What is the IGCSE Curriculum?

Looking for more information on IGCSEs? This article covers what the IGCSE curriculum is and all the benefits of gaining this reputable qualification.

As your children reach their mid-teenage years, both they and you as parents have incredibly important decisions to make. The qualifications they gain at this stage of their educational pathway will play a vital role in mapping out their journey through higher education. Among the potential pathways is the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, or IGCSE. This guide covers what the IGCSE Curriculum is, including information on the syllabus, exam boards and the benefits of the qualification. 

An Introduction to the IGCSE

The International General Certificate of Secondary Education is a set of examinations and qualifications designed for 14 to 16-year-olds, although they can be taken at any age. Borne out of the GCSE used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the IGCSE now also offers first language qualifications in a range of world languages.

The IGCSE syllabus covers a wide variety of subjects, with no limits on the number of qualifications they may achieve. Normally, a student will study each subject over a two-year period before undertaking examinations and assessments when their proficiency around what they have learned is graded. However, there is no time limit on how long a student needs to study before taking exams.

The way students are graded varies depending on the exam board. Many pupils are now graded on a 9 to 1 system, with Level 9 being the highest-level achievement, down to the lowest level, Level 1. In many of the examinations, there are two tiers of exams. The higher and lower-tier system is designed to ensure IGCSEs are attainable for all levels of ability. Teachers can enter children into either tier in advance of examinations.

IGCSE Examination Boards

There are three IGCSE exam boards that offer a different version of the qualification:

Cambridge IGCSE

First taught in 1986 (in line with the introduction of GCSEs in the UK) the Cambridge IGCSE is developed by Cambridge Assessment International Education. Part of the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge IGCSE offers over 70 subjects.

Aside from core subjects such as Mathematics, Sciences and English, there are a variety of other subjects touching the humanities, business, and 30 languages.

Find out more about the Cambridge IGCSE exam board here.

Edexcel International GCSE

Created by the University of London, Edexcel was formed as an educational body in 1996. An Edexcel IGCSE certification can be attained across 37 subjects. Their exams are also set across schools in the UK, closely aligning their IGCSE programme with students studying in the UK.

Oxford AQA International GCSE

Like the Cambridge and Edexcel IGCSE qualifications, the Oxford AQA International GCSE is recognised worldwide as an equivalent to those in the UK. The qualifications were created by academic awarding body AQA and Oxford University Press.

Find out more about the Oxford AQA International GCSE exam board here.

The IGCSE Curriculum

The IGCSE syllabus on offer may differ depending on the examination board and school. Use the links above to browse the subjects on offer from each exam board. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the core subjects that students study in the IGCSE curriculum.

A student’s IGCSE curriculum will vary considerably depending on the school in question and who has the autonomy to structure their individual curricula. Cambridge Assessment International Education, an examination provider of the IGCSE qualification, break down their subjects into the following subject groups, giving an example of what could be on offer:

Examples: Art & Design, Business Studies, Information and

Examples: English – First Language, English as a Second

Examples: Geography, History, Sociology

Examples: French, Spanish, Chinese (all as first or foreign languages)

Examples: Mathematics, Additional Mathematics

Examples: Biology, Chemistry, Physics

In the UK, the majority of students with GCSE qualifications will progress to study A-Levels, where they will normally specialise in three or four subjects. Alongside several new subjects, many of the subjects available to students will be ones they have already studied during their GCSEs.  

As the Cambridge International GCSE curriculum states, IGCSEs also focus on broader intellectual pursuits such as:

Benefits of the IGCSE

Recognising its value is important when questioning what the IGCSE curriculum is. IGCSEs prime children for the best possible academic future. Here are some of the benefits of the qualification:

1. Gain respected qualifications

Your child will benefit from one of the most respected academic qualifications in the world. Thanks to the Lisbon Recognition Convention, IGCSEs are accepted as worthy qualifications in many countries around the world. The convention ensures that qualifications gained in one country are regarded as equal to the equivalent qualification in the member states, which allows a student to further their education in another country within the Lisbon Recognition Convention.  

This is a sign of the respect that IGCSEs command and is signed by 45 of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, alongside countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

2. Accessible for all levels of education

IGCSEs have benefits for children of all ages and abilities. They’re an opportunity for every child to gain meaningful qualifications that act as a launchpad for their educational future.
Check with your exam board to find out what options are available for your child. Some subjects, but not all, adopt a two-tiered structure, allowing your child to sit an exam that aligns with their academic skills.

3. Lay the foundations for the International Baccalaureate Diploma

IGCSEs are an essential part of the academic process. With a collection of respected qualifications, a variety of exciting opportunities await your child. Aside from being a great pathway for studying A-Levels, many students who attain IGCSEs go on to study the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (commonly known as the IBDP), although it is not a requirement unless the school in question specifies.  

