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International School of South Africa

Secondary Academics

Academic Overview

The International School of South Africa (ISSA) takes pride in being one of South Africa’s oldest and largest Cambridge Curriculum Centres. The diversity of our student body reflects the African continent. At all levels of examinations (IGCSE, AS, and A-Level), we continue to achieve competitive and outstanding results. We honour Top Achievers not just in South Africa, but internationally in Cambridge examinations. In 2023, the school will introduce the Independent Examination Board Curriculum (IEB), which will run concurrently with Cambridge Curriculum. IEB is a South African-based, internationally benchmarked curriculum. Both the Cambridge and IEB qualifications provide students with an excellent foundation for university and life-long learning.

Our curricula place great emphasis on the acquisition of skills, the application of knowledge and the development of students’ thinking skills. We encourage our students to be independent learners who take responsibility for their learning experiences. The International School of South Africa accepts students with a wide range of academic abilities who are nurtured to become good global citizens.

With the current challenges that the world has encountered because of Covid 19, we have swiftly responded to the needs of the environment. We provide Online, Blended, and Face to Face teaching to minimise individual/group or whole school isolation or quarantine.

Because of the breadth of our academic programme and our world-class physical facilities, we provide a superb academic experience as well as a wide range of co-curricular activities. We have well-trained teams of teachers in each of our departments who go above and beyond to meet the educational needs of our students both inside and beyond the classroom. We believe that an involved child is not only an achiever but also a happy child.

Academic Structure &
Class Size

Academic Structure:

The school is divided into three Key Stages.

Key Stage 3 – Forms 1 – 2

Key Stage 4 – Forms 3 – 4

Key Stage 5 – Lower 6 & Upper 6

Phase Heads are in charge at every Key Stage, being assisted by Tutors. Tutor groups consist of between 8 to 12 students.  The Tutor system introduced is designed to give every student a sense of belonging. Phase Heads and Tutors are responsible for the academic and pastoral needs of the students in their care. Tutors will keep in touch with their respective Phase Heads, Deputy Heads, and parents on a regular basis.

Class Size:

Our teachers provide individual attention to each of our students due to our small, manageable class sizes. The maximum number of students per class is 25 for Forms 1 to IGCSE, and 15 for AS and A level.

Academic Curriculum

In Key Stage 3 students study a wide range of subjects in preparation for the start of the Cambridge IGCSE course in Form 3 and the start of IEB in Form 4. In Forms 1 and 2, all students take the same subjects, which provide a broad but robust foundation for both the Cambridge and the IEB curricula. At the end of their Form 2-year, students choose subjects for the IGCSE course, after which they specialise in either Humanities, Sciences, or Commercials in their A-Levels. Students who wish to follow the IEB curriculum at the end of Form 3 are carefully guided and placed in a separate class to begin the IEB programme in Form 4.

Only in Form 4 (Grade 10) will students begin to specialise in IEB subjects. Students graduate from ISSA with either follow a full A-Level or an IEB programme, exiting the high school at the same time. The curricula structure is summarized in the table below:

FORM 1 & 2 3 & 4 Lower 6 & Upper 6
GRADE 7 & 8 9 & 10 11 & 12
IEB Cambridge & IEB IEB Year 1 IEB Year 2 & Year 3

We offer 18 subjects at IGCSE, from which students select at least 8 for their study.

At A-Level, we offer 14 subjects from which students select at least 3 while in IEB, students can take up a minimum of 7 subjects for their study.

Cambridge Curriculum

Key Stage 3 Forms 1 & 2

Students in Form 1 and 2 will be expected to study the following compulsory subjects:

  • Mathematics
  • First Language English
  • Second Language/First Additional Language (chosen from French, Afrikaans or Setswana)
  • History
  • Geography
  • Design and Technology
  • Music
  • Art and Design
  • Drama
  • Information Technology
  • Physical Education
  • Economic and Management Sciences – only in Form 2

It is recommended that South African students considering IEB, should stick to Afrikaans/Setswana for their First Additional Language at this stage.

