Private schools abandon GCSEs for international alternative

The Independent is reporting new figures that suggest the switch from GCSEs to IGCSEs amongst private schools is continuing to snowball…

Nearly two-fifths of Year 11 exam entries from England’s major private schools are now for IGCSEs rather than the GCSEs, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC).

The organisation, with members that include the elite schools of Eton, Wellington and Harrow, has released statistics for 552 of its secondaries, showing that their total IGCSE entries increased from 129,288 to 152,170 this year.

That represents 38.7 per cent of the exams that the schools’ 16-year-olds took. The proportion has risen significantly every year since 2007, when it was a mere 3.9 per cent.

Barnaby Lenon, ISC chair, said the phenomenon in the independent sector had begun with maths and then science, but had now spread to English literature and beyond, with the qualifications being used in humanities and languages subjects.

“This increase represents a gradual diffusion from maths into other subjects,” Mr Lenon, a former head of Harrow School, said. “Demand for the IGCSE is growing because it offers less coursework, better preparation for A-level and there is growing confidence in the qualification.”

He added that this year’s increase was also due to new schools trying the IGCSE. The ISC said all 552 schools still had pupils taking at least one domestic GCSE, but 438 of them are using the IGCSE in some subjects and the trend is only going in one direction.

At Cheltenham College, pupils study IGCSEs in maths, English language, English literature, science, history, geography and modern languages because the £33,714-a-year school believes they are “more academically rigorous”.

Deputy head Duncan Byrne said: “IGCSE, particularly in mathematics and the sciences, contains content that is more challenging, and that prepares students better for further study.”

The popularity of IGCSE English may have been boosted because it can still include a speaking and listening component that can contribute to the overall grade, which was dropped from the domestic version this year…

But there is a threat to the IGCSE on the horizon. Last month the DfE announced that the international qualification would not, in its current form, count towards official school performance tables in any subjects where the new reformed GCSEs have been sat.

The ruling will start to kick in from 2017 – the first year that the revamped GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths are taken.

But Mr Lenon noted that independent schools had been prepared to sacrifice league-table positions when they first started using the IGCSE and would probably be willing to do so again…

The international GCSEs could still end up counting in the performance if exam boards decide to change them to bring them in line with the reformed domestic versions…

More at: Independent schools abandon GCSEs for international alternative


These numbers are pretty significant, and after yesterday’s report from the Times suggesting top pupils were being marked down in GCSEs, are GCSEs in danger of facing a credibility problem? Please let us know what you think in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Private Schools.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The DfE trying to bully independent schools into abandoning iGCSEs by saying they don’t count in league tables is futile

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove The DfE league table threat regarding iGCSEs pointless. League tables only taken seriously by politicians nowadays

  3. balance_ec

    SchoolsImprove And a number of state schools also use IGCSEs but private schools are free from government league tables/Ofsted drivers

  4. terryfish

    SchoolsImprove So WHY has our govt said they won’t count in league tables from 2017? Because they can’t fiddle the results?

  5. terryfish

    SchoolsImprove And… Perhaps they are frightened schools prefer the iGCSE.. What happened to allowing schools to choose?

  6. helenreesbidder

    terryfish SchoolsImprove Precisely. Removing IGCSE from 2017 league tables is political and has nothing to do with student interests.

  7. brc_teach

    SchoolsImprove IGCSE ICT more interesting, relevant and rigorous than domestic GCSE. Practical skills examined, no controlled assessment.

  8. HughdjNicklin

    HeadDurham IGCSE has same mendacious stance on Criterion Referencing as GCSE. Fiddling just not in Whitehall’s hands.

  9. helenreesbidder

    HeadDurham SchoolsImprove And also likely to happen at A Level with AS being retained in international A Levels.

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