Memorandum submitted by University of Cambridge International Examinations


1. Introduction


1. University of Cambridge International Examinations is the world's largest provider of international examinations for 14-19 year olds. Many Awarding Bodies around the world offer home examinations to ex-pat students or to those preparing for higher education in that country (for example, there are mechanisms for taking the American High School Diploma, the Class 10 examination from India) but University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) is unique in that its core mission is to develop international models of UK-referenced qualifications. The IGCSE and International AS and A Levels (and the International O Level) are not the same as their UK equivalents but are designed to offer international provision within a familiar framework, benchmarked to well-regarded UK educational standards.


2. We have confined our evidence submission to the Committee's question for which we felt best qualified to provide information in relation to - What other Systems of Assessment are in place both internationally and across the UK?


3. Our Evidence will focus on two different Systems of Assessment: IGCSE which is available in 125 countries, including the UK; and the system in Singapore into which CIE has had, and continues to have, significant input.


4. Of the qualifications offered internationally by CIE, the Cambridge IGCSE is the most popular and the most widely taken. It is a good example of a successful UK qualification that has been internationalised for use by students around the world and also adopted in 'localised' forms by overseas governments looking to develop educational systems of quality and rigour. It has proved a powerful instrument in educational reform agendas around the world. The positive educational experiences provided by the IGCSE may be considered to make students more likely to continue association with the UK, with some progressing to UK Further and Higher education.

5. The nature of CIE's core mission is such that not only does it offer international qualifications that reflect those developed in the UK, but it also possesses the reach and expertise to enable overseas governments to develop national systems that are in turn based on UK best practice. Our work in Singapore exemplifies this. This extends the influence of UK educational development well beyond the learning goals of individual students and makes a significant contribution to UK training and education export levels, impact and public diplomacy.

2. The Cambridge IGCSE

6. The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is provided by University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), the international arm of the Cambridge Assessment Group. Designed as a two-year curriculum for 14-16 year olds, IGCSE was examined for the first time in 1988, the same year in which GCSE was first assessed in the UK.


7. Since its introduction, IGCSE has grown solidly so that there are now almost 400,000 entries per year. Growth in each of the last five years has been particularly strong, echoing a world-wide expansion in international schools estimated to be in the region of 12 - 15%.[1]

8. Countries showing double digit growth in Cambridge IGCSE entries from 2005 -6 to 2006-07 include:




Entry Growth Rate 2005-06/2006-07











New Zealand


United Arab Emirates



9. Of the countries instanced above, the circumstances in which the Cambridge IGCSE is taken differ significantly. In China, India and the UAE, the Cambridge IGCSE is taken in non-maintained schools, often required to admit a minimum percentage of non-native children as a condition of their license to operate. In Indonesia, the USA and NZ the majority of schools offering the IGCSE are state-maintained schools who have introduced the qualification to provide diversity and 'internationalism' in the national educational system. In each of these countries public funding is available for schools using the Cambridge IGCSE. In the UK, although the majority of recent interest in the IGCSE has been from the independent sector, this has not been exclusively so. Some public funding may, in exceptional circumstances, be offered under the Power to Innovate legislation.


10. A small example of the way in which the Cambridge IGCSE has a positive impact on educational standards may be drawn from the USA where IGCSE is recognised for public-funding in a number of States.


The 'No Child Left Behind' Act presented new demands for accountability on high schools. Brentsville District High School (BDHS), adopted the Cambridge IGCSE. In 1999, BDHS was an average high school, as measured by state assessment criteria. In the words of the Brentsville then Principal Michael Mulgrew: "We looked at CIE's IGCSE curriculum, especially the extended curriculum, and recognized that if our students could meet the rigours of the IGCSE curricula, then they would have no trouble meeting any of the demands detailed by the State of Virginia.

