Are IGCSEs easier than reformed GCSEs?
Research suggests that IGCSEs are not graded as severely as reformed GCSEs, making it easier for students to obtain good grades. Source: Shutterstock

Students who take the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) may be having an easier time obtaining better grades than students who take the reformed GCSE.

Research by FFT Education Datalab suggests that IGCSEs are “not graded quite as severely as reformed GCSEs”.

The study was conducted using data from the summer of 2017, focusing on English and maths among pupils who had reached the end of their two-years of school (Key Stage 4), including those at private school.

The year 2017 was the first of the reformed GCSEs, which use the new 9–1 grading scale, with 9 being the highest and 1 the lowest, rather than the A*-G grading system.

The report noted that two-thirds of pupils achieved grade A-A* in IGCSEs in maths and English language, whereas 18 and 20 percent achieved the equivalent (grades 9-7) in reformed GCSEs.

“We would expect that to be the case given that the overwhelming majority of entries were in independent schools, where attainment tends to be higher,” it said. “The question is, would there still be such a disparity in attainment if those who took regulated IGCSEs had taken reformed GCSEs instead?”

Researchers did this by looking at pupils’ English and maths results alongside their results through the old grading system A*-G GCSEs, which was also taken in summer 2017.

“These cover all other subjects apart from English and maths. Modern foreign language subjects are left aside, as we know that they are graded too severely, as are minority subjects (those with fewer than 5,000 entries nationally),” the report said, adding that results in English and maths were then compared to results in these other subjects.

Since most pupils have several GCSEs in other subjects, the researchers randomly picked one.

More A-A* grades were awarded for IGCSEs in English and maths than expected, given the comparator based on other subjects.

“The equivalent grades in reformed GCSEs were broadly in line with expectations,” it noted.

There were also “slightly more” A* to C grades awarded in both subjects at IGCSE and reformed GCSE than expected, leading researchers to believe that IGCSEs are not graded as severely as reformed GCSEs.

However, they noted that further research is needed in this area.

This study, which supports concerns that reformed GCSEs, which are used in state schools, are much tougher than IGCSEs, the method favoured by private schools. It leads to issues for consideration, one of which includes students from state and private schools may not be competing equally for spots at top universities.

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