Huge rise in number of schools offering international GCSEs

THE number of state schools offering international GCSEs instead of the traditional exams has jumped by more than 300 per cent in two years, according to new figures.

So-called IGCSEs in subjects such as English, history and biology are proving particularly popular with schools, according to data published by University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), which offers the qualifications.

Altogether, 400 state schools are now teaching IGCSEs compared with 97 in 2010 and 220 last year, the figures show.

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Rising numbers of private schools are also using the exams – 500 this year, up from 302 two years ago and 350 in 2011.

Overall, UK schools made 50,000 IGCSE entries this year, the exam board said.

CIE said the rise is down to the Government’s decision in June 2010 to open up and fund IGCSEs in the state sector.

The exams have long been favoured by many private schools, who argue they are tougher than traditional GCSEs.

Until recently, however, they have not been included in secondary school league tables published by the Department for Education. This meant that many top performing independent schools achieved very low scores on the important measure for the number of pupils reaching five A* to C grades in subjects including English and maths as any success in international subjects such as maths were not included

CIE said there were now 43 schools across the state and private sectors in Yorkshire which offer the IGCSE. The board said no figures were available to show how many schools sat IGCSEs in the region in 2011.

Nationally there has been a big increase in demand nationally for subjects like English language and English literature, as well as history and biology. This is thought to be because of the creation of the Government’s English Baccalaureate, which aims to get schools to focus on traditional academic subjects.

The E-Bacc is awarded to pupils who achieve six good GCSE grades comprising English, maths, two sciences,a modern language and either history or geography.

All IGCSEs in these subjects count towards the E Bacc in Department for Education tables.

Research from CIE also claims that pupils taking the IGCSE are benefitting from more teaching time and more flexible lessons.

The board said that 57 per cent of teachers who had taught both GCSE and IGCSE believed the international qualification gave them more time while two-thirds said it would better prepare students for their A-levels.

Research was carried out in May and June among 51 teachers who were teaching both Cambridge IGCSEs and the traditional GCSE.

Peter Monteath, UK schools manager for CIE, said that the “linear” structure of IGCSEs, which means pupils sit exams at the end, rather than throughout the course, was proving popular.

He said: “The feedback we are getting from schools is that they like the flexibility of these syllabuses, which gives teachers more scope to explore different topics with student. Their linear structure also gives students space and time to study topics in depth.”

CIE’s chief executive Ann Puntis said: “Teachers are opting for a qualification which is tried, tested and trusted, giving teachers time to teach and pupils an excellent preparation for further study.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Two years ago ministers lifted the ban that had prevented state schools from giving their pupils the chance to leave school with the same set of qualifications as their peers from the top private school pupils.

“It is excellent that hundreds of schools are now taking advantage of the freedoms given them.”

Time to retrace our steps on education: Page 15.