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


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