Private schools shun ‘toughest ever’ GCSEs amid fears pupils are ‘guinea pigs’ for new system

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Telegraph

Britain’s top private schools have shunned the so-called toughest GCSEs ever amid fears pupils would become guinea pigs for the new system, The Telegraph reports.

The head of Britain’s largest independent schools body has defended the country’s leading independent schools after reports that they have refused to allow their pupils to sit this summer’s new tougher GCSEs, even though state school schools have been forced to take them.

More than 500,000 state school pupils took the new tougher GCCE this summer, which were introduced in 2015 to toughen up syllabuses and cut down on the number of students getting A*s.

But, the vast majority of the top 30 independent schools, such as Eton College and Wellington College, opted to take the international GCSE this summer, amid fears the new system might see state students “shut out from top universities”, The Sunday Times reported.

The international GCSE, which is no longer recognised in government league tables, is widely seen as an easier test for pupils, but Shaun Fenton, chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), defended independent schools that had not switched to the new qualification, saying that critics of independent schools were stoking “phantom fears” and that IGCSEs were “tried and tested”.

Mr Fenton, who is also headmaster of Reigate Grammar School, said on Sunday: “Seeping into the national conversation… is the idea that the new GCSEs are harder than existing international GCSEs. This is not only wrong but making such pronouncements when candidates were still sitting exams was unfair and undermining to children.”

The row over the new GCSEs came after warning from education leaders that pupils faced the toughest ever exams and that grades risk becoming a ‘lottery’, as teachers have struggled to accurately predict grades under the new system.

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A Department for Education spokesperson said it had “reformed” GCSEs to put them “on a par” with the best qualifications in the world.

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