IGCSE and Academy Schools

In February it was reported (e.g. in The Guardian) that flagship “Academy” schools want the government to be less prescriptive about the qualifications they can offer.

In particular, this group of new schools, set up at vast expense by the Labour government, wants to be allowed to teach “elite” international GCSES (IGCSEs) discouraged in the state sector by the government.

The O-level-style IGCSE exams are favoured by many independent schools, which believe they are more rigorous than traditional GCSEs, and more likely to impress universities and also employers.

But government ministers have declined to approve and fund these courses for state secondary schools, effectively preventing schools from offering IGCSEs. Meanwhile, an increasing number of prominent independent schools across the UK (who are not the receipients of funding anyway) have made the switch from GCSE to IGCSE because they believe IGCSE offers a better preparation for A-level and future careers.

In its recent manifesto, the Independent Academies Association (IAA), a coalition of the academies’ heads insisted the government should be less prescriptive about the qualifications it allows schools to offer.

The body’s chairman, Mike Butler, said several academies had told the IAA that they see IGCSEs as “robust” qualifications and want to be able to offer them. “Academies should have the freedom and autonomy to determine the most appropriate curriculum for their cohort of students,” he said.

Colleges and universities considering student applications adopt an official policy that IGCSEs and GCSEs are directly equivalent, but there are some signs that, for institutions “in the know”, IGCSEs carry greater weight. A top grade at IGCSE is seen as a better predictor of future success than the equivalent grade at GCSE.

Recognising this, there are clear indications that if the Conservatives win the forthcoming general election, IGCSEs will be brought into the mainstream, funded and encouraged in secondary schools. Then, if schools are given a free choice, there is a chance that most, if not all, of them, will opt for IGCSE in preference to GCSE. Certainly, the majority of universities would welcome such a development.

The increasing success of IGCSE is also good news for distance learners, adult learners, home-educated children and a variety of other students outside mainstream education because IGCSEs do not pose the same practical obstacles that GCSEs currently pose, particularly in terms of the requirements for controlled assessment now unavoidable in most GCSE subjects.

For all these reasons, Oxford Open Learning supports the IAA campaign.

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