Posts Tagged ‘examinations’

So, iGCSE.

My Head is wondering whether the iGCSE is the panacea to all ills, the alchemical philosopher’s stone which will transform dross to gold, the buttress, bulwark and bastion against which Michael Gove’s interventions will clang and clatter harmlessly as our students clothe themselves in Cs and above.

I am tasked with investigating.

Currently, like many schools, we have a dual offer of English or Language and Literature. Each of these are independent separate specifications but Language only counts as the grail-like C in English if students are also entered for Literature.

Our results plummeted last year with the GCSE fiasco; other local schools raised their results dramatically (by 15% – 20%) and offered the iGCSE.

Note the use of “and” in that sentence. I am not yet convinced that “because” would be the appropriate conjunction.

Okay. iGCSE. International GCSE. It seems to have been the sop offered to Private Schools to offer a nominally more rigorous version of the GCSE. It is internationally recognised and regulated and therefore potentially proof against Govean or Governmental tinkerings or pressures which quite clearly did not occur in the Summer 2012. We await that court case result still!

Now, I’ve only looked at the Cambridge International Examinations Board specifications and exams and spoken to their advisers. The following seem to be key facts:


    No CATS;

    A number of routes through the specification;

    An unseen media / non-fiction examination lasting 1 hour 45 minutes or 2 hours depending on tier;

    Three pieces of coursework of 500-800 words each; or

    A second 2 hour examination in writing skills.

There appears to be no literary element at all to this specification and the skills being tested are those we – and all GCSE exam boards – teach in any event.

There is no Speaking and Listening element to the iGCSE: it can be added as a discreet module and receive its own grade but does not contribute to the GCSE grade.

In terms of Literature, there appears to be the following:


    No CATS;

    3 set texts on which there is an examination;

    The exam has a complicated rubric but offers a range of responses to the literature: close detailed analysis of a given passage (what I spent most of my three years at Uni doing and still call Practical Criticism); a typical whole-text essay; or an imaginative and empathetic response.

    And an unseen literature exam.


Three set texts instead of the six required at GCSE. More time could be spent on each one. A wider and more responsive teaching style adapted.

At first glance I was concerned that the course would be too narrow and restricted in its texts to prepare students for A level. But in retrospect, it’s a massively broader course: the only way to prepare for an unseen literature exam is to feed a diet of literature from all ages to the children. I’d need to look again at the specification but we could deliver to them all those texts we love but which just don’t fit into GCSE. Moby Dick. Wuthering Heights. King Lear. Gawain and the Green Knight. The Book Thief. American Gods. We would be teaching them to read and to engage with literature rather than to read a text.

From a practical stance, the overlap or lack thereof of texts is a financial concern. As is the gamble of setting it up as a 100% terminal examination.

Could we run either of these with our current Year Groups?

Year 11: with six months left I have serious concerns about compelling them to do an additional 4 hours of examinations; there is the risk of confusion over which exam goes where; there’s the risk of resentment and kickback from the kids. Clearly there’s no time to fit Literature in. And only a rather limited number are doing GCSE Literature. Therefore, in terms of securing us English C grades rather than Language, there is limited scope.

But those sets already taking Literature… Who may appreciate the opportunity to have a second string to their bow in achieving an A or A*… That shows potential!

Year 10: there is at least one set who are struggling with GCSE Language and Literature. And they are at the C/D border. Perhaps swapping to iGCSE English and Literature as a more fluid and responsive course…

Perhaps taking the 50% coursework route rather than 100% exams…

If I were to put myself in a purely results and outcomes driven mode, I would probably keep Literature as it is with the conventional GCSE. And I would offer (by which I mean compel) entry to GCSE Language and iGCSE English. Because – and this is where I balk a little – actually, by that, I mean a massive amount – the specifications only require that Literature be entered. Not passed. Not passed at a certain grade. Just entered.