Interested in an alternative to GCSEs? | Pearson qualifications

Interested in the Edexcel Certificate or revised International GCSEs?

4 July 2013

An alternative to GCSE

The Edexcel Certificate and our revised International GCSEs in French, German, Spanish and Chinese offer an alternative to GCSE qualifications and are becoming increasingly popular in a range of centres both in the UK and internationally. Introduced for first teaching from September 2012, they will be awarded for the first time in summer 2014.

For some teachers, the fact that these qualifications are 100% examined and don't involve any controlled assessment may be a sufficient reason to switch. The following features also add to the appeal of these qualifications:

  • single tier examination format 
  • equal weightings (25% per skill)
  • target-language questions
  • five main topic areas and linked subtopics.

However, there are some important similarities to GCSE. The qualifications:

  • offer equal demand
  • are graded in the same way (A*-G)
  • share common lists of grammar/linguistic structures
  • offer a suitable progression route to A level
  • feature linear assessment.

To find out more about these qualifications, please visit the relevant language-specific Edexcel Certificate or International GCSE homepages:

Although the Edexcel Certificates and GCSEs are linked to Levels 1 and 2 of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), the nature of assessment is different. Some learners may prefer taking exams, while others may prefer controlled assessment. The Edexcel Certificate and International GCSEs require a broad coverage of five main topics across all skill areas and offer less control of assessment content. There is, for example, no facility to link language study to centre-devised themes.

Please also refer to the chart comparing the Edexcel Certificates and latest GCSEs.

Comprehensive support

On the qualification homepages, you can download the specification, sample assessment materials and linked sound files. Other website-based support includes:

  • teacher guides
  • minimum-core vocabularies
  • Examples of student work and examiner commentaries
  • schemes of work

The specifications include sections on suggested resources and instructions for the conduct of the exams which is particularly useful for the speaking unit. New Edexcel endorsed resources from Hodder Education have been produced for International GCSEs and The Edexcel Certificate in French and Spanish.

Training opportunities for these qualifications continue to be offered and new language-specific sessions are also planned for the 2013 autumn term. More information about the sessions will soon be available in the Training from Pearson area of our website.

Differences between International GCSE and The Edexcel Certificate

The Edexcel Certificate in French, German, Spanish and Chinese mirror the content and format of the revised International GCSE qualifications, although only the Edexcel Certificate is Ofqual accredited. The Edexcel Certificate is also included in KS4 headline reporting measures and contribute to the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc).

Centres in England can offer the Edexcel Certificate but International centres can only enter candidates for International GCSE.

Independent schools in the UK and International GCSEs

Independent centres in the UK can still offer the International GCSE qualifications if they wish but these qualifications do not feature in KS4 headline measures reporting. Consideration should be given to offering the Edexcel Certificate as this is Ofqual accredited, included in KS4 headline reporting measures and contributes to the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc).

State schools in England and International GCSEs

Unlike international and independent schools, state schools need to follow the requirements of the Programme of Study for KS4, therefore the content of the certificate has to be accredited by Ofqual. Ofqual will not accredit International GCSEs.

Latest qualifications and previous International GCSEs

If you're familiar with the legacy Edexcel International GCSEs in French, German, Spanish and Chinese, you will find that the overall 'flavour' of the papers and task-types remains the same. Nevertheless, it is important to note that significant changes have been made to the specification. These include a compulsory speaking unit and a longer listening paper (ten minutes longer with 50 marks). Another important change has been made to the reading test to ensure that no target-language response will have marks allocated for the 'knowledge and application of language' (as used to occur in Paper 2, Section B - Part 2). This offers candidates fair assessment and means that students will not be penalised for the level of their target-language ‘writing’ within a ‘reading’ assessment. There has been positive teacher feedback on this.

Please also refer to the chart comparing the old and new International GCSEs.

You may also find the following FAQs of interest:


Why is the oral unit now compulsory in the revised International GCSEs in French, German, Spanish and Chinese?

The move to a mandatory oral exam within these qualifications reflects the increased popularity of the oral unit in international and UK centres.

What will be written on the certificate for the Edexcel Certificate. Will they refer specifically to Level 1 or Level 2?

Just like GCSEs which are also mapped to Levels 1 and 2 of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), the Edexcel Certificate will be awarded with grades from A* to G. The certificates issued will refer to the overall grade of the qualification and will not signpost the specific NQF level achieved.

Are there any past papers?

The latest qualifications will be awarded for the first time in summer 2014 so there are no past papers as of yet. However, sample assessment materials have been produced and these are accompanied by mark schemes and sound files.

You may also refer to past papers from the International GCSE French, German, Spanish and Chinese 2009 homepages (first award 2011) as these have some similarities in terms of content.

How do the grade boundaries work for the Edexcel Certificate and International GCSEs?

Please see the following notice. This appears on each of the language-specific Edexcel Certificate and revised International GCSE (2011) homepages.

Are there other schools in my area already offering these qualifications?

Some centres have started, or are about to start delivering our latest International GCSEs or Edexcel Certificate. Although we cannot give out centre information, teachers wishing to share their experience and/or resources can now do so by contributing to the following buddy post on the Languages Community forum.

Can our students take an International GCSE or Edexcel Certificate as well as a GCSE in the same language?

Undertaking an International GCSE or Edexcel Certificate as well as a GCSE in the same language is not considered to be a 'forbidden combination'. It should, therefore, be possible for a student to undertake both a GCSE and an Edexcel Certificate in one or more of these languages. You should, however, consider the impact of the increased assessment load on students and potential for exam timetable clashes.

The performance from only one of the qualifications (Edexcel Certificate or GCSE in German) can feature in KS4 headline measures reporting.

How do I register?

In terms of entering your students for these qualifications, entries will need to be made by 20 March in the year that the exams take place. If you are opting for the Edexcel Certificate, please register your interest.

Can we practise picture-based discussions with students in advance of the examination (for example, in a mock exam?)

Students must not practise their picture-based discussions with a teacher or teaching assistant at their school if using the same picture that has been chosen for their examination. They may, however, use a different picture for general preparation to become more familiar with the nature of this task-type.

The pictures used for practice and the ones used in the live examination can still relate to the same topic but must be sufficiently different to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by producing too much language that has been overly rehearsed and may lack inspiration. Examiners will expect students to demonstrate an ability to interact effectively with the teacher/interlocutor.

In preparation for the live examination, students are free to refer back to any practice tests and revisit some of this language, and then predict the sort of questions that they may be asked in the examination.

In terms of the questions that you ask during general preparation, there is no prescription but students must not know in advance of their examination the exact questions that they will be asked (although it is possble that they may 'second guess' some of these).

Are students penalised if they exceed the word limits in the writing tasks?

Students should write about 50 words (50 Chinese characters) for the first task and about 150 words (100-150 Chinese characters) for the second task. Students are not automatically penalised if they go beyond this and all written work will be marked. Students must be careful how much time they decide to spend on the writing tasks in the Reading and Writing paper so that they allocate sufficient time for the reading comprehension exercises. There is no need to go beyond the word limit which, for some students, could be self penalising on the basis that the potential for mistakes increases when more content is produced.


Are you sure you want to exit this session?