Friday, 23 August 2013

The results are in - Cambridge iGCSE vs AQA

If you read my previous blog entry on teaching the Cambridge iGCSE, you will know that I refused to pass judgement until the results came in. Well, they're in.

The background:
This year I taught a set of 32 Y11 A*- B target students who took AQA Language and Literature, a set of 16 Y11 C/D borderline students who started AQA in Y10, but changed to iGCSE in Y11, and 2 Y10 sets of 16 students with targets of C/D who did early entry iGCSE this year too.

Yes, I struggled to get my head around that too - thank you timetable gods!
What it did do, however, is put me in a position to look at the 2 exams side by side and draw some fairly interesting conclusions (at least I think they are interesting, feel free to disagree!)

My 'top' set did reasonably well on AQA, but the top grades were fewer than I had predicted. Overall, I am a bit disappointed as I was hopeful they would do much better. A handful got Cs which, in my opinion, does not reflect their ability. Basically, our Language CA was moderated down by 4 marks across the board for every student over a C. I have not read the report, but our marks have never been changed before and it obviously looks a bit suspicious to me. I may be wrong, but it is a less obvious way of manipulating the pass rate than changing exam boundaries. The Literature CA grades were unchanged...

So to iGCSE. Here the results were great. In Y11, bearing in mind these students had failed miserably AQA English and iGCSE Core earlier in the year, they nearly all passed iGCSE Extended. There were even 3 B grades!

In Y10, the results were less spectacular. There were more passes than I had predicted though, but only a handful in each group. Pleasing for me, it was those particularly hardworking students who got it early and the others have hopefully learned a valuable lesson. Honestly, I never felt they were ready to do it, the vast majority are the kind of kids who need to feel the pressure of the clock ticking in Y11 to motivate them. Those who got Cs are probably capable of Bs next year, so I'm not sure they gained much either, apart from maybe a confidence boost.

IGCSE is easier for the majority of students. The students who got Bs are proof of that. They are nowhere near the quality of the Bs from AQA, or even the C grades from my top set either. Students who failed AQA English passed iGCSE comfortably. It is particularly good for students who are sparky but have done nothing for 5 years and feel the fear at the last minute. The reading exam is something you can train them to do like monkeys. The results would also suggest that it is easier to get a C on the Extended paper than on the Core.

Another advantage of iGCSE is for SEN students. One particular student I taught was very hardworking, but all the extra time in the world was not going to help him pass an exam. He was able to do the coursework option, take his time, use IT, redraft. He finally got his C after getting a B on that unit, and it was my favourite result of yesterday.

And, of course, the Speaking and Listening was also very useful for several students in boosting their grade. However, I would also say it probably caused a significant problem for just as many. How we go about teaching this aspect is something we have to look at very carefully next year. They don't get multiple chances to do it, reflect and improve like AQA used to allow, and it shows.

Personally, I am left feeling dissatisfied with the whole thing. Just like last year, I feel there are students who have grades they don't deserve (both higher and lower) down to the exam they took. Our entry requirement for A Level study is a B at GCSE. There are students who have that from iGCSE who have that now, but are in no way prepared for the demands of A level; iGCSE does not encourage independence in any way shape or form. They don't have to read anything longer than 5 paragraphs for a start!

I realise my job is to get students good grades, and improve their life chances, but my reason for teaching is to foster a love of reading, writing, discussion and critical thinking. I want students to leave with skills, not just grades. Teaching the iGCSE exam is DULL. The texts they use are awful - the whole exam is very old-fashioned.

With another 3 groups taking it next year, I am not feeling terribly inspired by it.
Thank God they still have to do Literature... although, of course, they don't have to pass.


  1. We had a similar experience, with re-sit students. All ours are on the C/D borderline and AQA seems to hit that particular cohort particularly hard. Our CA marks were also moderated down. We entered students for IGCSE who had achieved E grades previously with AQA. many of these went up to D with IGCSE and a good proportion jumped two grades to C. Overall the course is better to teach and the results seem much more reliable.

    1. Would like to know what your moderator's report says as to why the CA was marked down. Wonder if it will be the same as ours.

  2. Really interesting read. From your neighbourhood timetable god. XX

  3. I have had a similar experience with my year 11 cohort this year also. Our CA language marks were moderated down (from 5 for grade A/A* down to 1 for grade E!), however our English only and Literature results did not suffer the same fate?! We entered a group of 40 students who ranged from grade F to grade D with AQA, all of whom achieved at least the same grade with 75% doing better.

    The IGCSE exam gave our students a confidence that they never had with AQA. Most of them had never finished the AQA exam in the time given in either of the two attempts they'd had However, I don't think it was easier, although the texts were shorter they were about places and experiences my kids had never heard of (Most of them have never left Manchester!) and it took quite a while to convince them that it didn't matter if they didn't understand the whole text!

    We are doing iGCSE with all our year 10 students this coming year. I agree, it's an uninspiring exam but I'm really looking forward to having the luxury of time to follow a more interesting and in depth English curriculum with the students instead - devising coursework tasks that will actually inspire and motivate them, practising the speaking and listening, developing their skills and reading around subjects and learning about places that might even help them when they have to read texts about navigating the Serengeti!!

    Good luck :-)

  4. Thanks for your comment. I just wish there was some reading coursework to do too. I also really liked the spoken language study element of AQA. I think my real concern is that students won't get a proper diet of Literature if it doesn't count towards English or Ebacc totals.

  5. So we wrote this book. It has already received positive reviews from many students and helped a lot of them overcome their fear over the English Language. Now its published officially on amazon kindle with all rights reserved. Please share it and spread the knowledge :D