Some private schools are so impressed by the IB diploma that they’re completely phasing out A-levels. Find out why pupils, parents, schools and universities love this course. By Joanna Wright:
“Can we think without language? Can feelings have a rational basis? Does living a moral life matter? If questions like that appeal to you and stimulate your synapses, the International Baccalaureate could be the ideal choice instead of A-levels. Many leading independent schools are so impressed by the IB that they are going through the rigorous and intricate process of introducing it in conjunction with A-level and some, after consultation with parents and pupils, are offering the IB alone.”
What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)?
It’s a two-year pre-university qualification that leads to a diploma that meets international standards and allows students to fulfil the requirements of their state education. So the IB is not based on any one system, nor is it in thrall to any one government. Children as young as three can join the IB community with the Primary Years Programme (PYP) which they follow until age 12; followed by the Middle Years Programme (MYP) from ages 11 to 16, and students start the Diploma at age 16.
Top 10 reasons to choose the IB
1 The IB is flexible and wide-ranging
In order to understand the breadth of the IB, we need to break it down into its component parts… For the diploma, students cover
- 3 higher level subjects
- 3 standard level subjects
- Theory of knowledge (TOK)
- Extended essay (4000-word essay)
- Creativity, action and service (CAS)
2 The IB offers breadth and depth
Some people dismiss the IB as ‘just like the old O-levels’ and this is a fallacy. There is plenty of opportunity to delve down into complex and challenging issues because students must cover higher as well as standard level options. Higher and standard level options: Usually students select one subject from each of the following groups. These can be done at a variety of levels
- Group 1: (first language) English
- Group 2: (second language) French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Latin, Greek (some at three different levels)
- Group 3: (individuals and societies) business and management, economics, geography or history
- Group 4: (experimental sciences) biology, chemistry or physics
- Group 5: Mathematics course (there are three different levels)
- Group 6: Arts course, for instance music, theatre arts or visual arts
The system is flexible. Instead of a group 6 subject, one extra subject is allowed from groups 2 to 4 (so students can study two languages, two humanities, two sciences).
3 The IB is superb preparation for university
Students at Queen Ethelburga’s, in York, enjoy the IB. Tim Woffenden, a leading IB consultant who advises independent and state school, says: “IB students are better prepared for university, and, more importantly, life,” he comments. “They emerge mature, balanced, multi-skilled, numerate, literate and fluent in another language.”
Tim reckons that knowledge and understanding of the IB is improving dramatically and that universities and employers value the critical thinking and independent learning elements, as well as the breadth of the programme.
4 The IB is stable
To date, 46 independent UK schools offer the diploma, more than any other country in Europe, and growth is at its most rapid. Tim adds: “Strong schools are joining the club, for instance Manchester Grammar, King Edward’s, Birmingham, and Cheltenham Ladies College. As A-levels come under greater scrutiny every year for grade inflation, the IB is growing in popularity.
5 It’s well regulated
Only schools authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) are eligible to teach the curriculum and register candidates for the examination. Gaining IB school status involves a rigorous two-year authorisation process, but it’s designed to support schools and ensure that they fully understand the nature and requirements of the programme. Sometimes more teachers are needed, but in general schools find it challenging and rewarding. There’s a global quality control and inspection regime, involving self-inspection, on-site visits and submission of documentation to IBO headquarters.
6 Schools love it…
Pat Jewitt is registrar at Queen Ethelberga’s College in York, where the first group of IB students is embarking on the diploma: “The IB is favoured in European countries – and we want to attract students from abroad so it really works for us. Plus we like the broader based curriculum. Offering the IB gives us a competitive edge and students a highly respected qualification”.
7 Universities love it…A view of Durham: the university welcomes the breadth of the IB
Richard Emborg, director of student recruitment and undergraduate admissions at Durham University, says, “In our opinion, it’s different. The IB is overarching in terms of curriculum, whereas typically A-levels concentrate on one course area. “We place value on the breadth IB students experience. We are an international economy; one world. Awareness of how the world links together is a good thing and the IB curriculum reflects this. We’d welcome more IB entrants.” In 2007, the IB was given what looked like a standing ovation the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Under the tariff, an IB score of 30 gives a candidate 419 UCAS points against just 360 for three As at A-level. A top IB score of 48 is equivalent to more than six As at A-level.
8 The IB is not just about academic achievement
The IBO’s goal is to educate the whole person and foster responsibility. The Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) element of the IB requires that students share their energy and talents with others, beyond academic work. A minimum of 150 hours of participation over the two years in creative, physical and service activities is required (at least 50 hours in each element). They may include things like playing a musical instrument in a group, sport, art and drama and the Duke of Edinburgh award. Trips to exotic places, like Costa Rica, can be included on the IB agenda. The idea is that you give something back to the community. For instance, IB students at Fettes College, a leading independent school in Edinburgh, work in local charity shops, primary schools and a hospice and have even taken part in an expedition to Costa Rica. Progress is monitored through self-evaluations and a CAS co-ordinator.
9 It encourages independence
Pupils research a topic independently and prepare a 4000-word essay. Many students select a topic from one of their higher level subject areas. This is similar to the kind of extended essay that a student might undertake at university – in fact, the essay is often popular with universities. A supervisor gives guidance and advice and the essay is submitted at the end of the winter term of the upper sixth.
10 The IB expands the mind
The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is core to the IB, challenging pupils to think critically. Here are some examples of the questions asked:
- How is knowledge gained and from what sources?
- To what extent do personal experience and ideology influence our knowledge claims?
- What is the difference between ‘I am certain’ and ‘It is certain’?
- Can we think without language?
- Can feelings have a rational basis?
- Does living a moral life matter?
Assessment is by one essay of 1200-1600 words on a title prescribed by the IBO and one 10-minute presentation to the class. (source)