International GCSE comparability | Pearson qualifications

International GCSE comparability

26 March 2019

Pearson’s international GCSE is developed, designed and benchmarked to be of equivalent standard to our GCSE 9-1 qualification regulated by Ofqual.

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To ensure comparability of demand we use a consistent approach with integrated, expert qualification teams and we have led the way in moving our international qualifications to the new 9-1 grading structure. Our customers can be assured that Pearson’s international GCSEs provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully progress into further education or employment. See our letter to the Education Committee.

Robert Halfon MP
Chair Education Select Committee
House of Commons

Re: International GCSE comparability 

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Dear Mr Halfon,

I am writing to respond to a number of issues raised at the Education Select Committee’s recent accountability hearing (12 March), where Ofqual were providing evidence to your Committee.  As was made clear during the session, Ofqual does not regulate international GCSEs and could not respond to all of the statements made during the session.   As a provider of international GCSEs, we write to respond directly to each of the points raised.  Please also see our detailed response to each of these issues in the annex attached to this letter.   

International GCSEs are provided by both Cambridge Assessment and Pearson. Pearson Education Ltd as a single Awarding Organisation is the provider of both the Pearson Edexcel (England) GCSE 9-1s and Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs.  We use common teams and processes across both to ensure comparability between the two. Cambridge Assessment owns Cambridge Assessment International Education which provides iGCSEs under trademark.

Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs have content and assessment developed specifically for international learners and are distinct but similar qualifications to the GCSE (9-1) which are regulated by Ofqual. Designed to be engaging, internationally appropriate and of equivalent standard to the GCSE, Pearson’s international GCSEs provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully progress to A Levels, onto university and into employment.  We are confident in the comparability of standards between the qualifications and would take prompt action should we find evidence to the contrary.

Although these qualifications are designed for international learners, they can also be taken by independent centres in the UK who are funded privately and free to select whichever curriculum is most suited to their students, including international curricula.  Pearson has recently significantly reformed our international GCSEs and, in 2018 we issued the first results in English subjects and Mathematics.

The reform of England’s GCSE (9-1) suite of qualifications coincided with the timing of our redevelopment of the Pearson Edexcel International GCSE qualifications so that we could make a deliberate effort to align the skills assessed and content covered between them.  The new 9–1 grading scale was used for the five new Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs (English Language A & B, English Literature, Mathematics A & B) in Summer 2018.  In Summer 2019 there will be a further 36 awards for Pearson Edexcel International GCSEs using the new 9-1 grading scale.

The demand of a qualification is a product of:

  • The content that students learn (we benchmarked the content of Pearson’s reformed International GCSE to the content of the reformed GCSE 9-1)
  • The demand of the question papers that students sit (we benchmark the difficulty of the question papers across the International GCSE to the GCSE 9-1)
  • The standards applied to the marking of student responses (we benchmarked the assessment criteria across the International GCSE to the GCSE 9-1)
  • The position of the grade boundaries (we set grade boundaries for International GCSE using a comparable outcomes approach and the same formula for grade 9 that is used for the GCSE 9-1)

We heard some statements that considered only the percentage of students that achieve a particular grade and then used this as a proxy for the level of demand or difficulty of the qualification.  The proportion of students that achieve each grade is a product of the number of students that sat the qualification, the different aspects of demand described above, together with how well students have been prepared for the assessment.  The cohort taking Pearson’s international GCSEs is not a representative sample to make a simple like for like comparison with the national cohort taking the GCSE 9-1. 

We are confident in the comparable standards for these International Qualifications and students taking them are usually progressing to A Levels, which require them to be adequately prepared. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can provide any further information or clarification on this.

I have also sent a copy of this letter to Ofqual and the Department for Education.

Yours sincerely,

Derek Richardson

Vice President, Senior Responsible Officer


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