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What are IGCSEs? Edit

IGCSEs are UK public examinations, equivalent to the GCSE. IGCSE simply means International GCSE. They do not have compulsory coursework, although there are coursework options for schools. They are assessed by exams taken at the end of the course.  They were developed for use in international schools but have now become popular in UK Independent schools, and from 2010 were approved for UK state schools pending the reform of GCSEs.

The introduction of new GCSEs graded 1-9 means that UK state schools will no longer gain league table points for IGCSEs , although the government said that this will be reviewed after the new GCSEs have become established. Many independent schools are continuing to use IGCSEs while they wait to see how the new GCSEs turn out, and home educators may do likewise, although we also have the option of the new GCSEs where they do not involve speaking assessments etc. Note that the change to state school performance tables doesn't stop home-educated students taking IGCSEs. The qualifications are still available , although some syllabuses are being changed. Edexcel will be introducing new IGCSEs graded 9-1 in maths and English for first exams from 2018 and for other subjects after that. See below for more details.

The UCAS guide to UK qualifications - Universities Admissions Service explains GCSE equivalence in its UCAS 2015 UK qualifications guide . See p86 for IGCSEs., where it says IGCSEs are considered grade-for-grade equivalent to GCSEs.

What are the advantages of IGCSEs for home educators?Edit

The advantage of IGCSEs is that most subjects have an option to do exams only, with no coursework or Controlled Assessment. This means you can study completely independently. Many home educators simply study from the textbook, practise with past papers and sit the exam when ready. IGCSEs are very highly regarded by educational institutions; in fact, many independent and grammar schools use them because they give a better grounding in a subject, particularly if leading on to study at A level.  This is particularly noticeable for maths and the single sciences, where the factual content of IGCSE goes further than GCSE.  For instance, IGCSE maths includes calculus, whereas GCSE maths does not.  On the other hand, GCSE may include more discussion of "real life" problems in maths and the sciences.

Which exam boards offer IGCSEs?Edit

There are three exam boards that provide IGCSEs:

The British Council says this about the boards:

"What is the difference between Edexcel International Examinations and Cambridge International Examinations? 
Both Cambridge International Examinations and Edexcel International Examinations are the most renowned international boards offering different qualifications to students such as IGCSE, GCE O Level, AS level and A Level. The specifications of syllabuses might differ but both of them are recognized by colleges, universities and employers all around the world."

Changes to IGCSE Syllabuses Edit

CIE and Edexcel are both introducing new IGCSE syllabuses which will follow the new 9-1 grading system for GCSEs.

CIE have developed new IGCSEs graded 9-1 in English and maths , but their current A*-G IGCSEs will remain available.

Edexcel appear to be replacing their IGCSEs with new format ones. They have put a useful document about their planned IGCSE updates online. Here is an extract from the most relevant bit:

Subject update

At this stage, we can confirm that the following International GCSE subjects will be updated and available for first teaching in the UK from September 2016 and 2017:

First teaching from September 2016 (first assessment May/June 2018)
English Language A Mathematics A
English Language B Mathematics B
English Literature Further Pure Mathematics
First teaching from September 2017 (first assessment May/June 2019)
Chinese Geography Biology*
French History Chemistry*
German Physics* Physics*
Spanish    Human Biology*
English as a Second Language    Science (Double Award) *

What are Edexcel, Cambridge and AQA Certificates?Edit

These are modified versions of the IGCSEs which have been approved by OFQUAL for use in UK state schools and count towards school league tables until new 9-1 GCSEs come in for each subject. This is an issue for schools entering their own students, but is mostly irrelevant to private candidates.  State schools were given permission to temporarily use OFQUAL-accredited versions of IGCSEs between 2010 and 2017, pending the reform of GCSEs.  

The Cambridge/Edexcel Certificates are almost identical to the corresponding IGCSE offered by those boards, and generally use the same textbook for most subjects.  Often the exam papers are identical too, particularly in maths and the sciences - the exam paper has two different codes on it, and the only difference is the wording on the certificate you receive at the end. Home-educated students can choose which qualification to enter for.  

Note that the Certificate versions are being discontinued when the GCSE Reforms take effect for each subject (2017 for English and maths, 2018 for most other subjects).  

