League table gamesmanship and the QCDA

11th March 2011 at 00:00

Having investigated the wisdom of committing my students to the IGCSE route for English (11-16 city academy in a deprived area), I can see there is opportunity, confusion and concern in equal measure.

The Cambridge IGCSE 0500 syllabus has been used in its intended settings - overseas schools with first-language English students - for some time. Recently, a large number of independent schools have begun to use it and its cousins covering a broad range of subjects.

In a nutshell, the IGCSE does not follow the national curriculum in the prescribed manner and the GCSE does. For English, this means no need to study Shakespeare, heritage or endless numbers of poems in advance of the exams. Students could, if reasonably educated in language skills, just turn up and do it.

It is not the first time an exam favoured by independent schools has proved to be more product-sensitive. But now we who teach the broader masses are getting hold of it, what future is there for the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) and the examinations it has sunk its teeth into over the years?

Cambridge has now established a new IGCSE solely for teaching to students in the UK. But it still does not have the range of reading study other exam boards are required to follow.

However, in the statement of intent which covers the requirements of the English Baccalaureate, this IGCSE has been given the same prominence as all the literature-weighted GCSEs. Why?

Because this IGCSE English is popular with the kind of private school that Tory MPs send their children to, which have suffered in the league tables because the lack of accreditation and complained that it is unfair.

If league-table performance can be enhanced through courses that are cheaper to run (less teaching time), simpler for students (less content), and more rational (no crossover with literature and media), the market will demand it.

But by satisfying the complaints of the heads of independent schools and opening the IGCSE up to the rest of us, the route seems open for an end to QCDA-monitored examinations.

Rob Miles, address supplied.

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