The IGCSE qualification was originally introduced to provide greater academic rigour than the domestic GCSE and to prepare students better for education post 16. This is why so many members of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference schools began, and many continue, to offer the IGCSE.
At Immanuel College we have a mixed diet of international and domestic courses, which are selected by the heads of the academic departments depending on the quality and reliability of the examination boards in their subjects.
The “I” in IGCSE stands for “International”, but we would argue that it also stands for “Independence”, making these qualifications free from the whim of any particular Secretary of State for Education and their often utilitarian agendas.
In fact, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said recently that the unwillingness of the independent sector to adopt the new GCSE only “highlights the mess the government has made of the qualification system. It’s only a few years ago that Michael Gove was encouraging headteachers to introduce IGCSEs into their schools because it was seen as a better qualification than the GCSE.”
According to an article in the Observer in December, the IGCSE is “less demanding” than the new gold-standard GCSE.
But in the same article Tim Oates, group director of assessment research and development at Cambridge Assessment, which awards the IGCSE, stated emphatically that the IGCSE qualification is no easier than the GCSE and has maintained its academic rigour.
We are sure the the failings of the new GCSE will be acknowledged
In fact, it is the hasty and ill-thought construction of the new GCSEs that have scared the independent sector away from taking up these programmes of study, while the government has protected its state monopoly by removing IGCSEs from school performance tables, effectively stopping state schools from making the IGCSE choice.
Let us not forget that Ofqual has guaranteed that the same proportion of pupils will get the equivalent A-C grades in the new 9-1 metric. This led to many newspaper summer stories in the last two years reporting that the actual raw score for a 4, the established pass mark, has dropped considerably.
For example, in the AQA higher maths papers sat in 2018, to achieve a 4 the student only needed to score 19.6 per cent. This would suggest that the assessment and the body of knowledge required is greater in the new GCSE than the old GCSE, but that the overwhelming majority of students are not able to access this knowledge and rely instead on falling grade boundaries to achieve their previous high grade.
For a teacher, this makes assessments and tests throughout the two-year course difficult to benchmark and might lead to a reluctance to score students at the highest levels when marking individual scripts.
Finally, the new GCSE has brought with it more and longer examinations for our young people — at what cost to their mental health and wellbeing? We listen constantly to politicians blaming social media and the traits of “iGen” as being the cause of growing mental illness, but perhaps those who insisted on this new GCSE should not be shielded from part of this blame.
We are sure the the failings of the new GCSE will be acknowledged and the wheel of constant examination change will move around once more under a new Education Secretary, but we will avoid this turmoil by largely sticking with the IGCSE.
We hope that helps explain why this has become such a hot debate among politicians and school leaders. Do not be surprised if you see Immanuel missing from the new GCSE league tables.
Since the government refuses to recognise the IGCSE, many of our students’ high grades will not be acknowledged by the authorities. The fact that the universities do accept them may tell you more than the official line peddled by the government.
Gary Griffin is headmaster and Barnaby Nemko deputy head (academic) of Immanuel College