The Head of English at Kensington Park School on why many private schools have opted for the modular IGCSE

In the 2015 GCSE reforms, all coursework elements in English Literature were removed resulting in the entire GCSE English Literature grade being based on the final summer examinations. The change has generated a lot of debate over whether a pupil’s grade should be based solely on examinations. Arguably it should not, which is why Kensington Park School, like many independent schools, has opted to teach the International GCSE (IGCSE) instead, highly valuing its flexibility and suitability for preparing pupils for a modern future.

One of the greatest strengths of utilising the IGCSE courses available is the option for pupils to complete coursework. For schools, coursework allows pupils the opportunity to practise their skills in drafting, analysis, and creativity. At Kensington Park School, we champion imaginative thinking and academic excellence, evident in our Creative Hub, where our theatre, art studio and IT facilities sit at the heart of the school. Coursework allows for pupils to shine in these areas, as they can demonstrate their independent learning and creative potential. Equally, it is an element of the IGCSE course which prepares pupils for their later education, as A-Level and university courses will both demand coursework style tasks. I have watched pupils engage passionately with coursework essays, genuinely considering their planning and construction carefully in order to create work that accurately reflects their ability. They enjoy the process, because they understand the purpose for it. After all, our focus as educators is to prepare our pupils for their future, and limiting them to an exam-only route arguably does not do this. In a more modern education system, we need to be moving back towards an IGCSE system, where flexibility allows teachers to more readily adapt their curriculum and teaching choices to fit the students they care for.

Furthermore, an exam-only route in a handful of subjects may be suitable for a pupil, but if they are limited to this option in all of their subjects, they can be left facing 20 or so examinations in the summer, where all their hard work over two years is judged over a period of two or three weeks. This does not seem fair, and it puts an intolerable amount of pressure on the pupils in this system. Many teachers have marked a mock paper that has been disappointing when compared to their expectations of a student and their work. We have used excuses, such as the pupil must have had an off day, but if this happens on the day of their real exam, we risk students achieving poor grades that do not reflect their true ability. The modular approach of the IGCSE allows for pupils to complete aspects of the course prior to their final examination, removing some of this pressure. Coursework gives students the opportunity to walk into the exam knowing that they have already achieved a specific percentage in their subject, building their confidence and managing their expectations. Equally, teachers have an accurate working grade as a result of their coursework, which the teachers at Kensington Park School use to differentiate and adapt their teaching throughout the year. Predicted grades are grounded in more clear evidence, and data examined by staff to inform their practice is more accurate and usable.

In summary, alongside the more practical benefits of coursework, it is undoubtedly the case that schools have a duty of care to consider the mental health and wellbeing of their students. Arguably an exam-only route for assessment creates a more pressurised environment for pupils, and it can feel like a one-size-fits-all structure that does not benefit all pupils for whom we care.We believe that an excellent education should be grounded in variety, choice, and outstanding opportunities, not limitations. A diverse range of curriculum options and routes allows schools to create an exceptional education, and the modular approach of the IGCSE is focused on just this.