iGCSE vs the new 9-1 GCSEs – Are Private Schools gaming the system by opting for the easier IGCSEs?
There has been a lot of controversy since the new, supposedly tougher, GCSEs were introduced. More recently, the debate has revolved around unfairness on the part of independent schools (fee paying private school), where the iGCSE is more popular than the new GCSE. Many people have raised concerns that the independent schools are playing the system by entering their students for the IGCSE exams, thereby avoiding the more challenging, newly introduced GCSE.
Before discussing the merits and demerits of both qualifications and if the allegation made is fair or not, let’s have a little bit of historical context.
Historically, the IGCSE is the international equivalent of the GCSE, containing all the content of GCSE, plus additional material and is generally agreed to be a tougher qualification in comparison to the GCSE. This the case in all subjects except for perhaps in English. The reason for this may be the fact that the IGCSE is very popular in countries of the world where English is not the first language.
To go back further into the history of the two qualifications, both GCSE and IGCSE are the remnants of the old O-levels, which were abandoned in the mid-1980s. Since the abolition of the O-level, the GCSE, which was its main replacement, has been reducing in content, with mainly the harder material taken out of it and put into the first year of the A-level. As content was gradually reduced and a higher proportion of young people were achieving top grades, there was an outcry about grade inflation and the notion of dumbing down has surfaced. This prompted the former education secretary – Michael Gove, to introduce the new, supposedly tougher GCSE, which has come now come into effect. Like the GCSE, the iGCSE has also reduced in content over the years. Overall, when compared to the O-level, the iGCSE has a smaller volume but greater degree of content than the GCSE – in most subjects anyway.
The present situation
There is a general belief in some quarters that the new 9-1 GCSE is more challenging than the IGCSE. However, this is controversial and there is not, at present, a conclusive proof that this is generally the case. It must be said, however, that, as is always the case with any new qualification, there is variation in the level of difficulty in different subjects. For example, in a subject such as Maths, there are some new, more demanding topics of algebra and calculus in the new GCSE and students certainly find it tougher than the one that has just been replaced.
We have to remind ourselves the reason why the new GCSEs, with their new grading system, were introduced, which was to identify the most academically able, as fewer students will now be awarded the top grade of 9. Grades 8 and 9 in the new system are equivalent to A* in the old system, with Grade 9 being reserved for the crème de la crème of young people (link here to the article on new GCSE Grades 9-1).
In the concluding part of this two-part article, I will be asking that very serious question: is there any logical reason for private schools to play silly games on GCSEs v IGCSEs? Please see my next article for more on this.