'Each year, we have infused more "extended" type questions into our teaching and assessments for all of our students, not just those who are college-bound. All of our students are now expected to do higher-level problem solving. As a result of the school's change in academic expectations, our students are no longer required just to "know" the learning objective, but they are expected to "master" the objective."

12. The results of adopting the CIE curriculum have been significant and immediate. For example:

In 2002, Virginia recognised Brentsville for its outstanding improvement on the state tests, sending a delegation the following year to analyse the factors for the significant improvement.

In 2004, the United States Department of Education presented BDHS with the prestigious 'No Child Left Behind - Blue Ribbon Award'.


13. The impact of the Cambridge IGCSE goes well beyond the benefit for individual learners and quality improvements in individual schools. It has also been of significant use in developing and extending quality education and examination systems. Four countries in Southern Africa, and the Bahamas, have either completed, or are in the process of completing, education development based upon the Cambridge IGCSE, producing the Bahamas GCSE, the Botswana GCSE, the Namibian GCSE (now known as the Namibian Senior Certificate). Lesotho and Swaziland are in the early stages of such development; plans to develop a similar system in Zimbabwe were aborted following Robert Mugabe's ban on government links with University of Cambridge International Examinations[2].


A review of CIE's collaboration with Namibia provides a good example of the pattern of development.

14. In1993 the government in Namibia began a dialogue with Cambridge, mediated through DFID, to use the IGCSE to provide a framework around which a Namibian curriculum and assessments would be developed. The government made clear from the outset that their goal was to produce a local variant of the IGCSE which effectively combined UK and Cambridge best practice in an educational system fully appropriate to Namibia.


15. The inclusive philosophy of the IGCSE offering a common curriculum with tiered papers targeted to student ability, successfully addressed issues of access in the expanding secondary education of Namibia. Some subjects such as Mathematics and the Sciences have been developed with close links to their international equivalents. Others such as local language (Oshikwanyama, Oshindonga, Silozi, etc.) and literature provision and a range of technical courses have been fully designed for the local context.


16. Namibia will offer its own examination for the first time in November 2007 but will retain international benchmarking from Cambridge in a way which puts UK education at the heart of a global enterprise.


17. In all, 29 Namibian syllabuses have been developed along IGCSE lines and 25 in Botswana. In the region of 5,000 local personnel will also have been trained by Cambridge over a 12 year period in the process of developing new educational systems.


18. These two examples, drawn from Namibia and the USA, raise the question of which features of the IGCSE prove most attractive internationally to schools and to policy-makers.


Aspects of IGCSE's Internationalism

19. The IGCSE is an international qualification. Its assessment standards are closely linked to the GCSE in the UK and universities and employers recognise grade for grade equivalency but it is a distinctive and alternative qualification with a clear international rationale for its syllabus specifications.


20. It provides:

curricular contextualisation with equal value being given to the national and local cultural perspective as to the international;

a recognition of workforce mobility in a global economy;

an internationalism of thought, fostering a concern for 'global' values and the traditions of other cultures alongside a concern for socio-cultural identity;

a secure and trans-national framework of assessment standards against which parameters of 'local' performance can be benchmarked.


IGCSE in the UK

21. The factors influencing schools' choice of IGCSE in the UK reflect those of schools and policy makers overseas. In particular syllabuses the strengths are seen as::


22. International Mathematics

The Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics is a distinctive syllabus although changes to the UK GCSE specifications will reduce aspects of difference in terms of the tiering of papers and the treatment of coursework.


The Cambridge IGCSE offers coursework in Mathematics but as an option. It is, in fact, an option little exercised by schools who seem to prefer the assessment approach of the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Paper 4 which assesses higher order mathematical skill in an innovative and unique way.


While it has been observed that the assessment is 'demanding'[3] because it offers stretch and challenge, young people all over the world do well in the examination. The grade distribution profile for June 2006 shows 29.6% of the cohort achieving either A/A* and 45.1% achieving grade B or better. Assessment objectives requiring 'organisation and a systematic approach from candidates'; and, in the Extended paper, an expectation that 'candidates choose their own strategies' in solving Mathematics problems have led universities and employers, both in the UK and overseas, to consider the IGCSE a very sound preparation for students.


