Traditional GCSEs are being rejected by schools in favour of alternative international courses, official figures suggest.
According to new government figures entries to take GCSEs this summer had fallen by 3 per cent, while entries for International GCSEs were up 55 per cent.
This means GCSE entries for key academic subjects such as English literature, languages and the sciences have experienced a sharp drop but IGCSE entries have boomed.
New data shows that entries for Year 11 students (16-year-olds) to take GCSE English literature are down 14 per cent, maths entries are down 4 per cent, and entries for each of the three sciences, biology, chemistry and physics have fallen by 8 per cent.
In comparison, IGCSE entries for each of these subjects have risen with English Literature entries are up 207 per cent, maths entries are up 64 per cent, and history 130 per cent.
Headteachers' leaders suggested the hikes could be down to schools seeing the grading system of IGCSEs as more stable than that of GCSEs.
IGCSEs are usually two-year courses with exams at the end, and often less coursework.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said that schools will have made choices about qualifications in the early part of 2013 for students sitting exams this summer.
"Schools will have made their selections on what they believe to be the most appropriate courses for their students.
"It would indicate that significant numbers of schools have decided that IGCSE, in English literature and English language particularly, are preferred courses to GCSE."
He added: "I think what people would say is there's significantly more stability in the grading system of IGCSEs than was perceived in the GCSEs.
"That to me would be a major factor."
These decisions will have been made not long after serious concerns were raised by school leaders in the summer of 2012 about grading of GCSE English.
IGCSEs that are regulated by Ofqual currently count in annual school league tables, but in 2017 and 2018, starting with English and maths, these will be stripped out of the rankings as teenagers begin to sit newly-reformed GCSEs.
Mr Trobe said this will affect the courses that schools choose for their pupils.
"The majority of secondary schools will be moving back to GCSE from this September, because that is what will count in performance tables."
He added that it was "not helpful" to schools that have previously made decisions in good faith, based on available information, on the best qualifications for students and now the situation has changed.
Richard Harman, chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) which represents leading private schools, said: "It is understandable that in an extremely volatile 'accountability' environment, head teachers in the state sector are trying to ensure that best levels of attainment for their pupils from among the various public exams available.
"In contrast, independent schools are free from such political pressures to make their own decisions about which qualifications to offer.
"For several years now, more and more HMC schools have adopted the more rigorous Cambridge IGCSEs.
"The awards are overseen by the university and not regulated by Ofqual, and so are not counted in these figures. However, most of our schools believe that they are the best way to prepare pupils for more advanced study in the sixth form.
"This is yet more evidence that the constant change imposed by Government creates confusion for heads, teachers, universities, employers and most importantly, the young people working hard to take these exams and their families."
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