Private school GCSE table: pupils opting for alternative exams

The Telegraph, 30/08/14, the Telegraph’s private school GCSE league table shows how rising numbers of 16-year-olds at fee-paying institutions are favouring the alternative International GCSE. HMC schools, Guildford High SchoolKing’s College School, Wimbledon, and City of London School for Girls are mentioned.

Record numbers of private schools are abandoning GCSEs amid concerns over exam standards and the quality of marking.

Figures show almost four-in-10 test papers sat by independent school pupils this summer were in the alternative “International GCSE” which was created for teenagers from overseas.

The number of private schools opting for the IGCSE has now more than tripled in just four years to a new high of 152,000, it was revealed.

Britain’s top performing private school has even decided to introduce pupils to A-levels two years early amid claims normal GCSEs are no longer stretching.

North London Collegiate School offers AS-level courses in English literature to pupils aged 14-to-16 to ensure they get access to enough challenging material before the sixth-form.

It comes as research by another school – Guildford High – suggested bright pupils were being penalised by the way GCSEs in foreign languages were marked, with extended answers downgraded in favour of more formulaic responses. Other concerns have been raised over grading in English this summer.

It comes despite recent reforms to GCSEs designed to toughen up the system, including a reduction of bite-sized modules, clamp down on resists and shift towards end-of-course exams. From 2015, wholly new GCSEs will be introduced.

The disclosure was made as the Telegraph published a private school league table today outlining GCSE and IGCSE results in almost 400 fee-paying schools.

North London, the girls’ day school in Edgware, was the top-performing institution, with almost 99 per cent of exams graded at least an A and 86 per cent awarded elite A* grades.

Wycombe Abbey School in High Wycombe was second with 98.5 per cent A*/A, followed by James Allen’s Girls’ in south London, King’s College School, Wimbledon, and City of London School for Girls.

The table, which is created using data published by the Independent Schools Council (ISC), showed that:

– Girls’ schools dominated the rankings this year by claiming eight places in the top 10;

– Private school pupils were almost five times more likely than the national average to gain A* grades in GCSEs or IGCSEs, with 32.7 per cent of exams awarded the very highest grade compared with just 6.7 per cent of all pupils;

– Schools are walking away from GCSEs in record numbers amid continuing dissatisfaction with Britain’s mainstream qualification for 16-year-olds, with 38.7 per cent of exam entries – 152,170 – being made for IGCSEs, up by 18 per cent on last year;

– The total proportion of IGCSEs taken by teenagers in the private sector has now more than tripled from just 11.1 per cent in 2010, with 438 schools doing at least one of the qualifications.

North London Collegiate School now runs IGCSEs in subjects including foreign languages, science, maths, geography, music, English language and computing.

It has also taken the unusual step of ditching GCSEs altogether in one subject – English literature – in favour of the AS-level which is normally sat in the first year of the sixth-form.

The school, which charges up to £17,625 a year, said it gave pupils access to a wider range of texts including poetry by the likes of Andrew Marvell, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath and TS Eliot.

Bernice McCabe, the headmistress, said the existing GCSE gave schools the chance to take “challenging texts”, but added: “I think the tendency is to choose what is accessible rather than challenging and exciting.”

She also said that the influence of league tables, targets and inspections meant that teachers often had to opt for “safe” topics in most other subjects, which often left pupils feeling bored.

“You fail to engage them if you are continually going through past papers and revision sessions,” she said. “Examinations in themselves are not exciting; it is the subject that is inspiring and the best teachers know that.”

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