Private schools should drop ‘less challenging’ IGCSEs, says Education Secretary

The Telegraph, 29/01/15, Nicky Morgan says she is confident that independent schools will revert to conventional GCSEs after a toughening-up of the exams. HMC's statement is referenced, HMC member Tony Little, headmaster of Eton College is quoted and HMC member schools MarlboroughHarrow and Westminster are referenced.

Private schools should drop international GCSE qualifications because they “are not as challenging” or rigorously assessed as their traditional counterparts, the Education Secretary has said.

Nicky Morgan said she was confident that independent schools would revert to conventional GCSEs following a government overhaul of the exams.

Her intervention came after league tables showed that hundreds of private schools have been condemned to the bottom of official rankings because many are shunning the long-established exams.

According to the tables, no pupils at Eton College, Marlborough, Harrow or Westminster met an official benchmark of five A* to C grades in subjects including both English and maths.

The disclosure prompted scorn from private school head teachers, many of whom adopted the International GCSE, primarily developed for schools overseas, as a “more rigorous” alternative to the British exams. The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference said its members were “happy” to be left at the bottom of the rankings because without the inclusion of IGCSEs the tables are “absurd”.

League tables released on Thursday by the Department for Education show that the Government’s reforms have resulted in a dramatic overall dip in GCSE results. The number of failing state schools has doubled in the past year from 154 to 330.

However, there was ridicule of the rankings by head teachers whose schools score a zero in a key measure as a result of their decision to take IGCSEs.

Although some IGCSEs are included in the tables, many are not recognised, meaning schools that took those qualifications last summer will perform poorly in the measure of the proportion of pupils gaining at least five C grades, including in English and maths. From 2017 the qualifications will be excluded from the tables altogether.

Many leading independent schools are therefore outranked by poorly performing state schools. Eton College, at 3,818 in the GCSEs table, comes more than 400 places behind Waterhead Academy in Oldham, which was placed in special measures by the schools inspectorate last month after its teaching and leadership were judged “inadequate”.

Tony Little, Eton’s headmaster, said he introduced IGCSEs because the conventional GCSEs, at least before the government’s ongoing reforms, were based on “box ticking” rather than “understanding”.

Mr Little said private schools should be dropped from the league tables altogether to prevent poor performing schools “hiding behind the fact that there are some well known names low in the league table.”

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