IGCSE vs GCSE: British schools in the UAE plot their own course as education debate rages


[Brendan Law, vice president, British Cluster Lead at Gems Education, says the merits of IGCSE and GCSE must be evaluated on a subject by subject basis. Christopher Pike / The National]
British schools in the UAE are combining IGCSE and GCSE models to create unique curricula tailored for their pupils – amid fierce debate over the merits of the two qualifications.

Discussions over the benefits and difficulty levels of IGCSE and GCSE curriculum are taking place in schools across the UK, where many educators believe the new model of GCSE is tougher and leaving weaker pupils behind.

British schools in UAE remain unaffected by the changes as they offer a combination of both. The new GCSE model has reconfigured the GCSE examinations to become more rigorous and now uses a numerical scoring system, from 1 to 9, whereby 1 is equivalent to a G grade and 9 an A*.

The IGCSE system relies more heavily upon coursework and provide a broader ange of topics for teachers to choose from.

The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification, generally taken in a number of subjects by pupils in secondary education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is an English language curriculum offered to students to prepare them for International Baccalaureate and A levels.

Brendan Law, vice president, British Cluster Lead at Gems Education, said the debate between the two curricula has swung like a pendulum, with the IGCSE previously viewed as the tougher of the two.

“According to The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation in the UK, IGCSEs and GCSEs should be treated as one and the same in terms of standard and level of qualification. I have never seen universities favouring one over the other,” said Mr Law.

The educator believes it is not simply a case of picking one system but to understand which specific course and exam board is best for the children at a particular school, on a subject by subject basis.

Back in the UK, Craig Fleming, Assistant Head Master at The Skinner’s School Grammar in southern England, told The National the new GCSE’s will disproportionately favour high achievers and that “there remains a strong element of doubt how they will serve the less able and those with special needs”.

The 2017 GCSE results saw schools in the UAE celebrating record high scores, with 86 per cent of students achieving A*-C grades.

GCSE results in the UK last year showed a stark contrast between the new linear exams and the IGCSE’s. Less than 20 per cent of students managed to receive a grade 4, considered the equivalent of a low C, in English and just over 20 per cent in Maths. In contrast, English Literature IGCSE students in the UK enjoyed an almost 90 per cent A* – C result.

Former Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening has emphasised that in the new GCSE exams “a ‘standard pass’ is a credible achievement and one that should be valued as a passport to future study and employment”.

Fiona McKenzie, director of Gabbitas Middle East, an educational consultant based in Dubai, explained that international schools traditionally opt for the IGCSE exams as they are designed for the international market and are less UK centric in their subject matter.

“The academic rigour added to their credibility. With the reformed GCSEs there is some debate as to whether this is still the case. But it is really early to tell,” said Ms McKenzie.

“The focus on terminal exam-based assessment does mean that they are far from ideal for special needs pupils as these are long exams and value skills of writing and recall rather than measure understanding and ability,” she said.

“Talking to heads of schools in the UAE they are cautioning about making judgements too early about relative performance and trends when the new GCSEs are still new and patterns can’t yet emerge,” she said.

Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at education provider Taaleem, said IGCSE has a coursework element and people thought was perhaps easier and less intensive than an end of course exam.

“Some universities lean towards GCSE rather than IGCSE. They won’t give a reason, but there has been some bias reported,” he said.

“I think there should be many pathways within schools and exams such as GCSE or IGCSE are not necessarily the be-all and end-all. I believe in vocational education alternatives.

“We need to rethink our examination system. This is considered by many to be an outdated system that doesn’t necessarily teach the skills crucial for future success. Many children do not fit easily into narrow academic lanes,” he said.

The educator believes Dubai’s education sector’s ability to innovate helps pupils.

“The children in international private schools here mainly come from motivated, middle-class families. The education here is as good if not better than most schools in the UK. There is a tremendous amount of innovation in schools happening here” he said.

*Additional reporting by Chris Greaves

Source: The National