Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, pointed out that it did not insist that the study of Shakespeare for English literature was compulsory. "How could you have a literature syllabus that didn't include Shakespeare?" said Ms Puntis. "It wasn't compulsory and – when asked to make it compulsory to receive UK accreditation – we said it didn't feel right as it was an international exam. In the same way in languages, we were asked to change the way we asked questions in the language under study but we felt that they [the students] had been studying French for some time and would actually understand a question being framed in French."

The exam was devised in the 1980s at the time when GCSEs were replacing O-levels in the UK. Many countries, mainly Commonwealth countries teaching through the medium of English, had wanted to retain some of the characteristics of the old O-level exams.However, the exam is now growing in popularity, in particular in China. It offers Mandarin as one of the languages that can be studied. It has also been accredited for use in UK schools.

One of the state schools to switch to the IGCSE is Parkside in Cambridge – a school which believes it has the highest number of scientists living in its catchment area of any in the country due to its proximity to the university. Mark Carrington, the chairman of its governing body and a biochemist at the university, said: "I have two sons who have done science GCSE and A-levels and I found that the science they did was nice and cuddly science which didn't provide the depth of understanding you need to progress."

Language: Plain-speaking Gove to ban education jargon

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has given officials a list of phrases they are banned from using because they originate from when Labour was in power.

But, unlike a recent initiative launched by the Local Government Association to get councils to talk in plain language, Mr Gove's apparent aim is to introduce new phrases which are just as meaningless to anyone outside the Civil Service as the expressions he has banned.

"One children's workforce framework/tool" – an example of jargon dating from the Labour era, is now banned. In its place there is "local areas self-assessment tool". "Family Intervention Programme" is out. "Key workers providing intensive support to families" is in. "Every Child Matters" goes. "Help children achieve more" takes its place.

There were fears yesterday that Mr Gove's clampdown on language might hide something more serious. "Every Child Matters" was launched in 2003 after the horrific death of Victoria Climbie, who was murdered by her great aunt. The intention is to ensure that professions spot symptoms of child abuse early. The Department for Education denied that changing the language means the coalition Government takes child abuse any less seriously than Labour. But Ed Balls, the former schools secretary, said: "Instead of issuing ridiculous memos like this, Michael Gove's department should concentrate on getting the policy right and not making more mistakes with botched lists of school buildings and academies."