International GCSEs, commonly referred to as IGCSEs on home ed groups, are simply an equivalent qualification to GCSEs. They are sat in British Schools abroad, Independent and private schools in the UK and by home educators. Since the 9-1 reforms of GCSEs, home educators now have more choice over whether to sit GCSE or IGCSE, but for some subjects IGCSE still remains the most accessible route.
The 'i' can give confusion particularly when written lower case, iGCSE, that they are an internet based qualification - they are not! They are the same as GCSEs in nearly every way.
What are IGCSEs?
IGCSEs are International GCSEs.
IGCSE is a registered trademark of the Cambridge exam board but it is informally used as shorthand for all International GCSEs.
These are qualifications designed for the international market and independent schools. They are designed to mirror the UK qualifications in qualification size and duration, content, learning outcomes and assessment.
They are aimed at learners aged 14 to 16, and they provide the skills and knowledge to progress to A Levels, International A Levels, and into university. Simply, they provide a simple route into Higher Education in the UK for students around the world by mirroring the UK qualification structure.
Are IGCSEs equivalent to GCSEs?
They are considered grade for grade equivalents to GCSE. UCAS links for Edexcel International GCSE and CAIE IGCSE . UK National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) reports on Edexcel (2019) and CAIE (2016)
We treat some qualifications in maths, English language, English literature, and English language and literature as equivalent to GCSE grade 9 to 4 or A* to C. This means that students who have studied in England or elsewhere who hold the following qualifications do not have to study maths and/or English to meet the condition of funding:
- international GCSEs, regulated or unregulated, or equivalent level 1/level 2 certificates grade A* to C/9 to 4
For more information see the page IGCSEs and 16-19 College Funding
When applying for college and work use International GCSE not IGCSE as that is what they are. Sometimes colleges application system is a drop down list - entering them as GCSEs is fine.
What are the advantages of IGCSEs for home educators?
Most IGCSEs do not have a compulsory coursework or controlled assessment. They are assessed solely on the exams at the end. This makes it much easier to find an exam centre to accommodate and to study independently.
This does not mean no practical aspects eg geography has fieldwork, sciences have core practicals but the exam centre does not need the sign an endorsement to say they have been done, or mark/assess. This means centres are more likely to accept private candidates. The student needs to know and understand the practicals in order to answer questions in the exams but they do not need to actually do them. It is a good idea to do as much as you can for learning (and fun) but videos can be watched.
Some subjects do have coursework but it is usually optional. For example, for Edexcel English Lang Spec A students either do 2 exams or 1 exam and coursework. Few centres can accommodate coursework so most home educators have to take the exam only route.
Another advantage of IGCSEs is that they have two exam seasons a year.
- Edexcel - Summer (May/June) and Winter (January)
- Cambridge - Summer (May/June) and Autumn (Oct/Nov)
Not all subjects are offered for both sittings so check each specification. Not all exam centres will do Autumn/Winter sittings so you need to check - particularly with Cambridge where exams can fall in half terms. This gives more options when it comes to spreading subjects out. Autumn/Winter sittings can also be quieter.
IGCSEs also often have more past papers to practice with. Because IGCSEs are sat around the world they may produce multiple versions of a paper for the same exam sitting to reduce risk of papers being leaked online. Plus for some subjects there are 2 sittings a year.
Do we have to do IGCSEs?
Since the GCSE reforms many GCSEs no longer have coursework or controlled assessments making them just as accessible for home educators.
The subjects where it is advised that Home Educators do IGCSE are:-
- English Language
- Computer science
GCSEs in these subjects aren't impossible but it is much harder to find a centre able to accommodate the paperwork/practicals. If you do have a centre that agrees then make sure agreement is in writing. Please be aware that centres can and do change their minds.
Some subjects are only available as GCSE (eg psychology) or IGCSE (eg Environmental Management). For others, as long as you have an exam centre which can accommodate the different exam boards, you have a choice. The subjects area will help you look at the different options. Usually one is not 'better' than the others it is individual choice.
You do not have to stick with all GCSEs or IGCSEs. Many home educators do a combination. They choose which best suits their needs for each subject.
Which exam boards offer IGCSEs?
There are two exam boards that provide IGCSEs that can be sat in the UK.
There are fewer exam centres in the UK which are registered for Cambridge (CAIE) exams.
Edexcel runs both GCSE and IGCSEs. Be careful when buying books as they won't usually say IGCSE, they should say International GCSE.
Are all IGCSEs easily accessible to home educators?
There are still some issues with practical assessments for some subjects. It is best to check each specification and if in doubt ask on the exams group. Examples include -
MFL - have a spoken exam that your centre will need to accommodate
Art - the CAIE spec is 50% coursework and is not available to private centres
Computer Science - the Edexcel spec has a practical paper (CAIE doesn't)
Are IGCSEs regulated?
They are not regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) which regulates qualifications, examinations and assessments in England. This means they do not have to follow the government rules for content/assessment for each subject. State schools do not receive funding towards IGCSEs and they are not included in performance tables. Further information on Ofqual and GCSE rules.
Does this matter? Usually no. The important thing for home educators is that they are regarded as equivalent.
There are slight differences around the admin of Cambridge exams normally (different entry dates, exam board fees etc) this is more important for exams centres, follow the instructions you get from yours. Cambridge also have some IGCSEs that have kept the A*- G grading.
Edexcel tend to organise their IGCSEs in the same way as their GCSEs.
Where the difference between Ofsted regulated exams and the unregulated IGCSEs has become important is during the Covid disruption. Ofsted announcements/decisions only apply to GCSEs and A levels. They don't apply to IGCSEs. Cambridge and Edexcel make their own decisions for their IGCSEs.