What is the IGCSE Curriculum?

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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.