Heritage Studies

The Cambridge IGCSE is committed to valuing cultural diversity. Syllabuses such as Pakistan Studies and Bangladesh Studies play an important part in validating a local culture for students and their parents. Schools in the UK have shown interest in both examples of Heritage Studies provision. They also add a strong global dimension to pupil learning as dispersed students sharing an interest in a common heritage join together. A new syllabus, IGCSE India Studies, is under current development by CIE in collaboration with national examination boards in Singapore and India, achieving a fusion of the concern for the 'local' within a framework of global collaboration.


24. English - Syllabus Choice

The Cambridge IGCSE recognises that not all students around the world speak English as a first language. The choice between IGCSE English as a First and as a Second Language enables schools to cater appropriately for their student cohort. Many providers in the UK have sought 'Power to Innovate' approval to offer IGCSE English as a Second Language to students to provide an assessment which is appropriate to the language level of some students, while retaining strong recognition by universities on a grade of grade equivalence for admission purposes.


The nature of international operation has resulted in clear and deliberate points of departure from English GCSE. While the QCA has adopted an integrative approach to the inclusion of texts in the language syllabus, the Cambridge IGCSE separates the assessment of Language from that of Literature. Schools, both internationally and in the UK, find this gives a real choice in specifications offered.


25. International Content

While the QCA requires the KS4 national curriculum to cover work from English literary heritage, from British History and the geography of the UK and Europe, the Cambridge IGCSE equivalents extend choice to encompass the assessment of world literature, international history and a less Euro-centric approach to geography.


What is more, the good news from the UK perspective - of a curriculum in which language learning is becoming less and less a part of KS4 experience - is that Cambridge IGCSE language courses offer linguistic development in more than 50 languages, expanding significantly the choice available to schools. The diversity does much to increase the attractiveness of the 14-16 Languages provision and offers non-native speakers of English in UK schools the opportunity to take first, second and foreign language assessments at levels appropriate to their abilities and interests.


Cambridge IGCSE language assessments are distinctive in that all rubrics and question paper instructions are presented in the target language. This does not so much constitute an added difficulty[4] as contribute strongly to levels of authenticity which make language learning motivating to young people. Indeed, the global nature of participation in Cambridge IGCSE languages underscores the value and purpose of language acquisition.



3. 2006 Education Reform in Singapore


26. One of the key countries in which Cambridge works is Singapore. The nature of the relationship is that setting and marking of assessments is carried out by Cambridge with certificates awarded jointly from the Ministry of Education, Singapore and University of Cambridge International Examinations.


27. Over the course of the last five years CIE has been involved in a process of educational reform in Singapore, driven by the Ministry of Education, and led by the Minister, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam.


28. The educational goals to be achieved in the reform process mirror many of those of the UK:

An education system that is more diverse - providing students with

greater choice to meet their different ways of learning;

A focus on 'young Singaporeans who ask questions ... willing to think in new ways, solve new problems, and create new opportunities ...';

A re-evaluation of the need and purpose of assessment at different stages in the life of a young person.

29. Prior to the wide-ranging 2006 educational reform, the secondary and Junior College[5] examinations taken in Singapore were for the most part identical to those offered internationally by CIE with the same reference back to UK frameworks and standards.


14 - 16 examinations

30. As with the UK, Singapore operates a 16+ examination designed to mark the end of compulsory schooling. However, students' different maturation rates is given institutional acknowledgement with differentiated provision for those following a 4 year 'fast track' programme to the examinations and for those pursuing the more normal five year course. An alternative assessment is provided for students who are 'less academically inclined' with opportunities to move across at key points of the curriculum.