Key Stage 3 –
Forms 3 & 4

Students in Forms 3 and 4 are required to take a minimum of 8 subjects, 2 of which are compulsory. As shown in the table below, students are expected to select 6 more subjects from the given Bands. Students will sit the external Cambridge IGCSE examinations in October and November of their Form 4 year.

English & Mathematics French Physics Chemistry Accounting Business Studies Art & Design
Setswana History Biology Business Studies Geography Biology
Afrikaans IGCSE PE Economics Drama Computer Science Design & Technology

Music is a timetabled subject offered by the school to Forms 1 and 2. In addition, we offer an extended Music program with peripatetic Tutors that encourages students to learn various instruments. Students will take Unisa, ABRSM, and Trinity examinations at various levels.

Key Stage 3 – Lower 6 & Upper 6 (Form 6)

To be accepted into Lower 6, a student must achieve a minimum of 5 ‘C’ symbols in the IGCSE examination, with three of the subjects being mathematics, English Language, and a Second Language. The student must then choose a minimum of three A-Level subjects. These subjects must have been passed with a minimum of a ‘C’ Grade at IGCSE at an extended level.

Compulsory at AS Level BAND 1 BAND 2 BAND 3 BAND 4
English Language
English Language & Literature
Mathematics Chemistry
Business Studies
Computer Science
Design & Technology
Art & Design

For classes through to 2024, the English Language is the only required fourth subject in Lower 6 (AS Level); following that, all Form 6 students will be exiting after completing A-Level. As a result, by 2024, these subject bands are likely to change.

Independent Examination Board (IEB) Curriculum

At the end of the Form 3 year, students choose to either continue the Cambridge curriculum or branch off into the IEB Curriculum at the start of their Form 4 year (Grade 10)

Proposed Subject Choice Structure

The National Curriculum Statement requires that students study four core subjects:

  • English Home language
  • First Additional Language (Setswana or Afrikaans)
  • Mathematics (or Mathematical Literacy not an option on inception)
  • Life Orientation.

Students then choose another three subjects, making a total of seven in all.

Applying this requirement to our subject offering at the International School of South Africa, it is compulsory for students to study English in Option 1, Mathematics in Option 2, and Life Orientation in Option 3.

Students then choose one subject from each of the remaining options (4, 5, 6 and 7).

Proposed Subject Options at ISSA

Option 1 English (Home Language)

Option 2 Mathematics

Option 3 Life Orientation

Option 4 Second Language

South African Students

Afrikaans (First Additional Language) or

Setswana (First Additional Language)

Students with “Immigrant Status”

French Second Additional Language – Not to be considered at the time of inception in 2023. Maybe at a later stage due to demand.

Option 5 Physical Sciences

Option 6 Business Studies

Option 7 Life Sciences

The key subjects in IEB, Mathematics, Physical Science and English will provide a platform for students to be enrolled into any University Faculty if they meet the necessary requirements with quality passes in all the subjects. At the point of inception, we are looking forward to offering the same subjects to our pilot group in 2023, unless there is a great demand for other subjects such as History, Geography, Economics and Accounting at this early stage.


Throughout the academic year, students at the International School of South Africa are subjected to rigorous, benchmarked tests. All assessments are built around summative and formative evaluations. The assessment process allows students’ individual needs to be identified, nurtured, and met. Assignments are designed to help students learn more effectively by identifying problems, errors, and misunderstandings, as well as providing suggestions for improvement. Question–and–answer sessions, observations, worksheets, journals, and/or homework are all examples of formative evaluations.

Standardised Tests/Assessments

Academic departments have their own assessment policies, however, the frequency of Summative Assessments for all departments is standardised across the school.

Forms 1 to 2

  • In all subjects in which the contact time is three or less periods per week, teachers must administer at least two Summative Standard Assessments (one on either side of the Mid-Term Break) with at least a total weighting of 80%.
  • In Mathematics, Science, English and Humanities Departments teachers must undertaker to administer at least four Summative Standard Assessments (two on either side of the Mid-term Break) with at least a total weighting of 80%.

Forms 3 to Upper 6

Teachers must undertake to administer at least four Summative Standard Assessments in all subjects (two on either side of the Mid-term Break) with at least a total weighting of 80%.