For some subjects there are minor differences.  All English / English Language Certificates include a compulsory speaking/listening assessment as this is required for the qualification to be approved for UK state schools.  This presents a problem for home-educators as exam centres would not normally accept private candidates for this, because of the preparation time, classroom time and additional paperwork involved.  Therefore for some subjects, the IGCSE (International GCSE) is the only one which can, practically speaking, be arranged for private candidates  

Edexcel Certificate in English Language includes a compulsory coursework element, whereas the Edexcel International GCSE English Language includes a 100% examination option or a coursework option.  

Edexcel Certificates Final Exams Edit

From the Edexcel page on Edexcel Certificates:

Current arrangements for recognising level 1/level 2 Certificates will end with the introduction of reformed GCSEs, as announced by the Department for Education in January 2015. Once the Edexcel Certificates no longer count in performance measures, they will also cease to attract funding. As a result, the qualifications can no longer be offered to schools and we are therefore withdrawing all our Edexcel Certificate qualifications. This will be a phased process across the Edexcel Certificate subjects.

Edexcel Certificates in English and Maths

  • Final examination will take place in summer 2016.
  • Final recognition of results in performance tables will be summer 2016.
  • There will be no opportunity to sit the examinations in January 2017.
  • From summer 2017 onwards, only the new GCSE (9-1) qualifications will count in performance tables.

Edexcel Certificates in Geography, History, Modern Foreign Languages and the Sciences

  • Final examination will take place in summer 2017.
  • Final recognition of results in performance tables will be summer 2017.
  • There will be no opportunity to sit the examinations in January 2018.
  • From summer 2018 onwards, only the new GCSE (9-1) qualifications will count in performance tables.

Edexcel Certificate in Chinese

  • Final examination will take place in summer 2018.
  • Final recognition of results in performance tables will be summer 2018.
  • There will be no opportunity to sit the examinations in January 2019.
  • From summer 2019 onwards, only the new GCSE (9-1) qualifications will count in performance tables.

Edexcel's FAQs on the Certificates and International GCSEs:

Why can't state schools follow the International GCSE course?

Unlike international and independent schools, state schools need to follow the requirements of the Programme of Study for KS4. This means that the content of the Certificate has to be accredited by Ofqual. The Certificates have the same content as the International GCSEs as much as possible, but there are some elements (such as Speaking and Listening) that are compulsory for state schools but optional for international and independent schools.

Why can’t the Edexcel Certificate be called an International GCSE?

The Certificate is the accredited version of the International GCSE (as explained above), so it can be taught in state schools. But because it does not meet all of the Ofqual GCSE criteria in terms of regulatory design and assessment, it cannot have GCSE in its title or on its certificate. 

Ofqual therefore requires that these accredited versions of the International GCSEs have a different title, so they are called the Level1/2 Certificate - for example, 'Edexcel Level 1/Level 2 Certificate in English Language'.

Edexcel's advice for teachers: Edit

"6.1 Introduction
The Secretary of State announced in the summer of 2010 that in future state schools would be able to offer their students International GCSEs...we ..have since been working with the regulator Ofqual to gain accreditation for a selection of our International GCSEs (called Edexcel Certificates) for use in UK state schools.
We have submitted our International GCSEs in mathematics, English, sciences, geography, history, Chinese, French, German and Spanish for accreditation as Edexcel Certificates to reflect the current demand in schools. Our new Edexcel Certificate qualifications are based on our International GCSE specifications’ content."

There is some clarification from Edexcel regarding their Edexcel Certificate in French:

"Why can’t state schools follow the International GCSE course?
Unlike International and independent schools, state schools need to follow the requirements of the Programme of Study for KS4, therefore the content of the Certificate has to be accredited by OfQual. Nevertheless, the Certificates will have the same content as the new International GCSEs including a compulsory speaking exam."

