Reflecting on recent interest in the comparability of GCSEs and International GCSEs

This blog by Mike Buchanan, HMC Executive Director, provides further information about the qualifications available to schools in England.

  1. International GCSEs and GCSEs in England are different qualifications. So too are the GCSEs offered in Northern Ireland and Wales different from those offered in England.
  2. GCSEs are based on content specified by the UK Government and must be assessed in line with the English regulator’s (Ofqual) rules.
  3. The awarding organisations that offer International GCSEs each decide the content for those qualifications and how that content is assessed. In many cases the awarding organisations use the same senior staff and similar techniques for the assessment of their GCSE and International GCSE qualifications.
  4. Ofqual state that direct comparisons of grading standards between English GCSEs and International GCSEs is not possible. Ofqual are not saying one is systematically harder or easier.
  5. Because HMC schools are independent of the state, they can design their curriculum and choose qualifications that provide what they consider to be appropriate preparation for their students who, most often, progress to university after studying A Level, PreU, IB and/or BTEC qualifications.
  6. Many HMC schools choose to use a mixture of GCSEs and International GCSEs because of the differing content and methods of assessment that are available. For example, HMC schools may choose to offer International GCSE Maths because they judge it exposes students to some important high-level concepts needed to be successful at A Level earlier than reformed English GCSEs.
  7. Whatever the political climate, the educational value of International GCSEs to the individual young person remains high.
  8. Typically, HMC schools offering International GCSEs also achieve outstanding A Level results which supports the notion that our schools’ students are well prepared for further study at the next higher level.
  9. International GCSEs are taken by many thousands of students across the world and, as an alternative to GCSEs, in the UK.
  10. In 2010, state schools in England could offer International GCSEs and they were supported by government. At the time, Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, declared the inclusion of the International GCSEs in state school performance tables would narrow the gap between state and independent schools and allow pupils to compete equally for the best university places and jobs. It was not for government, he added, to decide which qualifications pupils should take.
  11. International GCSEs have not counted in school performance tables since the corresponding reformed GCSEs became available. This was a decision made by the government to disincentivise state schools from offering International GCSEs and, incidentally, is the reason some independent schools do not figure highly in those tables.
  12. Tens of thousands of UK students will this year be taking International GCSEs regulated by the awarding bodies using similar methodologies to those of GCSEs.
  13. After 2020, awarding organisations have decided to have no International GCSEs recognised as regulated in England by Ofqual.
  14. Universities are independent institutions who set their own admissions criteria and processes. Universities in the UK and elsewhere happily admit 1,000s of students with qualifications that are not English GCSEs and do so fairly and openly, in our view.