Minister announces GCSE review

State schools pupils could be allowed to take an O-level style exam instead of GCSEs, the government has announced.

Education minister Lord Adonis said a consultation would be launched into whether the International GCSE (IGCSE),which is currently only available in independent schools, could be an option to 16-year-olds everywhere.

Unlike GCSEs, IGCSEs do not include coursework, and supporters say they provide a broader range of content, are more rigorous, stretch the brightest pupils and better prepare students for a smoother transition to A-levels.

Originally drawn up for international students, they are not on the approved list of qualifications for state schools but were offered in 200 private schools last year. They are on the Cambridge and Edexcel exam syllabuses and are recognised by universities.

The Conservatives and independent schools have been calling on ministers to consider using the system in the state sector for some time, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) has conducted a review into how they work.
Last night, Lord Adonis announced he had asked the QCA to publish its findings and “invite a wider debate within the education community on the IGCSEs use in the maintained sector”.
The government would “then look at the outcomes of that debate with an open mind”, he said.
Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb welcomed the decision, saying: “It is only right that an exam, which is available for use by the independent sector and which is a leading qualification worldwide, should also be available for state schools.
“The IGCSE stretches able pupils, and, in the sciences and maths, provides a very good foundation for those hoping to study these subjects at A-level and beyond.”
Cambridge Assessment, one of the awarding bodies offering the exams, said a public consultation would enable “sound decisions” to be made on the qualifications.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) also welcomed the move. Last week, chairman Edward Gould said excluding IGCSEs from league tables was an “anomaly” because it meant “some of the most outstanding schools in the country get no credit for their success”.

However, critics have warned that introducing IGCSEs in state schools could signal a return to the old two-tier system for pupils of varying abilities. GCSEs replaced O-levels 18 years ago, merging O-levels and their easier alternatives, CSEs, into one exam.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Baroness Guildford told peers during the debate last night that IGCSEs would create “a division between the sheep and the goats” in which the “less bright pupils” suffered.

Teaching unions have also expressed scepticism, and Nasuwt general secretary Chris Keates said the review would “regrettably give succour to the serial detractors of educational achievement who claim regularly that exams have been dumbed down”.

“There is a real danger of creating an elite group of state schools opting out of the examinations undertaken in the vast majority of schools,” he warned.