Monday, 28 May 2007

The IGCSE: A Lost Opportunity for State School Students

An article about the International GCSE (IGCSE) on the BBC education website has drawn my attention to some differences in qualification opportunities between the private and the state sector.

Designed as a secondary school qualification for pupils overseas, it is now being adopted by an increasing number of independent schools in the United Kingdom, in preference to the standard GCSE. For some subjects like Maths, the main attraction of the IGCSE is that it is a more rigorous preparation for A-level than its standard version. As GCSEs are less likely to be school leaving qualifications, their importance as stepping stones toward A-levels increases.

There have already been some recent high-profile adopters of various forms of International GCSEs. St Paul's School in south-west London, which is at the top of the independent schools league for GCSEs, announced it was going to drop GCSE science and switch to the International GCSE. Manchester Grammar School also announced a switch to International GCSEs, as "some GCSEs do not appear to be appropriate for the most able".
The director of international education at the University of Cambridge International Examinations, Tom Eason, says the particular appeal of the international qualification is its flexibility. This reflects its design for an international audience - so that it can be customised to fit local needs. But this also appeals to independent schools in the UK, who want the flexibility to provide a more stretching course leading towards A-level. With International GCSEs, if schools want to reject coursework, they can have a completely exam-based assessment.

At present there are about 100 schools in the UK where pupils are taking the Cambridge International GCSE - out of a global total of 2,000 exam centres that use the qualification.
The biggest concentration of students taking the exam is in the Middle East, says Mr Eason.
In 2004-05, about 100,000 students sat Cambridge's International GCSE exam papers, with maths the most popular subject worldwide.
For independent schools, the difficulty in introducing new qualifications can be the resistance from fee-paying parents, who might be suspicious of less mainstream qualifications.
But the barrier to state schools taking up international qualifications is more likely to be the impact on exam league tables. Indeed, pupils taking International GCSEs do not appear in them - and state schools are likely to be deterred from opting for qualifications which could lower their standing. This is detrimental to foreign students who could sit examinations in their languages not always available from the main GCSE boards such as Korean. With the increased popularity of these qualifications in the private sector, the situation is likely to change in the future.

London Examinations IGCSEs are graded in the same way as our GCSEs. Foundation tier papers are targeted at grades C-G and Higher tier papers are targeted at grades A*-D. This allows students of all abilities the opportunity to gain good results.
IGCSEs are examined at the same standard as O levels and GCSEs, and provide the same progression to GCE AS and A level qualifications.

Cambridge IGCSEs

Cambridge was the first exam board to develop the International GCSE 20 years ago and it is now the world’s most popular international qualification for 14-16 year olds. More than 2,000 schools across the world, including more than 200 UK schools, teach Cambridge IGCSE.

The IGCSE is taken in 125 countries (there are 400,000 entries a year worldwide) including countries in Europe, South Asia, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, South America, the Far East and the USA.

Internationally recognised and suitable for schools worldwide, the Cambridge IGCSE is designed to be taught as a two year course for students aged 14 – 17 years. In some countries IGCSE courses last just one year and there are no formal age regulations. In most subjects there is a choice between core and extended curricula, making IGCSE suitable for a wide range of abilities.

The IGCSE is internationally recognised as being equivalent to the GCSE in the United Kingdom but offers far more choice – Cambridge offers over 65 subjects.
Although there is a huge overlap on content with the UK National Curriculum, there are some differences with an international flavour:
• History is not British-centric
• Geography has more about coral reefs than the English Midlands
• There are separate English Language and English Literature syllabuses
• Maths has one paper that has longer and more complex questions
• Languages – over 30, including some like Korean not offered by GCSE

Cambridge offers the following languages for IGCSE :

Afrikaans (First Language), Afrikaans (Second Language), Arabic (First Language), Arabic (Foreign Language), Chinese (First Language), Czech (First Language), Dutch (First Language), Dutch (Foreign Language), English (First Language), English (Second Language), English Literature, French (First Language), French (Foreign Language), German (First Language), German (Foreign Language), Greek, Hindi (Second Language), Indonesian (Foreign Language), Italian (Foreign Language), Japanese (First Language), Japanese (Foreign Language), Korean (First Language), Latin, Malay (Foreign Language), Mandarin Chinese (Foreign Language), Portuguese (First Language), Portuguese (Foreign Language), Russian (First Language), Spanish (First Language), Spanish (Foreign Language), Spanish Literature, Thai (First Language), Turkish (First Language).

Follow this link to find out more about specifications and past papers.

For more information see

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