Thoughts on adopting IGCSE English.

This document might be of interest in the light of recent discussion about new examinations at age 16. The opinions are my own and I hope I did not misrepresent anyone in the writing of the article. My school opted for CIE at first, though we have moved to EDEXCEL for a variety of reasons. Both boards seem to have strong cases for adoption. Please feel free to contact me directly for more information.

Some time ago, I visited Perse Girls School, Cambridge, where I was hosted by Lizzie Mack, 2nd in English, who I had met on an IBSCA course in the spring. They were very open with their resources and suggestions and many interesting points were raised.

To start with a couple with cost and staffing implications:

• Resources.
The Perse school use the two IGCSE text books and swear by them for English Language. There is an English Language text book for staff use and a work book which contains exercises to be completed in the book which they require students to have.
Obviously there is a huge cost issue here, but we should probably consider buying in some of these and, assuming it is not illegal, copying or saving as PDF some/many of the exercises which can then be used as we require. A section on the VLE can be devoted to storage of these and they can become invaluable revision and late preparation aids. They are prohibitively expensive at anything between £15.00 a copy for the typical book and an astonishing £50 for a teacher book with CD rom.
There are other text books and given our lack of resources that relate to the actual format of the exam, we should look into them.

They use the anthology for the poetry though not for the prose and remind us that clean copies must be used in the exam. Whatever we feel about student/school purchase of core texts, we will need some in school which are, and remain clean for examination use.

CIE produce a CD of support materials which should be available to Jean as soon as we are recognised as a centre. I will talk to her about this.

• S+L
We have a choice of two forms of S+L. Both require every student to be recorded and a CIE chosen sample to be sent to the board on a CD. The requirements for a quiet room and dedicated time are the same as for MFL or English IB.
Their practice is to take all English staff off timetable for 3 days and to run 6 rooms simultaneously. I imagine that with our lack of space and timetable congestion that this will not be possible, but we will need to get through 150+ students at 15-20 minutes each. The recording and storage will need to be very secure – our current microphone, audacity and lightly crossed fingers approach at iB may not be sufficient.
The choice of task is affected by this.
Choice A (paper 5) is a 3-5 minute presentation followed by a 10 minute discussion arising from that presentation. There is no restriction on topic, but it is obvious that for a teacher to lead a conversation effectively, due consideration must be given to choice and to compatibility between student and teacher.
Choice B is the three part “coursework” with sections similar to those currently undertaken. Given the need to record it will not be possible to use ad hoc oral tasks as at present. In addition, the issues around recording groups or drama activities clearly might render this choice inadvisable.

My recommendations at present :
• We sit Choice A.
• Involve ICT staff in acquiring a number of suitable hand held MP3 recording devices to simplify the recording process. These should easily interface with our laptops so that each teacher can upload their own set of students to a storage folder on the S -drive. There is a cost implication, but these are not solely for English use and will benefit the whole school.
• To cut down the time taken, we need as many staff as possible to be utilised – the suggestion is a maximum of 10-13 students per teacher per day and I am told that the risk of “burn out ” is high. Moderation must be undertaken and this could take the form of two teachers in one room, as far as I am aware.
• The loss of almost a week to this task is a major issue. I suggest we consider the end of Yr 10 for the process, hopefully at a time when student work load is not too high. This will have an impact on our projected media module.
• Students are NOT off timetable and will need absence from class for around 30 minutes at the most.
• The task must be practised and we need to embed this activity into KS3 and Yr 9.


Though Perse sit 0500 and we will be sitting 0522, there is little difference between the papers actually sat. I am bringing back a quantity of 0500 past papers for us to consider.

It is no longer helpful to think of non-fiction, media or fiction when we look at the papers. The two language papers (2+3) are more usefully thought of as reading and writing papers instead. There is no longer a recognisable “media” element to the reading paper.

Paper 2 (extension), “reading passages”:
Our colleagues stressed that the mark scheme is implemented in a very precise manner indeed and that there is a definite need to focus the students on precisely what the examiner wants to see.

