Taken in the last two years of UK secondary school (ages 14-to-16), GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) are UK academic qualifications awarded in specific subjects and education to this level is often needed should students, whether domestic or international, wish to progress onto GCE Advanced Level (A-levels) or the International Baccalaureate.
While international students can opt to enter a standard two-year GCSE course, some UK independent schools now offer the more flexible, one-year intensive version that prepares students for the rigours of further studies within a shorter timeframe.
“We have been offering the one-year GCSE option for more than five years,” relates Hazel Ormrod, Admissions and Marketing Manager at Padworth College, Reading. She adds that it has been of great benefit to international students who need a pre A-level year to improve their English.
Steve Jandrell, Principal at Queen Ethelburga’s in York, meanwhile, advises that the college introduced the intensive programme three years ago after they noticed a gap in their academic provision. “We had students who were too old for two-year GCSE but not strong enough academically for A-level,” he observes. “The pace is quick and makes very good preparation for A-level,” he adds.
Wellington School, an independent day and boarding school in Somerset, also picks up on this concept of “bridging the gap”. School Registrar, Carol Loftus Owen, relates that the intensity of the course has seen students transition into Sixth Form far more seamlessly. “Students’ English is so much better,” she affirms. In fact, 94 per cent of students enrolled on the one-year GCSE course in the 2009/10 academic year achieved grades A* to C. All were offered a place in their Sixth Form college, she adds.
Taught intensively over three terms, students who already have a good grasp of the English language most schools require students possess Ielts 5.0 or above before enrolling on the course can sit up to eight or nine different subjects at a time. And while Maths, English (as a first or second language depending on ability) and core sciences are compulsory students can also elect to take an array of different subjects including Art, Business Studies, Economics and even Astronomy. Students can also take a GCSE in their own language if available.
Classes typically comprise fellow international students, although Ormrod points out that the programme is open to UK domestic students too usually those who have transferred from another UK-based school. There are plenty of opportunities for overseas pupils to integrate with their domestic counterparts, however, whether that be during school organised activities, educational trips or in boarding houses.
Class sizes are kept to a minimum. At Wellington, for example, these are capped at 15 students per class, so teaching staff can provide each student with adequate individual attention. Additional language support may be required, but Ormrod notes that this has already been factored into the programme itself. “The one-year GCSE may differ from other programmes in that English language support is built into every student’s programme at no extra cost as we believe this to be an essential element of every non-native speaker’s timetable,” she says.
At Rochester Independent College in Kent, students can enrol on a preparatory summer English course to help get them up to speed prior to course commencement. Co Principal, Alistair Brownlow, adds that it is common that international students join their one-year GCSE course directly from international schools, including those where they have been following iGCSEs or the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme in Year 10 (ages 14-to-15).
According to Loftus Owen this course has been very popular with German students. She expounds that recent changes to the German high school system, whereby the length of secondary schooling was shortened by a year, has led to students now applying to UK schools for Year 11 rather than the Sixth Form. She explains, “The problem with Year 11 is that it is the second year of the GCSE course and is an examination year hence not really suitable for anyone to join, let alone an international student. So we were left with the decision of whether to place these German students in the Lower Sixth when they are really too young or admit them into Year 10 where they will be older than the rest of that year group. The one-year GCSE course in Year 11 provides the ideal solution.” Aside from Germans, the school also welcomed students from China, Russia and the Ukraine last year.
What is clear is that demand appears to be on the rise. “Enquiries have increased as the course has become established,” relates Jandrell, while Loftus Owen informs that they had to turn down applications last year after reaching their quota.
Advisor viewpoint Dagmar Kobbe, Petr Heinemann Internationale Schulberatung, Germany
“One-year GCSE courses are requested by our clients, especially those who plan to stay for two more years for the IB. It’s a good alternative for students who have to pass some iGCSE’s because German schools might request these. To stay at a British school that does not offer such a course, it is quite hard to stay for three terms in Year 11, because British students will take their GCSE exams in term three and German students might feel left alone with their individual needs. They are not really prepared for the study or study leave. That’s the reason why many boarding schools don’t offer a three-term stay in Year 11, although the German education system requires them to send students abroad in this grade. But we see one disadvantage as well. As most one-year GCSE courses are designed for IB programmes, you will find a huge number of German students on these courses so there are still quite a number of German families who prefer a traditional A-level school with less Germans. We also feel that one-year courses are ideal for strong students who really aren’t afraid of taking exams.”