Three-fold rise in schools offering alternative GCSE exam

In an article in the Telegraph, 18/08/13, Graeme Paton reports on the increasing number of schools rejecting GCSEs in favour of alternative exams modelled on the old O-level. HMC schools Bedales, Sevenoaks and the Royal Grammar School Newcastle are featured.

The number of schools rejecting GCSEs in favour of alternative exams modelled on the old O-level has more than tripled in just three years, the Telegraph has learnt.

Almost 2,700 secondary schools now offer the International GCSE – originally established for children overseas – amid fears over falling standards in mainstream qualifications.

It is believed that around six-in-10 state and private schools across the UK are teaching the course in at least one subject.

Other independent schools such as Sevenoaks in Kent and Bedales in Hampshire are going a step further by devising their own in-house alternatives to GCSEs.

The huge shift towards IGCSEs follows a Coalition decision to scrap rules imposed under Labour that effectively barred state schools in England from offering them as an alternative qualification.

From 2010, schools have been able to use Government funding to enter pupils for IGCSEs and include results in league tables.

Exam boards also suggested that entries have surged in the last 12 months following controversy over GCSE English exams taken in 2012, when a sudden shift in grade boundaries led to tens of thousands of children missing out on good marks.

One board offering IGCSEs said it had witnessed a three-fold rise in teenagers taking its English language exam this year alone.

In some cases, schools are running GCSEs alongside IGCSEs and requiring children to sit both exams at the same time – a move condemned by examiners for “overloading” pupils.

The disclosure is made just days before the publication of GCSE results for around 600,000 schoolchildren in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Michael O’Sullivan, chief executive of CIE said: “Schools recognise that IGCSE offers rigour and effective preparation for the next stage of their students’ education. It is valued by schools, leading universities and employers in the UK and around the world.”

National GCSE results are expected to drop on Thursday for the second time in two years, with around 22 per cent of test papers marked an A* or A and 69 per cent being graded at least a C.

It follows a significant toughening up of science exams in a shift designed to restore academic rigour to biology, chemistry and physics.

The Coalition is also proposing reforms to other GCSEs in coming years, including challenging course specifications, the scrapping of coursework and the end of lower tier papers for less able pupils.

But many schools are refusing to wait for the new qualifications – being phased in from 2015 – and have already shifted to IGCSEs. The qualifications have been likened to the old O-level, featuring less coursework and more emphasis on exams sat at the end of two years.

Some 856 schools – most in the independent sector – provided IGCSE exams in 2010, but numbers increased to 1,402 a year later and 1,842 in 2012.

This year, some 2,677 schools will offer IGCSE, with most entries now in the state system.

The figures come from the two main exam boards running IGCSEs – Cambridge International Examinations and Pearson Edexcel – although some schools may be counted twice if they offer tests by both at the same time.

The most popular IGCSEs are in traditional academic subjects such as English, maths, the sciences and foreign languages.

CIE said exam entries had more than doubled from 51,945 last year to 115,071 in 2013. English exams more than tripled from 19,770 to 63,000.

The Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, has now shifted towards IGCSEs in almost all subjects, with children sitting exams in chemistry and biology for the first time this year.

Bernard Trafford, the headmaster, said: “They really fit an academic school like ours.”

Sevenoaks School has actually devised its own exams – the Sevenoaks School Certificate – in English literature. New syllabuses in the arts and technology will be introduced from September with subjects such as humanities and languages expected to follow.

It also runs IGCSEs in English, maths and science.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The changes we are making will restore confidence in GCSEs and ensure they match the best exams in the world.

“We are scrapping most coursework and the modular approach which led to last year’s grading problems to provide rigorous and demanding courses for all GCSE pupils.”

By Graeme Paton, Telegraph. Click here to read the article © Telegraph.