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Exclusive: Universities’ GCSE demands favour private school pupils

Universities ask for lower alphabetical grades in IGCSE compared to reformed 9-1 GCSE

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Universities are asking for relatively lower grades under the international GCSE than they are for the reformed GCSE, Tes can reveal.

With independent schools allowed to take the IGCSE but state schools barred from doing so, the entry requirements favour some privately educated pupils over their state sector peers.

The news comes on top of renewed speculation that the IGCSE may be an 'easier' course than the reformed GCSE.

‘IGCSE’ is a term used as shorthand for a family of alternative key stage 4 qualifications that are provided by a number of exam boards.

State schools used to be able to take the qualification until a decision by the government in 2014 to remove the qualifications from official league tables. However, many private schools continue to take them.

Different grades are available for the IGCSE. The Pearson IGCSE uses the same 9-1 grade structure as the reformed GCSE.

However, for the Cambridge Assessment IGCSE, schools are given the choice of whether they want to use the numerical system or stick with A* to G.

With the 9-1 system providing greater differentiation, Tes has found some universities have relatively lower requirements for IGCSEs with alphabetical grades.

For example, University College London requires a minimum of C for the IGCSE in English and maths, but asks for 5 in the new GCSEs.

This could mean that a private school pupil with a low C could be offered a place, while a state school pupil with a 4 – which would have been graded a C under the old system – would not get a place.

For its business management course, Queen’s University Belfast asks for a B in the Northern Irish maths GCSE (which continues to be graded alphabetically) and for equivalent qualifications like the IGCSE, but asks for a grade 6 in the reformed English GCSE (a low B could be graded as a 5).

The London School of Economics currently expects a minimum grade 5/B in English and maths, but has said it could increase the minimum grade in the reformed GCSE to 6 as it becomes more established.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was concerned by the discrepancy in what universities are asking for.

“Universities need to ensure that they are setting comparable standards,” he said.

“They should not be setting a higher requirement on one system as opposed to the other – whichever way round it is.

“We would hope that anybody who’s not setting the same standard would review that.”

This is an edited article from the 17 August edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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