Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

State school qualification ban

exam room
There are political dividing lines over the qualification

The government has rejected a Cambridge international GCSE for use in English state schools - claiming that it would allow pupils to opt out of Shakespeare.

A number of independent schools have opted for international GCSEs, raising fears of a social divide in qualifications.

Schools Minister Iain Wright says he does not want exams which "serve the needs only of a tiny few".

The exam board said the ruling was "hard to understand".

The Conservatives have called for state schools to be able to take the same range of exams as independent schools - and promised to reverse the decision if they won the election.

But head teachers' leader John Dunford "strongly welcomed" the decision - saying there should not be a market in qualifications.

GCSE v IGCSE

This ruling from the minister rejects the use of the international qualification for state school pupils up to the age of 16 - arguing that the existing GCSE is a "robust, rigorous and proven qualification".

"We don't want to go back to where qualifications served the needs only of a tiny few and let the rest fall by the wayside," said minister Iain Wright.

The Cambridge International Certificates, offered by the Cambridge International Examinations exam board, was rejected on the grounds of failing "to meet the requirements of the curriculum in the key subjects of English, maths, science and ICT", he said.

"Approval of CICs would present a risk to the focus on the vital curriculum elements - for instance, young people would be able to opt out of answering questions on Shakespeare."

In response, the exam board's director of education, Kevin Stannard, says: "We question how this decision is 'securing choice for young people' by not funding provision recognised by UK universities, the national regulator and taken by thousands of schools in the UK and overseas.

"The grounds for non-funding are hard to understand. Yet again, we see a perpetuation of the misunderstanding that Shakespeare is off the syllabus. One of this year's Shakespeare texts is Much Ado About Nothing."

But Dr Dunford, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, welcomed the ruling as protecting the exam system from further confusion.

'Confusion'

"Another qualification would cause confusion for parents, pupils, employers and the general public. GCSEs are well established and it would not help matters to add a further qualification into what is being developed as a national qualifications framework.

"We do not want a market in qualifications. Exams are not items on a supermarket shelf. They determine young people's futures and should not be subject to market pressures."

The Conservatives attacked the decision as restricting choice in state schools that was available in independent schools - and promised to allow international GCSEs if they entered office.

"Denying iGCSEs in core subjects to children in state schools will only serve to increase the level of inequality in education," said Shadow Children's Secretary, Michael Gove.

"Top independent schools are already opting for the more rigorous international exam because it is more valued by universities and employers," he said.

"If children from state schools are unable to trade in the same exam currency as their wealthier peers, the government is effectively ensuring that they cannot compete on a level playing field."



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