Schools ditching GCSEs for ‘O-levels’


Richard Garner
Tuesday 04 June 2013 11:24

A dramatic rise in the number of state schools ditching the GCSE exam this year in favour of its old O-level-style rival is revealed in figures published today.

Last night headteachers’ leaders claimed the rise was down to a vote of no confidence” in the way last year’s English GCSE grading row had been handled.

Figures from Cambridge International Examinations, which offers the rival IGCSE to schools, show that the number of schools opting for its English exam this summer has almost tripled in a year - from 34,800 to 93,300.

In addition, the total number of entries for all Cambridge IGCSE subjects has doubled over the same period with over 115,000 entries for the summer of 2013.

The rise follows last year’s fiasco when exams regulator Ofqual put pressure on exam boards to raise the grade boundaries in English for those sitting the exam in the summer - so as to ensure that the pass rate was broadly similar to that of the previous. A glimpse at the January results showed that changes to the exam had led to a higher pass rate.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “What happerned with English last year has been a major factor in the rise - the IGCSE is not subject to the same regulatory control as the GCSE.

“It isn’t subject to Ofqual’s policy of comparable outcomes (under which exam boards have been told the pass rates for each grades should be broadly in line with previous years.”

He added: “It is not a vote of no confidence in the GCSE itself - it is a vote of no confidence by teachers in the way things gave been handled.

“Teachers feel extremely disempowered - and they want to act in the best interest of their pupils and remove this uncertainty over the grade boundaries and what they should be aiming for.”

The exodus from the GCSE to the IGCSE - which is modelled along traditional O-level lines with the emphasis on an exam at the end of the course - began with schools,mainly in the independent sector, ditching GCSEs because they considered it did not stretch their pupils enough.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is now planning a major shake-up of the GCSE which will bring it more into line with its international rival.

However, Mr Lightman said: “Ironically, teachers believe they have a better chance of getting a higher grade for their students through the IGCSE. It is more straightforward and more predictable. IGCSE exams haven't got the uncertainty that surrounds the GCSE exam and its grades.”

he predicted some schools would put their pupils in for both exams.

Today's figures show the increase in take-up is mainly in the state sector with the number opting for it almost tripling from 368 to 963 this year - more than one in four of the entire sector. In all, 1,300 schools have signed up for the IGCSE.

One state school head said: “The course is more accessible for students. They do not mess with the grade boundaries.”

Another added that he was “very unhappy” with his GCSE awarding body “and the way the results last summer were politically manipulated”.

He said he wanted an exam which was “outside Ofqual/Coalition Government influence and yet still has UCAS and employer confidence”.

Michael O'Sullivan, chief executive of CIE, said: “Schools recognise that its linear structure offers rigour and effective preparation for the next stage of their education.

”For sure, they are also mindful of planned educational reforms such as the recently proposed changes to GCSEs and A-levels. These reforms highlight that Cambridge IGCSE is a step ahead of the curve.“

The IGCSE was introduced when the UK ditched the two-tier O-level and CSE examination system in the 1980's because some Commonwealth countries, notably India and in the Caribbean, wanted to stick with the old O-level.

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