Cambridge, CAPS and IEB: Unveiling Key Curriculum Differences

Explore the key differences between the Cambridge, CAPS, and IEB curricula to make an informed decision about the best educational system for your child’s unique learning needs and preferences.

Choosing the right curriculum for your child’s education can be daunting, with several options available such as the Cambridge, CAPS, and IEB curricula. These educational systems have unique features and benefits catering to different learning styles and preferences.

The Cambridge curriculum is an international programme offering a comprehensive educational pathway, from pre-primary to graduation, with stages including Primary, Lower Secondary, IGCSE, AS, and A-levels. This curriculum is designed to be flexible, challenging, and international in its approach, developing an informed curiosity and lasting passion for learning in students. On the other hand, both the CAPS (Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements) and IEB (Independent Examinations Board) curricula are based in South Africa, with students from both systems receiving a National Senior Certificate upon completing grade 12. While CAPS is the standard public school curriculum in South Africa, IEB is commonly implemented in private schools and boasts a higher matriculation rate largely attributed to smaller class sizes and better resources.

All South African assessment bodies, including IEB, are monitored by Umalusi, which ensures that the curricula and assessments are appropriate for the students. Understanding the core differences between these curricula will help you decide on the most suitable educational system for your child.

Overview of the Curricula


The Cambridge curriculum, formally known as the International British Curriculum, offers a clearly defined educational pathway from pre-primary to graduation. It comprises four stages: Primary, Lower Secondary, IGCSE, and AS&A Levels. This curriculum is internationally recognised for being flexible, challenging, and inspiring, focusing on developing students’ informed curiosity and a lasting passion for learning.


CAPS (National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) is the national curriculum followed by public schools in South Africa. Many private schools also follow this curriculum. CAPS focuses on standardising education across the country by outlining the specific topics and objectives that need to be achieved at different stages of schooling. This ensures students receive a well-rounded foundation for further education and career prospects.


IEB, or the Independent Examination Board, is not a stand-alone curriculum but an independent academic assessment body. Students from both CAPS and IEB schools receive a National Senior Certificate (NSC) or an Independent Examinations Board (IEB) NSC when graduating from grade 12. While IEB schools generally follow the CAPS curriculum, they may have additional subjects, assessments, and a greater emphasis on critical thinking and independent learning.

Key Differences

Educational Approach

The educational approach of each curriculum differs in several ways. The Cambridge curriculum offers a clearly defined pathway through four stages: Primary, Lower Secondary, IGCSE, and AS and A Levels. CAPS, or the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement, provides clear and detailed guidelines on what to teach and how to assess learners on a grade-by-grade and subject-by-subject basis. On the other hand, IEB schools generally use the CAPS curriculum as a guide, but grade 12 students write an alternative matric examination administered by the Independent Examinations Board (IEB).

Assessment Methods

Assessment methods also vary between the curricula. CAPS outlines specific assessment requirements for each grade and subject, offering a consistent approach within the South African public education system. IEB assessments, while sharing some similarities with CAPS, are administered by the Independent Examinations Board, resulting in IEB National Senior Certificate examinations for Grade 12 students. In the Cambridge curriculum, learners complete assessments at each stage, culminating in internationally recognised qualifications such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and AS and A Levels.

Subject Offerings

The range and diversity of subjects may differ across the curricula as well. CAPS mandates specific subject offerings and assessment requirements to maintain consistency within the South African public schooling system. IEB schools usually follow a similar range of subjects to CAPS schools, with some flexibility and variation in subject offerings in each institution. As an international system, the Cambridge curriculum offers a broader variety of subjects, allowing schools and learners to customise their educational experience.

Section 4: Pros and Cons


The Cambridge Curriculum is a British international curriculum that offers several advantages. One key benefit is the opportunity to obtain an internationally accredited education which is recognised in numerous countries. The curriculum also features a flexible and self-paced learning approach, ideal for homeschooling learners.

However, the Cambridge curriculum may be considered more challenging due to its international and rigorous approach. This may result in students requiring additional support to achieve success.


CAPS (Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement) provides teachers with clear guidelines on what should be taught and assessed on a grade-by-grade and subject-by-subject basis. This ensures that students are exposed to standardised and comprehensive content across schools in South Africa.

On the downside, the CAPS curriculum is perceived to have less room for flexibility compared to other curricula, potentially making it more challenging for students with diverse learning needs.


IEB (Independent Examinations Board) schools generally use the CAPS curriculum as a guide, but grade-12 students write an alternative matric examination. This means that students in CAPS and IEB schools are taught similar content but face different examination processes.

One of the benefits of the IEB curriculum is that it is considered more rigorous than CAPS, potentially better-preparing students for tertiary education. However, this added rigour might also pressure students and educators to perform at a high level.

Choosing the Right Curriculum

When deciding between the Cambridge, CAPS, and IEB curricula, it’s essential to consider various factors, such as educational goals, teaching style, and individual learning preferences. Each curriculum offers distinctive features and benefits, making it suitable for specific educational and learner needs.

Cambridge Curriculum is an International British curriculum popular among homeschoolers. This curriculum focuses on developing critical thinking skills and a global perspective. Cambridge offers a broad and balanced programme with subject flexibility and international recognition. This curriculum can be an excellent choice for families moving between countries or seeking an internationally recognised qualification.

The South African national curriculum is CAPS or Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements. It primarily focuses on standardising the education system across the country. CAPS may be more fitting for learners planning to pursue further studies or careers within South Africa. The emphasis on standardisation can bring consistency and predictability but may have limited international recognition.

IEB refers to the Independent Examinations Board, which administers an alternative matric examination for grade 12 students. IEB schools generally use CAPS as a guide but offer more flexibility and learner-centred approaches. The IEB curriculum is recognised nationally and internationally, making it suitable for students seeking wider educational opportunities.

In summary, understanding the differences between the Cambridge, CAPS, and IEB curricula can help make an informed decision about the most suitable educational pathway. Consider individual needs and goals and the advantages each curriculum provides to make the best choice for a learner’s future.