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Private schools' refusal to embrace new GCSE marking system gives pupils major advantage

Posted on: 2018-08-18 05:00:00

This Thursday, thousands of students will receive their grades, many of whom are the first cohort to take the new “tougher” GCSE courses.

Many independent schools have declined to switch over to the reformed qualifications which use a numerical grades, opting instead to continue with international GCSEs – known as iGCSEs - which use A* to G.

Meanwhile, state schools are effectively forced to take the new GCSEs, after the Department for Education removed iGCSEs from league tables in 2017.

“Independent schools are likely to have stayed with the iGCSE partly because it is familiar and partly because they are cautious about the more rigorous, more demanding GCSE,” said Bill Watkin, chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association.

“There is likely to be greater proportion of the cohort doing iGCSE that get the top grade than would get the top grade in the reformed GCSE.”


The numerical grades were designed by former Education Secretary Michael Gove as part of a package of reforms to toughen up syllabuses and to counter grade inflation at the top end, since A and A* are split between seven, eight and nine.

Mr Watkin went on: “There is a flip side: if you get the top grade in a more difficult qualification, you can show that you have achieved particularly well.

“But the question is, will colleges, employers and universities understand enough the difference between the reformed GCSE and the iGCSE in terms of the level of difficulty?”

Ofqual commissioned a survey earlier this year which showed that employers are confused by the new GCSE grading system as a quarter think the bottom grade is the best mark.

Eight per cent of universities also thought that 1 was the top grade, along with six per cent of headteachers, the poll found.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of employers, and 15 per cent of universities said they were unaware of the new grade 9 to 1 system.

"A lot of the private schools have stuck with the iGCSE, taking the view that they don't want to be the guinea pigs" - Bernadette John, a director at the Good Schools Guide.

Bernadette John, a director at the Good Schools Guide, said that the by far biggest concern among parents is the “perceived unfairness” that their children will “somehow be disadvantaged” by having harder exams.

“A lot of the private schools have stuck with the iGCSE, taking the view that they don't to be the guinea pigs,” she said.

“That causes a bit of resentment as there is the idea that iGCSEs are easier. Private schools have the luxury of time to sit back and see how it goes.”

Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council, defended headteachers’ decisions not to switch over to the reformed GCSEs, which he said are "clearly a very similar standard" to iGCSEs. 

“It is fair and sensible for their pupils not to adopt the new GCSEs this year if they are happy with iGCSEs,” he said. “It would seem folly for a school able to take the iGCSEs to abandon them at this early stage. We will take decisions in interest of pupils.”

A spokesman for Ofqual said they have not “scrutinised” iGCSEs, but added it is “not possible” to compare the them with GCSEs. The exams watchdog that their research "shows very good levels of awareness of the new 9-1 grading system”.  

A spokesman for Cambridge Assessments, which provides iGCSEs, insisted that the qualifications are the “same standard” as the reformed GCSEs, adding that they use statistical evidence and comparability studies to ensure they are aligned.




Source: The Telegraph

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