What’s the difference between IGCSEs and GCSEs?


Whether you have children of GCSE age or not, you’ve probably read various stories in the media saying ‘well if it’s good enough for Eton’ or ‘IGCSEs, the preference of private schools’ – but do you really understand what they are and what the difference is?

Fear not – we’ve compiled this handy guide that explains exactly what the IGCSE is!

GCSE = General Certificate of Secondary Education

IGCSE = As above with an ‘I’ for International

Don’t be fooled though into thinking that these are only available in international schools or to international students, although they are internationally recognised. Simply put it means this particular exam is not directly related to a national curriculum and therefore has a level of independence.

The IGCSE, however, is not a ‘new fad’; in fact it was introduced in 1988 by the University of Cambridge International Examinations, just two years after the introduction of the GCSE.

In a nutshell, here are the differences (or not):

  • Both are very similar – qualifications are set at the same level and are taken within schools at the same time, usually at the end of Year 11, in the year a student turns 16 years’ old
  • They are governed by different exam boards – Edexcel, Cambridge International Examinations and AQA
  • IGCSEs tend to have less coursework than GCSEs and are considered more exam based
  • A much-debated issue, but they have been argued to be more challenging than GSCEs
  • IGCSEs can technically be studied at any time from anywhere – often making them a popular choice with overseas, mature or home-schooled students
  • IGCSEs were not originally subject to the new 1-9 grading imposed on GSCEs, however this is set to change in June 2019 with some schools/subjects being offered the option to change or keep the A*-G grading.
  • The IGSCE is no longer on the list of qualifications approved for state schools (despite having been recommended in 2010 by Michael Gove when he was Education Secretary).
  • Both sets of qualifications are fully recognised by universities and employers

Many private schools offer a mix of GCSEs and IGCSEs depending on various factors such as whether that subject is available in both or the teacher’s preference.

Below is just a small example of independent schools where IGSCEs are followed in certain subjects:

  • Cheltenham Ladies’ College
  • Radley
  • Eton College
  • Dulwich College
  • Charterhouse
  • Winchester College
  • Downe House
  • Harrow

According to Cambridge’s exam board, the exams encourage creative thinking, enquiry and problem solving.

If your kids are not quite at the GCSE stage, then make sure to read our article on Why Schools are Dropping the Common Entrance



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