At most 20% across all Forms is left for the individuality of teachers to engage in classwork/homework/research projects, to promote continuous assessments within their classes.

Learning Support Program

The International School of South Africa recognises the need to enable, empower and allow all students to grow and develop to their full potential in all aspects of their school life. The school offers a dynamic, inclusive, and progressive whole school support structure for all students whereby they have numerous opportunities to experience success – whatever the extent of their academic, emotional, and developmental needs.

Learning Support is an intervention programme that aims to provide students with the opportunity to develop the necessary academic and social skills to ensure a positive school experience. Students on the Programme are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning; they must know their strengths and weaknesses and work towards accomplishing success. This programme is run by a well-experienced school educational psychologist and counsellor.

In addition, our teachers provide intervention classes that are either teacher-led or student-led. The teaching timetable is continuously revised to accommodate this need during normal academic hours of the day.


  • Academic support, tailored to suit the needs of the individual student;
  • Subject-specific learning, i.e. catch-up learning;
  • Improving the understanding of key topics and concepts;
  • Subject specific exam preparation and revision;
  • Constructive examination feedback – analysis of exam results, exam papers, student answer papers;
  • Compilation of statistical data to manage individual student progress;
  • Development of planning and organisational skills;


  • Building self-esteem, enjoyment of learning and pride in academic achievement;
  • Support to students with diagnosed learning difficulties and / or physical disabilities
  • Concessions;
  • Engaging the “disengaged and unplugged” students through motivation, perseverance and goal setting;
  • Assistance and remediation where learners  have lost their way  in an academic gap;
  • English for Speakers of Other / Foreign Languages (ESOL / EFL) Programme

Academic Commendations

These are our expectations for Approaches to Learning skills and attitudes at the school. These will be reported to parents regularly through specific subject teachers and Phase Heads. It is important to note that a Commendation Certificate is not a measure of the marks achieved in tests/examinations only but a satisfaction to Approaches to Learning Skills and Attitudes as outlined below. The student does not really have to satisfy all the criteria outlined but it is the judgement of the teacher that such a student is going the extra mile in most of these aspects. Students are awarded for their positive and rigorous learning culture throughout the term. Students who excel in these categories will be awarded as follows:

  1. Lower 6 and Upper 6 Subject Commendation Certificate at the end of each term.
  2. In Forms 1 to 5 students will be awarded with either a Gold, Silver or Bronze Commendation Certificate based on the number of subjects commended as follows:
BRONZE 1/2/3

Commendations Criteria

1. Effort: tries hard, stays on task

The student:

  • consistently shows interest.
  • shows a willingness to try in all areas.
  • shows good listening skills and concentration.
  • takes note of teacher comments and an effort is made to improve on past work.
  • stays on task for the whole lesson, avoiding distractions.
  • asks pertinent and sensible questions at appropriate times and as required.
  • catches up on any missed classwork or homework.

2. Punctuality, equipped, and ready for work

The student:

  • always has the necessary materials.
  • is always on time to class and will settle down quickly and quietly ready to start the lesson.
  • catches up on missed classwork or homework at the earliest opportunity.

3. Organisational skills & work effectively

The student:

  • takes pride in the presentation of work.
  • hands work in on the due date.
  • shows evidence of thought and planning,
  • has notes and diary entries that are well-organised and proofreads all written work before handing in presents schoolwork appropriately.

4. Participation, co-operation, and respect

The student:

  • shows respect for peers and the teacher.
  • listens to the teacher and other students.
  • never makes inappropriate comments or uses inappropriate language.
  • pays full attention in class and does not disrupt the lesson in any way.
  • raises a hand to make a point.
  • chair and desk are straight, tidy, and clean before leaving the room.

5. Critical thinking with innovative ideas

The student:

  • evaluates both own performance and that of others.
  • Shows an understanding of a problem & suggests a solution.
  • brings/makes an idea viable to change the system positively.

Academic Awards

Academic Awards are overseen by the Deputy Head: Academic, with input and ratification of proposals by Heads of Departments (HOD) and Heads of Subjects (HOS) where applicable. These are then ratified by the Awards Committee.

