More schools have been switching from domestic GCSEs to alternative IGCSE courses, official figures suggest.
New Ofqual statistics for this summer show sharp drops in GCSE entries for key academic subjects such as English literature, languages and the sciences. Conversely, there has been a big rise in entries for IGCSEs – originally designed for the international market – with numbers increasing fivefold in some cases.
Headteachers' leaders suggested the hikes could be down to schools viewing grading for IGCSEs as more stable than for GCSEs. But the Department for Education said that the phenomenon could also be explained by schools transferring from unregulated IGCSEs, which no longer counted in league tables, to regulated IGCSEs.
Figures from the exams regulator show that, as of April, GCSE entries had fallen by 3 per cent, while entries for regulated IGCSEs were up by 55 per cent.
Year 11 entries for GCSE English literature were down by 14 per cent, maths by 4 per cent, and biology, chemistry and physics by 8 per cent. GCSE history entries have dropped by 4 per cent and in languages there have been falls of 3 per cent for Spanish, 6 per cent for French and 11 per cent for German. In comparison, IGCSE entries in each of the subjects have risen by at least 64 per cent (the figure for maths). In English Literature they are up by 207 per cent, Spanish by 447 per cent, German 413 by per cent and French by 383 per cent.
However, overall domestic GCSE entries still dwarf IGCSEs by 4,915,850 to 456,780.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools' choices for this summer would have been made in early 2013. “I think what people would say is there’s significantly more stability in the grading system of IGCSEs than was perceived in the GCSEs,” he said. “That to me would be a major factor.
“These decisions will have been made not long after serious concerns were raised by school leaders in the summer of 2012 about grading of GCSE English.”
IGCSEs that are regulated by Ofqual currently count in annual school league tables. But from 2017 they will start being stripped out in every subject where pupils can sit the reformed, tougher, domestic GCSEs that are being phased in.
The figures also reveal a 32 per cent drop in the number of entries from pupils sitting the exams a year or more early.
A Department for Education spokesman said more pupils were now taking their GCSEs at the right time when they were likely to achieve the best possible grade. On the IGCSE entries, he added: “Last year we stopped counting the final tranche of unregulated IGCSE. Some of these increases may be due to schools moving to regulated IGCSEs.”