GCSEs 2019: Private schools shift away from IGCSEs

Reformed GCSEs 'like vegan milk – no one wanted it at first, but now people have come around'

Catherine Lough

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Private schools are switching from IGCSE qualifications to the new, reformed GCSEs, new exam data shows.

According to statistics released by the Independent Schools Council, based on results from 512 private schools, IGCSEs made up 45.3 per cent of entries, a fall from 47 per cent last year.

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More than half of entries – 54.7 per cent – were for GCSE exams. Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council, said private schools may be more likely to shift away from IGCSEs in favour of the reformed, linear qualifications now that they have had time to bed in.

Exams for the new GCSEs were first sat in 2017 after they were introduced by then education secretary Michael Gove. They are graded from 9 to 1 instead of A* to G, and were designed to be more rigorous than the legacy qualifications.

Mr Lenon said: “Our schools adopted IGCSEs and prompted the Gove reforms, and the Gove reforms reflected aspects of the IGCSE.”

He said now that GCSEs had been reformed to be more challenging, it was likely that more private schools would adopt them.

“In the first year [of the reformed qualifications], independent schools were not keen to be involved, as these things can go badly wrong,” he said.

“If schools were adopting a wait-and-see policy, you would expect them now to start saying, 'Yes, the reformed GCSEs are very good, we want to do them'.”

“Our schools are now adopting them, either because they think they are better than the IGCSE, or because it is safer to do the mainstream qualification.”

It has been suggested that IGCSEs are “easier” than GCSEs, and there have been concerns that private school pupils have an unfair advantage when it comes to university offers as state school pupils are barred from sitting IGCSEs.

Some universities make offers where the minimum of a C grade is required at IGCSE, while a 5 is needed under the revised 9-1 system. However, a 5 is equivalent to a low B under the legacy qualifications.

Mr Lenon said this may have led private schools to switch from IGCSEs to the revised 9-1 exams.

“It would devalue the [IGCSE] qualification if it was felt to be easier,” he said.

“As some people have questioned the status of the IGCSE, there will be some schools who will have chosen the reformed GCSEs.

“Now the reformed GCSEs have worked from a practical point of view, they [private schools] are more willing to look at them.

“It is sensible for us to do the revised GCSE because that is the currency that most people will be familiar with.”

He said the reformed qualifications were “like vegan milk – no one wanted it at first, but now people have come around”.

However, Mr Lenon said the main reason independent schools would choose any type of qualification would be the nature of the syllabus offered.

In the GCSE results for independent schools this year:

• 23.1 per cent of entries achieved a grade 9 – more than five times the national average.

• 95.6 per cent of entries received a C/4 grade or higher, compared to 67.3% nationally.

• 74.4 per cent of candidates achieved at least one grade 9/8/A*.

• The average number of GCSEs taken per candidate was 9.4.

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