IGCSEs do not advantage privately educated students – HMC director

Responding to an article in Tes, Mike Buchanan said the difference between IGCSEs and GCSES was negligible and balanced out by contextual admissions

The executive director of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), Mike Buchanan, has dismissed claims independent school students have an advantage with university admissions because of IGCSEs.

“Heads of HMC schools choose qualifications based on those which will best enhance the education provided to their pupils and not whether they might provide some competitive advantage to their pupils over others,” Buchanan said.

The article in Tes claimed half of Russell Group universities have lower entry requirements for IGCSE candidates than GCSE candidates.


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IGCSE is an alternate key stage 4 qualification provided by a number of exam boards.

Although all students are allowed to sit IGCSEs, few state schools enter their students for the qualifications because the results are excluded from state school performance tables. Last year, independent school students made up 75% of entrants to IGCSEs.

To get into the courses mentioned in the article, the A-level requirement is at least ABB so the chances of these students achieving the required grades at GCSE is very high

Some IGCSE courses are graded from 1 to 9 – in line with GCSE courses – but some use eight grades from A*-G. This inconsistency means the grades are not directly comparable, which some say bolster the chances of IGCSE students in qualifying for A-levels and degree courses.

Responding to the piece, Buchanan described the argument as “theoretical exceptions rather than the norm”.

He said: “The article also fails to provide any information as to how many, if any, students have been affected by this theoretical possibility. The numbers affected are likely to be very small if they exist at all i.e. an applicant being preferred over someone else with the same A-level grades but differentiated only in their GCSE/IGCSE attainment at grade 4 or C.

“The majority of university courses require a 4 or C grade at GCSE for English and maths. The lower boundary of a C grade is equivalent to a 4. The article fails to mention that applicants from state and independent schools in Wales and Northern Ireland apply to university with A*-G grading.

“To get into the courses mentioned in the article, the A-level requirement is at least ABB so the chances of these students achieving the required grades at GCSE is very high.”

Buchanan also said contextual admissions help to bolster the chances of students from state educated students in applying for university.