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Private school pupils who take IGCSEs have better chance of getting top marks, exam watchdog admits

Posted on: 2019-03-13 09:00:00

He told the education select committee that this is a “disturbing” issue within the exam system, and agreed that it reinforces the privileges of children whose families can afford to pay for private school fees.  

Originally, private schools opted for iGCSEs as they saw GCSEs as too easy and not sufficient preparation for A level.

However, in a bid to make GCSEs more rigorous, the ministers overhauled the qualifications by removing most coursework and introducing a numerical grading system.

Earlier this year, research published by Education Datalab showed that two thirds of pupils achieved grade A* and A in IGCSEs in maths and English language, while just 18 to 20 per cent achieved the equivalent grades in reformed GCSEs.

Lucy Powell, the Labour MP for Manchester Central, said it is a “scandal” and an “outrage” that children at private schools who win top grades in their iGCSEs are looked on more favourably by universities and employers who cannot tell the difference between these exams and GCSEs.

Mr Taylor said that the difference can – at least in part – be explained by privately educated children generally having higher levels of attainment than children at state schools.

He said that iGCSES are not "systematically easier" than the reformed GCSEs. But since they are not regulated in the same way it means there is a “risk” that a “particular subject in a particular year will be easier and we don't have the mechanisms to do anything about that”.

GCSEs are regulated by Ofqual, which uses a statistical method called "comparable outcomes" to ensure that roughly the same proportion of pupils will be awarded each grade as in previous years.

Meanwhile, IGCSEs are not regulated by Ofqual, meaning that the number of top grades handed out are not in any way restricted. 

Mr Taylor agreed with Robert Halfon, the Conservative chair of the education select committee, that currently there is not a “level playing field” between private and state school pupils.  

He said the best solution would be for iGCSEs to be renamed, and said the Ofqual has examined “legal routes” to address this. Mr Taylor added: “This is a situation that is not really conducive to public trust in the examination system. It is a problem. We obviously are monitoring this and have researched this because it is an area of concern.”

Labour committee member Ian Mearns said that there is a feeling that the current set up is “inherently unfair” on state school students.

Mr Taylor replied: "I think this is precisely why this is such a disturbing issue in terms of the fairness of the system. Because it is used in one sector of the education system and not in another."

Mr Halfon said: "Basically, what we are saying is that if you are wealthy enough to afford to go to private school, not only that, you're going to get an easier exam, which is called the same name and recognised by employers.

"But if you're not wealthy, you go to state school and do a higher quality, higher standard exam that is called GCSE, and you get potentially lower grades even though that person from private school is getting all those advantages."

Mr Taylor said he agrees with this analysis, but added that private schools are allowed to teach whichever qualifications they want so they are not breaking any rules.


Source: Telegraph

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