At Bedales School, pupils take four or five Bedales Assessed Courses (BACs) alongside five GCSEs and IGCSEs.
The BACs cover 11 subjects, with a twelfth – called “global awareness” – to be added in September. Some, such as English literature, history and geography are traditional, and others, such as fashion design and outdoor work, are less so. Assessment is mostly coursework-based, but there are also final exams.
The global awareness course will cover human rights, global health and the arms trade, and will require students to write a 3,000-word essay.
The school’s leaders decided that GCSE syllabuses were “excessively prescriptive” and placed too much emphasis on terminal, written exams. This was at the expense of coursework, which they believed could be a “rich tool for developing independent learning skills”.
BACs were designed to help pupils to become “independent thinkers”, the school said, and were not “tied to laborious mark schemes”.
At Sevenoaks School, a private school in Kent, students take three or four of Sevenoaks School Certificates (SSCs) alongside seven or eight GCSEs.
The SSCs, launched in 2010 and first examined in 2012, cover core subjects such as English literature and Classical civilisation. But they are also designed to allow teachers who have expertise in a particular area to create their own qualifications in their own niche; the SSC in robotics is one example of this. The qualifications emphasise independent learning and project work, but there are exams, too.
At both schools, exams are set and marked internally but outside experts with experience in GCSE moderation are brought in to ensure the standards are comparable to GCSEs,
The schools’ qualifications are accepted on Ucas forms, but universities do not have to accept them.