The difference between GCSE and IGCSE has led to controversy among private and state schools in the UK. Source: Shutterstock

What’s the difference between the GCSE and the IGCSE? The former is the General Certificate of Secondary Education, and is the standard academic qualification taken by students in the UK at the end of their secondary school years.

The IGCSE, on the other hand, is the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, introduced to enable students from overseas to receive the qualification.

The major difference between the two is the lack of intensive coursework. According to CloudLearn, “The IGCSE was introduced around 25 years ago, in order for overseas students without English as a first language, to sit the exam.

“One of the biggest differences is the lack of coursework within the IGCSE. As a result, students can start the IGCSE at anytime and not need to worry about submitting any coursework.”

The GCSE is considered more rigorous because the rules are more stringent, such as the fact that students can only sit for the GCSE exams in June and resits can be taken in November each year.

Therefore, the IGCSE is considered “easier” due to its flexible nature. The UK government has also said that the IGCSE does not meet the same high standards of the GCSE.

The news that universities tend to overlook the difference between GSCE and IGCSE when it comes to admissions is causing some controversy in the UK. State schools are no longer offering the IGCSE, but private schools still can.

Labour MP Lucy Powell recently requested for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests which led to the Russel Group admitting that almost all universities under the group treat the two types of exam as exact equivalents in admission processes.

The Russell Group is a self-selected association of twenty-four public research universities in the United Kingdom.

The Guardian reported, “Responding to FoIs requests from Powell, only Cambridge University among the 24 Russell Group universities said it did not take exam results at key stage 4 (14-16 years) into account when deciding which students to admit. The other 23 said they did take them into account and made no distinction between the two.

“Top universities are giving privately educated children an unfair advantage by not differentiating between the rigorous GCSEs compulsory in the state system and less demanding exams taken in many fee-paying schools, MPs and educationists have said.

Powell said, “It’s an absolute scandal that it is easier to get top grades in IGCSEs than in the new GCSEs, yet universities essentially class them as the same. State schools do an excellent job – often in difficult circumstances, and now with reduced funding – to help young people get the best GCSE results they can.”

New changes made to the GCSE could be a factor

The GCSE has recently undergone some changes to make it more challenging for students, which has caused some private schools to shy away – an option those in state schools don’t have.

According to HM Government, “We are committed to achieving the highest standards in our schools. That’s why we have changed GCSEs in England to make them more demanding.

“The new GCSEs are better equipping young people with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in 21st century Britain, and match the best performing education systems in the world.

“The new, more challenging GCSEs will also help young people‎ develop the skills that employers tell us they need.”

The Department for Education said last year, “International GCSEs have not been through the same regulatory approval and quality control as the new gold-standard GCSEs, which is why we no longer recognise international GCSEs in school performance tables.

“The new GCSE qualifications have been reformed to provide more rigorous content, so young people are taught the knowledge and skills they need for future study and employment.”

The difference between GCSE and IGCSE: Is it really that straightforward?

On the other side of the coin, some schools are saying that the IGCSEs are not necessarily easier, just different, and it doesn’t mean that students who take this exam don’t work hard.

According to Independent Education Today, “The executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), Mike Buchanan, has dismissed claims independent school students have an advantage with university admissions because of IGCSEs.”

Buchanan said that the heads of HMC schools choose qualifications based on those that will better enhance the education given to the students, not whether or not they provide them with a competitive edge.

He also said that there is a lack of data over how many students have been affected by the “theoretical possibility” that private school students are given an unfair advantage by taking the IGCSE instead of the GCSE.

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