The Government today blocked the use of a rival exam to the GCSE – considered by many independent heads to be more rigorous – in state schools.
Ministers ruled that they could not approve the use of the Cambridge International Certificate ( known as the International GCSE) in the key subjects of English, maths, science and ICT.
The decision will cause an outcry from independent schools – many of whom have ditched the GCSE in these subjects because they consider it does not stretch their pupils enough.
A handful of state schools had followed suit but were forced to pay for the cost of putting pupils in for the exam themselves rather than be funded for it.
Announcing the ban, Schools Minister Iain Wright said the CIC failed to meet the requirements of the national curriculum.
“Approval would represent a risk to the focus on the vital curriculum elements – for instance, young people would be able to opt out of answering questions on Shakespeare.” These are compulsory in GCSEs.
The decision was backed by the country’s biggest headteachers’ organisation.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders,, said: “”While I will defend the right of independent schools to exercise their freedom to choose the examinations they believe best suit their students, I do not believe that these certificates should be more widely used.
“We do not want a market in qualifications. Exams are not items on a supermarket shelf. They determine young people’s futures and should not be subject to market pressures.”
The Conservatives, however, are committed to allowing the exams to be used in state schools.
Michael Gove, their education spokesman, said: “Denying IGCSEs in core subjects to children in state schools will only serve to increase the level of inequality in education.”
Dr Kevin Stannard, director of education at Cambridge International examinations , added: “We question how this decision is ‘securing choice for young people’ by not funding provision recognised by UK universities, the national regulator and taken by thousands of schools in the UK and overseas.”
Controversy over the exam has been fuelled by the fact the Government’s stance means results from the IGCSE cannot be used in government school league tables.
As a result, leading independent schools like Winchester – which does not use the GCSE – come bottom of the tables.
The row has spilled over into the independent schools’ own league tables with up to 70 boycotting them.
Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, said the GCSE was “an exam which doesn’t allow creative children to express themselves”.
Mr Grant, headmaster of St Albans’ School in Hertfordshire, added: “They have baffled pupils through the simplicity of their questions. They’re actually looking for a more sophisticated question than the one they’re being asked and wonder whether there is a hidden catch.”
A spokesman for HMC said: “Schools should be free to choose the curriculum they think best suits their children.”
Whilst a majority of the 250 HMC schools now take the IGCSE in maths, several members have also said they are still satisfied with the GCSE.