Headteachers have been left frustrated and exasperated at the government’s decision to axe International GCSEs from the performance tables.
They say the decision should have been taken “months ago” and have labelled the move as “ad hoc” and “extraordinary”.
The Department for Education (DfE) last week said that “it has not been possible to find a way to include” the qualifications alongside reformed GCSEs.
A statement from the DfE said it had been working with the exams watchdog Ofqual to consider how IGCSEs could be reformed to “ensure they are as rigorous as the new GCSEs”.
However, it adds: “Unfortunately it has not been possible to find a way to include them in performance tables that would not undermine the standards of GCSEs.”
IGCSEs have been included within the league tables since 2010 – the move was one of the then education secretary Michael Gove’s first decisions on taking office after the General Election.
However, the minister for school reform, Nick Gibb, in a letter to awarding organisations setting out the changes, said that continuing to allow the qualifications to count would create a “race to the bottom”, with “each board feeling obliged to produce less rigorous Level 1 or 2 certificates rather than leaving the market to its competitors”.
The DfE has confirmed that the IGCSEs will count towards the performance tables up until when reformed GCSEs in each subject are “first examined and counted”.
First teaching of new GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths will begin this September, with the first exams due in summer 2017.
The bulk of the remaining new GCSEs will begin teaching in September 2016, including languages and sciences, with first exams in summer 2018.
IGCSEs – which are popular in the independent sector and have been adopted by many state schools since 2010 – tend to be popular in traditional academic subjects including English, maths, languages and sciences.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It is extremely difficult for teachers to plan ahead and prepare for exams if the rules keep changing.
“It is even more confusing for parents and students. This decision should have been made months ago.
“Some schools will have started planning for next year on the assumption that IGCSEs would be in the performance tables.
“The awarding bodies will have put a great deal of time and resource into making the qualifications fit the new criteria. This kind of ad hoc, last-minute change is not helpful. We need a clear, consistent, long-term direction for qualifications in England.”
His counterpart at the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, added: “This announcement is an extraordinary change by the government. (It) is, in effect, telling state-funded schools that they cannot be trusted to make decisions about qualifications best suited to meet the needs of their students.
“The use of performance tables to enforce this policy illustrates how far out of kilter the relationship between teaching and learning on the one hand and accountability on the other has become.
“Before a single lesson has been taught in revised GCSE courses, the government is declaring that the revised specifications are superior to tried and trusted qualifications, ones that the independent sector will, no doubt, continue to offer.” Photo: iStock