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Russell Group universities equate IGCSEs to “more rigorous” GCSEs

A freedom of Information (FoI) request sent by Labour MP Lucy Powell found that Russell Group universities treat GCSEs offered by state schools and IGCSEs only provided by private schools as equivalent qualifications for admissions.

The FoI, which follows closely after GCSE results day, has led MPs and educationists to believe private school pupils have an advantage over state school students.

IGCSEs have been judged by the Department of Education (DfE) as not having “the same regulatory approval and quality control as the new gold-standard GCSEs”, which has “more rigorous content, so young people are taught the knowledge and skills they need for future study and employment”.

Last week, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, said: “I find it extraordinary that…pupils in private schools, who start with many advantages, are then able to take inferior exams.

“Everyone should have the chance to climb the education ladder, without unfair advantage to those in private schools.”

Only the University of Cambridge replied to the FoI stating that it did not take Key Stage 4 (KS4) exam results into account when deciding which students to admit.

The other 23 Russell Group universities stated that applicants’ KS4 results were considered, and they did not make distinctions between the GCSEs and its international counterpart.

To have a two-tier system in which no account is taken of the fact that one system is harder is obviously wrong

– Peter Hyman

Ms Powell, formerly Shadow Secretary of State for Education, requested the government to take action in ensuring state school pupils are no longer disadvantaged when applying to Russell Group universities.

She said: “It’s an absolute scandal that it is easier to get top grades in IGCSEs than in the new GCSEs, yet universities essentially class them as the same.

“State schools do an excellent job – often in difficult circumstances, and now with reduced funding – to help young people get the best GCSE results they can.

“There’s been a lot of turmoil with the new system, which private schools, by shirking away from the new GCSEs, have shielded their pupils from.”

Mrs Powell also called on ministers and exam regulator Ofqual to undertake an immediate review on university admissions criteria to make it more fair.

Peter Hyman, founder of state-funded institution School 21, commented: “Private schools already have a lot stacked in their favour.

“To have a two-tier system in which no account is taken of the fact that one system is harder is obviously wrong.”


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