4. Learn valuable life skills

The IGCSE curriculum works hard to ensure that students aren’t merely memorising a list of facts to pass their exams. The intention is to develop an enthusiasm for intellectual inquiry – an indispensable skill required for further education.

In this article, we’ve covered what the IGCSE curriculum is and the benefits of attending a school that offers this qualification. Nord Anglia Education provides the IGCSE curriculum in many of our outstanding schools. Head to our schools page to learn more about the academic opportunities available with Nord Anglia Education.   


Heading: The Chinese Curriculum


Meta Title: The Chinese Curriculum | Nord Anglia Education

Meta Description: Find out about the Chinese curriculum, including its history, subjects and standards, with Nord Anglia Education.


Content: The Chinese National Curriculum is a comprehensive syllabus that Chinese students study throughout primary school (six years), lower secondary school (three years), and senior secondary school (three years). By law, every child must study for nine years of compulsory education, which equates to primary school and lower secondary school. 

Since 1988, the Ministry of Education in China has approved various resources and texts so that the standardised curriculum has become more dynamic and flexible. There remains a focus on studying for various exams, which are the Zhongkao (senior secondary school entrance exams), Huikao (senior secondary school graduation exams), and Gaokao (national college entrance exams). However, ongoing curriculum reform has recently placed more and more emphasis on holistic learning.

What is the National Curriculum in China?

The Chinese National Curriculum covers primary, lower secondary and senior secondary school, and is split into eight “learning domains”, which are as follows:

  1. Language and Literature
  2. Mathematics
  3. Natural Science
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Arts
  6. Technology
  7. Physical Education 
  8. A Practicum (Specialised Course)

An interdisciplinary programme, the Chinese National Curriculum encourages an enriching, cross-curricular approach that aims to develop inquisitive thinkers rather than solely preparing students for the examination process. While exams remain an important aspect of Chinese education and progression, most schools now appreciate the need to help students develop into more rounded citizens.

Chinese educational standards and competition for the best senior secondary schools and universities remain high, but the focus has shifted to a more student-centric approach. Pupils are taught to become critical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than simply rote learners for the purpose of passing exams. This ultimately leads to higher-performing students.

Much of this reform in recent years has been pioneered in Shanghai, with the Shanghai National Curriculum, where schools are also currently implementing a new set of eight core competencies developed by the United Nations Education Committee. These are:

  1. Social Responsibility
  2. Civic Pride
  3.  International Awareness
  4. Culture and Humanity
  5. Science and Technology
  6. Aesthetics
  7. Innovations
  8. Learning to Learn

With the standardised curriculum becoming more variable and diverse, the following are practical examples of what the Chinese National Curriculum looks like in the context of primary school, lower secondary school, and senior secondary school at Nord Anglia Chinese International School Shanghai.

Primary School Chinese Curriculum

Following basic, pre-school education (also known as kindergarten) that normally spans three years, students begin primary school (also known as elementary school), where the focus is on supporting pupils’ academic development and progression in a supportive environment.

Children studying the primary school Chinese National Curriculum in the bilingual environment at Nord Anglia Chinese International School Shanghai are taught the following subjects:

Chinese Studies, which covers Language, Literature and Culture, is taught in Chinese, while English Language and Literature are taught in English. The Mathematics and STEAM elements of the curriculum are a bespoke combination of the Shanghai National Curriculum and related courses from other bilingual curricula.
The school’s primary students are assessed according to the Chinese National Curriculum and complimentary bilingual curricula, which means the standards can be measured against both Chinese and international students around the world.  

Lower and Senior Secondary School Chinese Curriculum

Secondary school in China is split into lower and senior levels. Lower secondary school students study towards the Zhongkao senior secondary school entry exam, while senior secondary school students study towards the Huikao senior secondary school graduation exam and Gaokao college entry exam.

At Nord Anglia Chinese International School Shanghai, students follow the secondary school Chinese National Curriculum, blended with international curricula, educational philosophy and teaching. Our pupils are taught the following subjects in addition to those studied at primary level:

Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics are taught in English and Chinese, with the added option to study a further Modern Foreign Language at this level where appropriate.

Lower secondary students study in preparation for the Zhongkao exam, as part of the Shanghai National Curriculum.

The Chinese National Curriculum at Nord Anglia Schools

The Chinese National Curriculum is taught at all six of our bilingual schools in China. We offer a progressive blend of the Chinese National Curriculum and other leading international curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, which is taught to students aged 16 to 18-years-old.
We combine the best of Chinese and international teaching methods and learning styles to provide a bespoke curriculum that is delivered across our outstanding, state-of-the-art campuses by our expert team of experienced, dedicated teaching staff. All of our Chinese bilingual schools accommodate both day and boarding students aged 6 to 18-years-old.

For more information about each school and their curricula, please visit their websites: