International British
Online School

International British Online School

Providing an outstanding, traditional education online from the heart of London

All about iGCSE and iALs


All about iGCSE and iALs

All about international qualifications: iGCSEs and iALs

What’s the ‘i’ stand for? No, not internet or anything to do with Apple!

Being an international school iBOS offers our older students i(nternational) GCSE’s and A levels. How are these different from the UK exams? This article will explain all.

First, a bit of background information for those unfamiliar with the UK educational system. GCSE stands for General Certificates of Secondary Education. They were introduced in 1988 and are taken by students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in year 11. They replaced two previous qualifications, the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) and General Certificate of Education O-level. A-levels, or General Certificate of Education A(dvanced) level are older, dating back to 1951 and are taken by students in year 13. They are standardised so all students take the same exams each year, which are set by one of the independent exam boards. This is in contrast to systems such as the US, where high schools award their own diplomas.

Both are two-year coursed, with GCSE’s the main qualification taken by students at 16 who would then progress to either A-levels, vocational courses or employment. All students have to take English, Maths and Science, with other subjects chosen based on their interests. Typically, this results in between 7 and 10 qualifications. A-levels on the other hand are more in-depth courses to prepare students for higher education. Typically, a student will study 3 or 4 subjects, the combination of which depends on their career plans. For example, a student wishing to pursue a degree in Engineering may choose Maths, Chemistry, Further Maths and Physics, while someone who wants to study Law may do English, Law, History and Politics.

With the most recent changes to the UK National Curriculum, they are both linear courses with the final grade based on the exams taken at the end of the two years, although some have a small coursework element as well.

So, what about the international versions? iGCSE’s were first developed by University of Cambridge International Exams. Since then, the other exam boards have launched their own versions. They were initially offered mainly by international schools for expats. However, as considered to be more rigorous than the standard GCSE a number of independent schools in the UK started offering them as well. Since the 2017 changes to GCSE’s they are now considered comparable and are recognised by intuitions all over the world. The main advantage they have over the standard GCSE is the flexibility they offer to students who frequently change residence, as well as the preparation they give students for further study post 16.

At iBOS, we offer a wide range of iGCSE subjects from Pearson Edexcel, who also administer our iAL qualifications.

International A levels have a similar relationship to A levels but have a number of differences that makes them preferable for our students. To begin with, they are entirely exam based, this gives more flexibility for our distance learners. This is especially true for students studying sciences, which have no practical requirement.

They are also modular and can be ‘cashed out’ early to give the student an AS award if they feel they do not wish to continue to study for the full A level. In addition, the exams can be sat in earlier in November and January, unlike UK A levels where all exams are taken at the end of the two years. This means students can take some exams sooner if they are ready and reduce the pressure at the end of year 13, as well as giving them the option to resit if they feel they can improve their score. Alternatively, students can sit all their exams at the end of their studies if this suits them better.

Finally, they are also recognised as fully equivalent to UK A levels are widely accepted by Universities and Colleges worldwide.

In Summary, then the international GCSE and A levels that iBOS offers have the same recognition status as the UK qualifications but a number of advantages that makes them better suited for online learning. At iBOS, we are continuously improving our curriculum offer and expanding the subjects we offer to prepare our students for their adult lives. 

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