And Mathematics:

"2. Why is it called a Certificate as opposed to an International GCSE?  
The International GCSEs could not be accredited with ‘GCSE’ in the title because they do not conform with the GCSE subject and the GCSE qualification criteria. Therefore, they were accredited and are listed on Ofqual’s Register of Regulated Qualifications as ‘Level 1/Level 2 Certificates’ under Other General Qualifications.  "
"5. Are there any differences between the International GCSE and Certificate?  
The Edexcel Certificate in Mathematics is based on the current International GCSE Mathematics A specification. There are no differences between the specifications in terms of content and assessment. The same examination papers will be issued for both specifications.  "

Which version should home-ed students take? Certificate or IGCSE?Edit

Short version: The IGCSE is more instantly recognised whereas few people know what a 'Level 1 / Level 2 Certificate' is. However, it is unlikely to matter so don't worry too much!

The Certificate versions in each subject are being discontinued when new 9-1 GCSEs are introduced, so this section will only affect people taking exams before 2017 for English and Maths, and before 2018 for other subjects.

Usually, people refer to the 'Certificate' IGCSEs simply as 'IGCSE' and you would only know that somebody had taken the Certificate version if you saw the certificate itself and noticed different wording. For entry to UK universities it will not make any difference, and on a CV you might just write 'IGCSE'.

There are two possible circumstances where it would make a difference which you took.

  • UK funding regulations for state education at 16-19 changed in September 2013 and now anyone going to a state sixth form or college at 16-19 who doesn't have GCSE English and Maths to Grade C or above must continue studying towards that level.  The Department for Education regulations now explicitly say that unregulated IGCSEs (ie regular IGCSEs) will be recognised for these purposes following the roll-out of new GCSEs. However, they don't mention the OFQUAL-regulated Certificates after that date. Therefore the IGCSE is the safer bet.
  • If you are applying to university overseas, they may well not know what a Certificate version of an IGCSE is, although regular IGCSEs are internationally recognised.  You might have to ask the admissions department to contact the awarding body so that they can confirm IGCSE equivalence.

Sometimes, exam officers enter UK students for the Certificate versions automatically - especially if the exam centre is a state school. Please do make it clear to the examinations officer if you want the entry to be for an IGCSE rather than the Certificate version, and specify the code of the exam you want to take. For example, for Edexcel IGCSE maths the code is 4MA0 whereas for Certificate maths it is the same paper but the entry code is KMA0. If you are taking CIE IGCSEs with a Certificate version in the UK, then many exam centres will automatically enter you for the Certificate version.  

For most subjects apart from English Language, at time of writing (2014) generally the Certificate exams are identical to the IGCSE exams - the papers usually have two different codes on the front.  

Do colleges accept IGCSEs? Edit

Usually sixth-form schools and Further Education colleges know what IGCSEs are and accept them without any questions. You should not expect to have any problems.There have been a few exceptions and, so far, members of the home-education exams network have been able to resolve these situations. Here are some of the situations where colleges have queried IGCSEs:

  • The college may not be up-to-date with the latest guidance on funding at 16-19, which is understandable because it has not been easy to follow. Since the new funding guidance came in for 2014, students who did not have GCSE English and maths at grade C or above would have to continue studying an approved course in those subjects as a condition of the college receiving funding for them. The initial guidance only listed regulated GCSEs. The government guidance on funding and English and maths at 16-19 has now been revised to state that :

"Level 1/Level 2 certificates, commonly known as regulated IGCSEs and unregulated IGCSEs in maths and English count as equivalent to GCSEs for the purposes of recognising prior attainment in the 16 to 19 maths and English condition of funding.
Students who hold regulated or unregulated IGCSEs in maths and English at grade A*-C will not have to continue their study of these subjects when they enter post-16 education, both now and in the future following roll out of new GCSEs from September 2015."

  • The college may be unfamiliar with IGCSEs, especially if it offers mainly vocational courses. In one case, the college had apparently only previously seen Level 1 IGCSEs (ie an IGCSE at grade D-F), which are equivalent to a GCSE grade D-F. In this situation the parent may have to show the college more information about IGCSEs, eg the UCAS guide to UK qualifications, and perhaps speak to the college's subject tutors and ask them to look at the syllabus so they can see how it compares to the GCSE. In many cases the IGCSE syllabus goes beyond the GCSE syllabus.

If you run into any problems with a college querying whether IGCSEs are acceptable, please ask on the HE Exams Yahoogroup , where members may well be able to help.

