Tag Archives: THE IB



Sound qualification but not suited to all pupils


Andrew Cunningham in the Independent on 23 September (The sky’s the limit’: International Baccalaureate allows British teenagers to broaden their horizons-) was  correct in claiming that  the IB can be challenging and relevant to  pupil and teacher alike . It  certainly encourages joined up thinking and the development of  analytical skills allowing pupils more ownership and control over their own learning. It is also less prone too  to grade inflation than some other qualifications , while  politicians cant interfere with it, probably its strongest selling point.

But importantly he is also correct in his judgement that it doesn’t suit all pupils. I would go further. It probably only suits a minority.

The IB is a relatively expensive qualification,  as it requires more teaching time, so in the  current straitened times for this reason alone it will not be made available to most schools. It is also thought, as Cunningham notes,  to be more demanding ,with pupils taking six subjects post 16 .Only a minority of pupils,   though want to continue science and maths post 16, a clear  requirement of the IB.  In a sense you are sacrificing depth but getting  breadth in return . There is a real danger too  that if you force pupils to take subjects they don’t want to take, they will become disengaged, de-motivated and in the worst case scenario, drop   out of school. Researchers from the Institute of Education, London, who surveyed 10,355 14- and 15-year-olds in 113 schools across England found (September 2010)  that girls were less likely to want to take maths and physics at A-level and through other post-16 qualifications, even when compared to boys with similar background characteristics. Three times as many boys as girls said they strongly agreed with the idea of taking physics beyond the age of 16, while for maths, boys were 1.5 times more likely to say this was the case. This suggests that the IB would be more appealing to boys than girls.

Some experts have doubts too over the  quality of  some aspects of the   science syllabus of the IB. It is hard not to conclude that  while the IB  is growing in  popularity,   with take up increasing   at a rate of over 20%  a year, this is from a pretty  low base and there is no guarantee that this trend will continue, particularly given other qualifications  entering the market ,such as the Cambridge Pre-U.

A small minority of schools mainly in the independent sector, offer the IB, and only a handful its junior qualification, the Middle Years Programme . Of the schools that do offer the IB many still offer  the A level  in parallel too. And not many of the schools offering the Post 16  IB Diploma offer the MYP.

In short, it’s a sound  qualification that employers and admissions tutors  rather like  and respect but it  is hard to see it ever becoming the qualification of choice for a majority of pupils




Not to everyone’s tastes, but the market speaks


It is extraordinary how much debate there is in the blogsphere about the merits and demerits of International Baccalaureate, which is seen by some  here as a better alternative to the A level and in its junior form, the Middle Years programme, as  a better option  than the GCSE.

  In the States some critics suggest that the IB promotes “socialism, disarmament, radical environmentalism, and moral relativism, while attempting to undermine Christian religious values and national sovereignty”. Crikey, it makes it sound rather appealing.

 Elsewhere, in the middle east and Far East it is seen by some  to be   promoting values which are perceived to be too ‘pro-West’. 

 Despite  such criticism demand for the qualification is on the rise. Here in the UK if you include pupils in both the maintained sector, FE  and Sixth Form colleges included, and the independent sector, the total figure for pupils taking the IB  for 2007/8  was 2,485, divided  pretty equally between the private and state sectors.

While growing in popularity here but  from a low base  it  ironically perhaps, is seeing its greatest  growth   in the US, the Middle East, and South East Asia. Across the IB brands , year on year growth is thought to be around 14%. And because the IB doesn’t have ‘ the baggage’ of any one faith, it can gain access to schools which are predominantly Christian or Muslim or Jewish (or anything else come to that)

 The  British government, when  Tony Blair was PM  announced that every local authority in the country would have an IB school; Gordon Brown has gone back on this, but the Conservatives are well disposed  in principle towards the IB, both as a model, and as a programme (http://conservativehome.blogs.com/torydiary/2008/11/michael-gove-pr.html)


Browns decision to backtrack on the IB commitment is perhaps understandable given that the IB is much more expensive to deliver than A levels. Perhaps, 50% more expensive in fact, as it requires much more  teaching time than the A level.

 The Middle Years programme  of the IB has been in the news recently as a handful of schools are either already delivering it in preference to GCSEs, or about to.

 One noteworthy aspect of the MYP is that it comes in two basic forms. Either a school, can take the more expensive route  seeking  the MYP  as  a full stand-alone qualification:  ie  with certification (which is what  Wellington College has opted for), or  schools  go the other non-certification route and use it as a  way station to the IB Diploma, which is what most  schools, using the MYP in the UK, do.

 However if a pupil leaves school, at 16,  for whatever reason and has been studying the MYP, but not with certification, then they will leave with  no qualification to show to future employers, which might be a consideration for some parents. .

 My only problem is that apologists for the IB tend to oversell its  case-it is clearly not the best option for  every pupil, indeed its insistence that science and maths are  studied by every student,  post 16, probably makes it unsuited to all but a minority.

 The key point in all this is  though is that the increased demand for the IB, and indeed  other qualifications like the IGCSE and Pre-U is because confidence in GCSEs, A levels  and the new Diploma is not what it should be. The blame for this must rest squarely with meddlesome politicians and the QCA.