School qualification choices - IGCSE and A level
In the final in our series on school qualifications choices in Luxembourg, we cover the international version of the UK qualifications GCSE and A level.
This choice is available at one state-run school ( International School Lycée Michel Lucius) and one private school in Luxembourg (St George's International School). IGCSE are also available at the International School Luxembourg, but not A level). It is also an option via home-schooling and one popular choice is Wolsey Hall Oxford.
If you want to understand the other options available, take a look at our articles on the Luxembourgish Diplomas and vocational training, the European Baccalaureate and the International Baccalaureate, all available in state-run schools for free and via private fee-paying schools.
IGCSE and A level
The International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) is based on the British curriculum but adapted for international students. It’s mainly exam-based and each school will choose an exam board such as International Cambridge or Edexcel. The former board offers 70 subjects including 30 languages, but for subjects other than languages, exams are taken in English - and of course English language and literature.
The IGCSE also accommodates different levels of ability with core and extended curriculum papers in some subjects. All exams are assessed by an external board.
It’s worth noting which exam board the school has chosen as the final exams can vary greatly – for example in Geography the International Cambridge board has four separate papers whilst the Edexcel one uses a three-hour exam. Currently, the state-run International School Lycée Michel Lucius uses the Cambridge International board, whilst St George’s International school uses a mixture of International Cambridge and Edexcel.
How IGCEs work
IGCSEs are normally taken at age 15/17 at the end of the S5 year of secondary (with the curriculum starting in S4). Pupils can then opt to take A levels (offered at ISLML and St George’s). Students at ISL who take IGCSEs will go on to take the International Baccalaureate.
Some IGCSE subjects are compulsory – usually English, Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Biology and a language other than English (again at ISLML the choice is French, German, Spanish or Chinese). That means if your child is likely to sit the standard seven IGCSEs, they will only have the flexibility to add two additional subjects, usually from the humanities and social sciences.
St George’s International School follows key stage 3 for ages 11-14 years, key stage 4 for ages 14-16 years culminating in the IGCSE exams, and then key stage 5 for ages 16-18 years culminating in the A level exams. Compulsory IGCSE subjects include English language, English literature, maths and science co-ordinated (double IGCSE incorporating biology, physics and chemistry). Students also have to choose from French, German or Spanish.
After that, students can choose 2 or more (depending on academic abilities) IGCSEs including art, business studies, computer science, drama, economics, geography, history, media studies, physical education and sociology. Further maths is also offered.
IGCSEs are graded both in 9-1 (the system in the UK) and A-G grades (older and recognised IGCSE system). Grades 9-4 or A*to -C are passes. You can find out more on the grading system here.
How A levels work
The Advanced level works more like a baccalaureate or diploma, in that it is also the final two years of schooling from ages 16/17 to 18/19 years.
To take A levels, students must usually have five IGCSE passes, including English, maths, a science, a language and an optional subject. Generally, it’s also advised that to take a subject at A level, you should have a fairly good grade at IGCSE level.
Where it differs from a baccalaureate or diploma, is that students can become more specialised, and take less classical subjects.
ISLML, for example, currently offers AS and A levels in business, economics, global perspectives, psychology and computer science as well as the more classic subjects such as English language & literature, French, German, maths, the three sciences, history, geography, art and music. One of the advantages of the IGCSE and A level system is that you can pick a subject at A level that you did not take at IGCSE level, for example psychology.
St George’s International School currently offers AS and A level in all the classical subjects for both humanities and science, plus art and design, business studies, economics, media studies and psychology.
This type of education, leading to A levels, typically suits a child that is stronger in some subjects than in others, as they can effectively focus on their stronger subjects in the final two years of school. However, it does allow a child to give up languages and maths at an earlier age, and care should be taken in choosing the right A level combination if students want to study in a specific field at university, such as medicine or engineering.
Students take written exams at the end of two years which are externally assessed and graded from A* to G (pass grades are A* to E).
AS level tends to be mid-way between an IGCSE and an A level, with about half the content of the latter. It can be taken as a qualification in its own right, or as a stage towards the A level. Pass grades are A to E.
A levels at ISLML are considered the equivalent of the ESG by the Luxembourg Ministry of Education provided a student completes three A levels with a pass grade of A to E, and students have an additional AS level pass in a different subject.
A levels are usually seen as good preparation for university, as students are often asked to work independently and autonomously, doing assignments that require research, references and critical thinking.
International School Lycée Michel Lucius (state-run)
St George’s International School (private)
International School Luxembourg (private) – IGCSEs only, then IB
Home-schooling option for IGCSE and A level
There are several home-schooling options for taking IGCSEs and A levels, although students may need to fly to the UK to take final exams in a test centre. One popular option in Luxembourg is Wolsey Hall Oxford, a home-school college, which offers IGCSEs, AS and A levels via virtual, online classes.
Students have the opportunity to play back recorded classes to go over subjects or lessons, and have the support and feedback of a tutor in each subject. Fees are much lower than private school options. The school also offers options for primary and pre-IGCSE secondary education and is recognised by the Ministry of Education in Luxembourg. You can find out more here.
It is also possible to sign up to different IGCSE providers and mix and match coursework and exam boards, and it is worth consulting ALLI Asbl for advice from parents living in Luxembourg who have taken this option.