How are IGCSEs regarded by universities and employers? Edit

IGCSEs are treated just like GCSEs by universities and employers. From 2010 to 2017, many state school pupils took IGCSEs in school and the distinction is not normally commented on. Beyond 2017, IGCSEs continue to be used by many independent and international schools as well as by external candidates, so there is no reason to believe this will change.

NARIC Report on IGCSEs Edit

NARIC, the UK's national agency which compares international qualifications to UK ones for the benefit of employters and universities, gave a report on CIE IGCSEs in 2016. The report included the following statements:

Having reviewed the IGCSE in depth, UK NARIC finds the IGCSE to be a rigorous and robust international lower secondary-level qualification, underpinned by sufficient quality assurance policies and procedures in place to maintain standards...
For the IGCSE subjects analysed in this study, there is little notable difference between the IGCSE aims and learning outcomes with those found in similarly-focussed GCSE syllabuses. In catering for an international audience, minor differences in IGCSE subject content, assessment methods and assessment weightings have been observed with UK GCSEs in certain subjects, but on the whole has little, if any, overall impact on the comparability of the IGCSE in the UK education system...
Identification of similar examination tasks and mark schemes across a range of IGCSE and GCSE subjects confirms that the breadth and depth of knowledge, understanding and skills that the IGCSE develops and assesses compares very well to the national GCSEs examined in this study.

Universities Edit

Generally, universities and employers will treat IGCSEs just the same as GCSEs. When you are applying to universities, GCSEs and IGCSEs are of less relevance than Level 3 qualifications, such as AS- and A-levels and BTec Level 3 diplomas, for example. Many universities require you to show basic English language skills and GCSE or IGCSE English is a standard demonstration of this.

Some universities make an explicit statement:

Manchester University:

"The University accepts International GCSEs (IGCSEs) as equivalent to GCE GCSEs and accepts them on a grade for grade basis.
In terms of different examining boards, we will continue to accept International GCSEs from the main examining boards and will not make a distinction between them in terms of offers made or grades required."
University College, London (UCL):

GCSE and equivalent qualifications
All programmes require GCSE or equivalent passes in English Language and Mathematics at grade C or higher. Some programmes require grades higher than C or additional GCSE passes in specific subjects, as outlined on individual degree pages.
For the new GCSE, which will be given a numerical grade between 1 and 9, UCL will consider 8 to be equivalent to A*, 7 to A, 6 to B and 5 to C.

Qualifications accepted as GCSE equivalents include the following:

  • IGCSE at grade C or higher;

London School of Economics (LSE):
Information regarding use of GCSE and equivalent qualifications
If you have taken GCSEs or equivalent qualifications, these will be taken into account when we assess your application. All applicants are expected to have at least grade B in GCSE English Language and Mathematics or the equivalent, although exceptions are made for applicants with extenuating circumstances.
As competition for places at LSE is intense, we look for applicants who have achieved highly at GCSE (multiple A or A* grades), particularly within the context of their school.
Some programmes require grades higher than B in GCSE Mathematics and these are outlined in the individual programme entries.
Bristol University: "We accept IGCSEs as equivalent to GCSEs."

Durham University:

Does Durham University recognise IGCSEs as proof of English Language proficiency?

Yes. Durham University recognises the IGCSE as proof of English Language proficiency, and currently asks for grades A*-C.

Visa English Requirements Edit

Please note that overseas students who require a student visa will need a different qualification to prove that their English level is sufficient for UK Border Agency requirements. Some confusion has arisen over this because, in the past, CIE IGCSE English Language was part of the Border Agency scheme for demonstrating English language proficiency. CIE withdrew their qualification from the scheme because meeting the UK Border Agency security requirements was too difficult. Note that GCSE English and other IGCSE English qualifications were not part of the scheme anyway. UCAS 2015 UK qualifications guide - see p85 for IGCSEs.

Independent Schools using IGCSEs Edit

It is often said that IGCSEs are popular with independent schools, so I trawled through school websites to find out if this was indeed the case.  I found that the vast majority of independent schools checked did use IGCSEs for some if not all subjects - most commonly English, Maths and Sciences.  The results of this brief, ad-hoc survey are listed on a separate page. Schools using IGCSEs.  Suffice to say that IGCSEs are good enough for Eton, Winchester and Wellington, amongst many others!

