Understanding the IGCSE, GCSE, and New Examination Reforms
April 26, 2016
GCSE’s were first introduced in 1986 by combining the ‘O’ Level and CSE exams together and making coursework a part of the overall assessment. The International GCSE or rather IGCSE first came about in 1988 and has since been internationally recognised, available in over 120 countries around the world, with over 70 subjects on offer for study, including many languages. It has been permitted in state schools since 2010 as an alternative to the traditional GCSE examination.
Initially, it was introduced to give greater access to overseas pupils whose first language was not necessarily English. However, when re-introduced in 2010 the move was seen as a positive step to close the gap between state and independent schools by giving state schools the opportunity to offer the IGCSE too.
At the time, Schools Minister Nick Gibb said
“Schools must be given greater freedom to offer the qualifications employers and universities demand, and that properly prepare pupils for life, work, and further study.”
“For too long, children in state maintained schools have been unfairly denied the right to study for qualifications like the IGCSE, which has only served to widen the already vast divide between state and independent schools in this country.
“By removing the red tape, state school pupils will have the opportunity to leave school with the same set of qualifications as their peers from the top private schools – allowing them to better compete for university places and for the best jobs.”
(BBC News, 7 June 2010)
The assessment for the GCSE examination had previously faced criticism from education bodies up and down the country, with teachers concerned that the lack of clarity and unification across England, Scotland and Wales meant there was no ‘absolute standard.’
Higher grades, therefore, became more readily available to less able students, reflected in the increasing number of students achieving A and A* grades across the board. The suspected reason being that the assessment was becoming less challenging for more gifted pupils due to the large amount of coursework required which was not marked in a uniform way.
The coursework element also gave poor performing students the opportunity to go back and revise it before submitting for final assessment, therefore making the qualification easier for all students across the board.
The IGCSE was thought to be a positive alternative to the unfairly assessed GCSE, and, with the GCSE considered to be no longer academically challenging or rigorous enough, many schools turned to the IGCSE as a way to address this. Though similar to the GCSE in terms of content, the IGCSE includes little or no coursework, and students and teachers are offered greater flexibility in terms of chosen reading around the subject.
However, the notion that the IGCSE is indeed more challenging has been widely debated. The move away from the modular structure of the GCSE and the formulaic approach to answering questions has left some teachers commenting that the IGCSE is far easier to teach and learn, and with consistent pressure to optimise students’ examination results, despite the qualifications lack of ‘educational bite’, have chosen to opt for this simply to achieve their targets and get their desired results.
The number of candidates opting for this qualification over GCSE’s has steadily increased, with schools that have traditionally struggled to achieve consistently high standards in GCSE exams turning to the IGCSE to boost their rankings, pass Ofsted inspections, and fulfill government targets.
The increasing number of pupils taking the IGCSE could, however, be due to the increased number of foreign language students coming from abroad to study in the UK, the freedom for teachers to choose from a wider, more diverse range of reading material, and the belief that it allows increased scope for the most promising students to undertake more challenging and interesting work.
Some schools also encourage students to take both the GCSE and IGCSE qualifications – giving them a better chance of achieving their desired grade in one or the other. This is a move that the government has criticised.
Since 2013, there has been a move to reduce the amount of coursework required in the GCSE examination to the absolute minimum, and the emphasis on the final exam, after two years of study, is far greater.
In fact, most GCSE subjects now require no coursework at all, and therefore the lines between the GCSE and IGCSE qualifications are becoming increasingly blurred. While many teachers prefer this more linear approach, some voiced concerns that the removal of coursework will not benefit all pupils, and the pressure of 2 years worth of learning, resting on one final exam could damage some pupils chances of getting the grade they actually deserve.
GCSE’s will also be graded differently from 2017 with students receiving a 1-9 grading rather than the former A-G. The changes are being implemented over time with English and Maths being the first subjects affected.
The changes also expect to make the examinations harder, and any coursework element more rigorous, with students expected to cover more challenging topics in a more in-depth way. Greater attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling is expected and will also affect the students’ final grade.
These changes are only being implemented in England, with Wales making its own changes and Northern Ireland with no current plans to change anything, once again creating barriers and divides across the country. How to create an absolute standard for GCSE examination assessment and grading has proven to be a great challenge.
IGCSE’s are also to be removed from the league tables for English and Maths in 2017 as part of the government’s shake-up, with further subjects expected to be removed by 2018.
The government has stated that new GCSE’s are not comparable to the IGCSE, therefore, will not ‘count’ in the league tables once implemented. This could naturally affect schools that currently focus and promote the IGCSE, and it is possible this may mean a decline in schools offering the qualification in the future.
What does this mean for the future of the IGCSE exam?
IGCSE’s are still offered in over 300 schools all over the UK and are widely recognised by higher education institutions as part of their entry requirements.
While many students in schools are not necessarily given a choice about which qualification they will be entered for, if a student has a particular university they want to get into, it is important to check their preferences before deciding which qualification to take.
Though now widely accepted, the IGCSE is not universally so, therefore researching entry requirements is essential.
IGCSE is now widely offered in schools all over the UK. However, it can also be a practical choice of qualification for homeschooled children as well.
Assessment can be taken at a number of test centres throughout the world so this can be a useful and preferred choice for homeschooled children, and for those who live abroad.
If your child could benefit from private tutoring for their GCSE or IGCSE examinations then Tutor House can help.
We work with talented, passionate tutors who are experts in their subjects, and will come up with a tailored programme of learning to suit your child’s needs.