• The first question addresses both comprehension and transactional writing. We will need to ensure that our students can not only understand quite sophisticated prose but also that they will then be able to work with their texts and transfer them into another format. These skills will require specific teaching and they stressed that their student s are prone to be very confused if they are not taught in a “paper by paper” context, as opposed to a “cover techniques as we meet them” context.
• Question2 is focused on the effects of specific language. Students are given a paragraph or two and told to find examples of language being used to create effect. It is imperative that they focus clearly here and give a three part response for each word they find – the word/the usual meaning/ the effect of usage here. This is not i-spy technical lexis, it required awareness of the effect as a priority.
• Question 3 is a summary and uses the 2nd passage for the first time. It is an a/b question and two summaries are required. There are implications for exam technique here with regard to possibly answering the question on the first passage first, although it is printed as (b) on the paper.

The passages can be from any prose genre and whilst we can focus Q 2 when reading for literature, the language elements of Q1 &3 will have to be taught as a discreet skill.

Paper 3, “directed writing and composition”

This paper is closer to the GCSE skills already taught and requires
1. The writing of a transactional piece (letter, article, report or even interview…) based on close reading of a passage and following clear instruction. For example, if asked to write an interview and given clear instruction to ask 3 specific questions, the student will lose marks if they become too creative and begin to indulge their fancy.
2. A piece of writing from a wide choice to one of the writing types: argument/discursive; narrative; descriptive.

Again, the first question requires comprehension of sophisticated English language to access the highest levels.

It is evident that they feel that mixing Lit and Lang as we are suggesting in Winter Yr 10 might not be helpful, particularly when the specifically examined skills have not yet been embedded in Yr 9.

Paper 1:
Again, our courses are different, but the texts are the same ( we have a smaller choice) and the exam format, length and requirements seem identical.

Findings: There is not as much to add here. In our preparation we need to focus on three types of question – “passage-based”, “essay” question and empathic question. Students will answer three questions and MUST answer one of each of passage and essay format. There is, therefore no need to answer an empathy question.

The anthologies will need to be read to the full extent of the proscribed texts. Usually 6 stories or poems are mentioned in the questions and it is rare to be given an of “students’ choice”. Students will need to know the texts well to find the extracts for the passage questions and will need to stick rigidly to the selection.

We should be able to use the set texts, both in prose and poetry to address the Language Paper 2, Q2 and embed recognition of language being used for effect.


The unseen paper gives good guiding questions and bullet points to assist in the writing. The task requires skills which we will need to embed in Yr 9 as part of our reading courses. To a degree the usual focus questions that we might prepare for any reading of a set text are good practice for this discipline and we should build on this with any work prior to Yr 10. We should also be aware that the type of WJEC poetry question that we are delivering is quite a good introduction to the unseen technique in that students will need to identify both content, ideas and features of the text in front of them. It is vital that the questions implied in the “question” are addressed and that the bullets are also covered in the response.

It will need discreet preparation prior to any mock and certainly before yr 11.

• We will need to revisit the planning grid as a result of this day. The terms should probably be divided to reflect the individual sections of the papers rather than on a thematic basis. In addition, we will need to revisit the Summer Media Project in the light of the need to record 150+ orals with the attendant moderation and preparation. The techniques required are not new, but we need to access the mark schemes and past papers available on the CD and in the secure web site to ensure that we are focused clearly on the requirements of the examiners.

• Our students will need to be aware that the papers require significant quantities of reading and response to sophisticated and highly nuanced language. The skills of comprehension, translation and summary will be examined to a degree that is new to us all.

• What is pleasing is that the range of text seems to be very wide in the language papers and the passages and questions are not without humour.

• We need to consider the puchase/accessibility of printed resources.

• Finally, we need to address the issues around ICT for recording and also the actual logistics of that task.



Filed under IGCSE support, teacher training

2 responses to “Thoughts on adopting IGCSE English.

  1. Pingback: Easy IGCSE? No! | English teaching resources

  2. Pingback: resources for War literature | English teaching resources

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