General Links and newspaper articles on IGCSEs Edit

Independent schools continuing with IGCSEs at start of GCSE reforms. - The Spectator, 14 March 2015 

'Jury is out on whether the new GCSEs will demand more than their international rivals' - Times Educational Supplement, 12 Feb 2015

Private schools should drop 'less challenging' IGCSEs, says Education Secretary. Writing for the Telegraph, Nicky Morgan says she is confident that independent schools will revert to conventional GCSEs after a toughening-up of the exams.

League tables branded a 'nonsense' by private schools - BBC 29 January 2015

Dozens of private schools branded failures in controversial new league tables - The Telegraph, 29 January 2015. "Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference says that without the inclusion of IGCSEs official rankings are “absurd”, as many top performing independent schools drop to the bottom of the tables"

The Department for Education

"Up until now, only independent schools were able to offer iGCSEs in English, mathematics, science and ICT, which are widely respected and recognised by universities and employers. A number of the high-performing state schools have expressed an interest in offering these exams, but were prevented from doing so – even where accredited by Ofqual – by restrictions the previous Government had in place."

Cambridge International Examinations responds to DfE decision on performance tables


"Manchester Grammar School is the fourth independent school to move over entirely to the International GCSE, and increasingly private schools are offering the qualification in at least one subject.
Manchester Grammar School is already offering IGCSEs in maths, biology, chemistry and physics, and will offer it in seven more subjects from September.
It says the IGCSE is simply a more rigorous assessment.
It is based predominantly on final exams, and the school says this provides more of a challenge to the brightest students.
From this September the ordinary GCSE will be reformed, with the element of coursework largely replaced by "controlled assessments" done under supervised conditions within schools.
And it will become more modular, allowing pupils to re-sit certain parts to improve their marks.The headmaster of Manchester Grammar School, Dr Christopher Ray, says the impending changes convinced him to move away from GCSEs completely. "Controlled assessments are cumbersome and time-consuming and restrict the ability of schools like MGS to provide inspirational teaching for the most able pupils," he said." [Article continues, but that's to give you a flavour.]

BBC: IGCSEs - an end to the national curriculum? - very thorough article on background to the IGCSE 

Independent: IGCSE numbers rise rapidly in independent schools

"A dramatic increase in the number of independent schools ditching GCSEs is revealed today in figures showing their exam results.  They show a 33 per rise rise in the number of entries for the rival IGCSE - based on traditional O-level lines and considered by many heads to offer a better preparation for tackling A-levels in the sixth-form."

Daily Mail: Teenagers secretly taking O-levels because GCSEs are 'too easy'

Independent: Independent schools deserting A-levels and GCSEs.

"A survey by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference – which represents 250 of the country's elite former boys'-only schools such as Eton and Harrow – shows two-thirds are now offering the IGCSE in at least some subjects... with headteachers saying they regard the alternative exam as more academically testing than GCSE and therefore better preparation for A-levels.  Asked about their future plans, it emerged that about 80 per cent would be offering the IGCSE within the next three years."

Independent: The appliance of real science: Should all children take the IGCSE?

"Parkside Federation is the first state school to offer the more demanding IGSCE, to replace the 'dumbed down' alternative.....worried at the gulf opening up between GCSE and A-level, many independent schools took things into their own hands and moved over to the more rigorous IGCSE, ..pupils enjoy the greater emphasis on practical experiments in the IGCSE course, and its more logical approach to building up their knowledge..Part of the attraction is that the IGCSE does not have any "meaningless" coursework, says David Perks, the head of physics at Graveney School, a comprehensive in Wandsworth, south-west London. "The current GCSEs spend far too much time pandering to concerns other than the coherence of the subject, and half the time they seem to make no sense at all," he says. "I want to teach radioactivity, not debate whether nuclear power stations are a good idea."

I shouldn't have done IGCSEs - Guardian article in which a student argues that IGCSEs are not suitable for all students.  Interesting discussions in the comments section.

Telegraph - More schools switching to tougher IGCSE alternative , followed a couple of weeks later by 'Schools moving to 'easy' IGCSE to boost grades' ! Appears to be some controversy over the fact that some IGCSE syllabuses still offered coursework options as with GCSEs a few years ago. These coursework options are not available to home-educated students as exam centres will not usually provide this service for external candidates.  

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