Students qualify for Academic Awards from the completion of their IGCSE Year onwards – either in February or in October, depending on the Form-specific criteria.

Academic Awards are recognised throughout the academic year in the form of:

  • Commendation Assemblies
  • Termly and Yearly Top Achievers Assemblies
  • Honours Evening/Morning

A detailed document that covers the criteria and all different awards can be downloaded from our website. However, the following is a summary of such awards.

  1. Top 5 Achievers in the Form.

To be awarded at the first Monday assembly of each term.

This assembly celebrates the achievements of students from the previous term.

  1. Subject Awards

To be awarded on Honours Evening/Morning to Form 1 – U6 students.

The Top Three positions in the subject will be recognised.

  1. Form Awards

To be awarded on Honours Evening/Morning to Form 1 – U6 students.

These awards should be awarded to the best all-around student in each Form based on an arithmetical mean of the overall marks of all subjects per Form.

  1. Academic Half Colours

In the assessment of the Awards Committee, the nominee will have maintained an outstanding academic performance consistently in all his/her Form 3, IGCSE, AS or A level subjects as appropriate. Academic Half Colours will be awarded on Honours Evening/Morning.

  1. Academic Full Colours

In the assessment of the Awards Committee, the nominee will have maintained an outstanding academic performance consistently in all his/her IGCSE, AS or A level subjects as appropriate. Academic Full Colours will be awarded in Term 1 of the following year at a Special Assembly to celebrate IGCSE & A Level Results or in Term 3 at Honours Evening/Morning.

  1. Academic Honours

Academic Honours will be awarded in Term 1 of the following year at a Special Assembly or Term 3 to AS or A level students. In the judgment of the Awards Committee, the nominee will have maintained an outstanding academic performance of at least 3As or a GPA of 80% and above in his/her AS or A level subjects.

Tutor Programme

The Tutor programme at the International School of South Africa is embedded in the teaching curriculum through which students develop the knowledge, skills, and attributes they need to keep themselves healthy and safe and prepare for life and work in the modern world. Evidence shows that well-delivered personal and social development programmes have an impact on both academic and non-academic outcomes for students, particularly the most vulnerable students in communities. The skills and attributes developed through Tutor Programmes have been shown to increase academic attainment and attendance rates.

Tutor groups consist of between 8 to 12 students. The Tutor system introduced is designed to give every student a sense of belonging. Phase Heads and Tutors are responsible for the academic and pastoral needs of the students in their care.

The Tutor programme is not formally assessed at the school; however, to be successful independent learners, students need regular opportunities to reflect on and identify what they have learned, what needs to be learned next and what they need to do to continue their learning. Teachers also need to be clear about the progress and achievements of the students they teach, and how their learning might be improved.

The aims of our programme are to develop skills and attributes such as resilience, self-esteem, risk-management, teamwork, critical thinking, and Approaches to Learning. This is in the context of learning being grouped into core themes:

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Relationships
  • Life Skills (including economic wellbeing and aspects of careers education).

The Tutor programme is pivotal to the holistic development of each student. We are keenly aware and support the evidence which indicates that Tutor education can address large topical issues which are a scourge on our society today:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Substance misuse
  • Unhealthy eating
  • Extremism
  • Emotional health

Individual Educational Plan (IEP)

IEP is a personalised plan and record of action undertaken to ensure that students with additional needs to those of their peers are fully included in the life of our learning community and have equal opportunity to fulfil their potential.

In line with the SEN Code of Practice and contemporary research, IEPs at the school are written and implemented according to the following principles:

  • IEPs should be working documents with a practical value in the present moment – they should not be a ‘paper exercise’.
  • IEPs should act as a profile outlining a student’s particular strengths and difficulties.
  • IEPs should actively involve the student, parents / carers, colleagues and where necessary, external agent Cambridge Assessment International Educations.
  • IEPs should work towards the outcome of ‘every teacher is a teacher of special needs’ as well as specific outcomes for Learning Support staff.
  • IEPs should outline action additional and different to everyday classroom practice, taking into account what the student can already do independently.
  • IEPs should be accessible to all involved – using ‘Plain English’, avoiding jargon and ‘information overload’.