31. As a result of education reform a non-examination route has been introduced into the secondary system. As from 2005, top performing students can be selected to follow an Integrated Programme. This is defined for "secondary school pupils who are clearly university-bound who can benefit from a less structured environment". Students on this programme do not take any examinations at 16 but instead 'engage in broader learning experiences to develop their capacities for creative and critical thinking, and leadership'[6]. It is important to note that this is not seen as an opportunity for clever pupils to fast track but instead as an opportunity to encourage a personalisation of student learning. Admission into an Integrated Programme is at age 12 or 14.


32. Post reform, all students' choices are wider than previously. Students can take the Cambridge IGCSE alongside the National Singapore examination. Applied learning opportunities are offered through collaboration with partner agencies such as the Polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education as well as the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre and IT training companies. A core curriculum remains compulsory but, in addition, students can access a range of new 'electives'. These courses and their assessment are specific and intended to broaden rather than replace a student's core curriculum. Typically such programmes are of 30 hours' duration and cover a range of topics such as digital animation and the design of gaming software, electronics, basic nursing and catering modules (for example, pastry making). The programmes are narrow but deep rather than being intended to provide a general introduction to an applied subject. Courses are designed less to provide what employers' need in the way of skills and more to motivate and encourage students, opening their eyes to the type of provision available to them post 16.


16 - 18 Examinations

33. The concern with encouraging critical thinking, problem solving and creativity led Singapore in the process of reform to ask CIE to develop post-16 syllabuses which were specifically designed to promote these skills.


34. The modular approach adopted in the structure of UK Curriculum 2000 A Levels was not considered to add value in the Singapore context.


35. The new post 16 curriculum in Singapore is a broad one: it requires that each student takes three subjects to a level that equates to A Level (Higher Level 2). One of these subjects should be in a contrasting discipline to the others. One subject (Higher Level 1) may be equivalent to half an A Level but is typically taken at the end of the second year. The defined curriculum also requires that, in a multi-ethnic society, students must continue with their mother tongue language to assessment at Higher Level 1. In addition a General English assessment must be taken post-16 to either Higher Levels 1 or 2.


36. A third level, Higher Level 3, provides the opportunity for able students to go beyond H2, and, in consequence, beyond the A Level standard. At H3 there is a range of examination-board provision, set and marked in Cambridge but there are also identified MoE partners (typically HE providers) in Singapore offering a range of curriculum and assessment options such as :


Social Sciences Research Programme

Science Research Programme

Managerial Economics


Literary Criticism

Contemporary Physics

Urban Land Use and Development

Molecular Genetics



37. Students operating at Level 3 have the opportunity to be assigned a mentor outside of the Junior College context who is able to monitor and steer a student's specialist learning.


38. A new assessment, Project Work, reflects Singapore's concern to encourage skills: team working and collaboration, research and independent learning and communication skills (oral presentation, report writing). Project work assessment involves both the assessment of process and of outcome. It forms a significant part of HE admission requirements.


39. Taken together the Singapore Certificate of Education requires the study of seven subjects over a two year period.


40. The design of the curriculum provides a rich model of international collaboration in which the Ministry of Education, Singapore was in the driving seat about the social and economic goals which would be achieved in the reform. Their partner of choice in the development was CIE in the Cambridge Assessment Group. In turn, CIE was able to draw on international and UK models of best practice in its advice to the Ministry of Education. The resulting curriculum and assessment looks set to continue Singapore's strong showing in global educational standards.



June 2007


[1] Council of International Schools Statistics.

[2] It says something for the demand for quality UK-referenced examinations that "unofficial" entries from Zimbabwe now amount to almost 25% of the volume attained during national operation in the country.

[3] QCA, 'GCSEs and IGCSEs Compared', Nov'06, page 56

[4] QCA, 'GCSEs and IGCSEs Compared', Nov'06, page 34

[5] Broadly equivalent to Sixth Form College in the UK and designed to meet the needs of approximately the top 25% of the cohort.