As Richard Garner has revealed in the Independent, more than 200 state secondary schools in the UK have ditched the GCSE in favour of IGCSE a more traditional O-level style examination.
Interest in International GCSEs has doubled over the past year since the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, gave schools the green light to offer it to pupils. In the past, schools could not apply for funding to put their pupils in for it and results could not be included in exam league tables. Now the funding is still not there for state secondary schools to offer IGCSE, but results are properly recognised within the state system and full credit given to successful candidates.
Because it is less reliant on government funding, most of the growth in IGCSE numbers in the UK has been in the independent sector where it is recognised that IGCSEs represent a more thorough preparation for A-level and academic studies beyond. Some of the IGCSE exams are a little bit tougher than the GCSE equivalents but this makes up for the fact that no coursework is involved. The absence of coursework and controlled assessment remains the single biggest advantage of IGCSE for those in home schooling and distance learners generally.
Graeme Paton notes in the Daily Telegraph that 945 schools offered IGCSE through Edexcel this year, compared with just 198 state schools offering the IGCSEs set by rival examination board, CIE (plus 350 private schools). Why is Edexcel so popular? Its secret had been to offer specifications which are as close as possible to the GCSE equivalents so that they are recognisable to those who are used to the GCSE system, adding a little extra depth to compensate for the disappearance of coursework.
At Oxford Home Schooling, we offer a full range of courses for both GCSE and IGCSE so I have no reason to recommend one qualification over the other. In many cases, it will depend on what subject the home learner wants to do and whether controlled assessment is a mandatory part of the GCSE specifications in that subject, as it is with such subjects as History, Geography and even English. In such cases, there is little alternative but to opt for IGCSE instead. But students may be reassured that there are a vast number of exam cetres where they can sit IGCSE exams in the UK, especially with Edexcel, and that success at IGCSE will look at least as impressive on anyone’s CV and as equivalent success at GCSE.