Few schools run the MYP but teachers parents  and pupils like it, according to NFER research


The International Baccalaureate (IB), it is often forgotten, operates at three levels: the Primary Years Programme– for students aged between 5 and 11, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) -for those aged  between 11 and 16 and the Diploma Programme in the Sixth Form, 16 -18. The last format is the most common in the UK.

Indeed , the Primary and Middle Years levels are rarely taught in the UK .  Currently,13 schools in the UK offer the Primary Years Programme , 11 schools offer the Middle Years Programme and 189 schools offer the Diploma Programme .

Wellington College is one of the select few to offer both the Middle Years and Diploma programmes of the IB. Wellingtons Master, Dr Anthony Seldon, admitted, when he introduced the MYP, a few years ago, that it was a risk. He introduced it because of his, (  and some pupils and parents) disillusionment with the GCSE format, and the GCSES perceived failure to enable the delivery of a rounded education. Many have criticised the GCSE format ,with Seldon  one of its  leading critics. But he did more than criticise. He offered an alternative.

The IB, generally, educates around 5,000 students, most of  whom are in  state schools. The UK is now the third largest user of the IB worldwide .However ,quite a few schools which offer the IB diploma , also offer, concurrently, A levels as an option. Perversely, recent performance tables on university entry subjects ignored the IB Diploma Programme and Pre-U, two existing alternatives to A levels.

In GCSEs subjects are discrete collections of facts grouped by academic disciplines. However there is a growing feeling among teachers that pupils need to explore the connections between subjects. Interdisciplinary, joined up learning, they believe, really matters.  Subjects shouldn’t be taught in silos. With GCSEs there does seem to be an assumption that there is a finite body of knowledge and a right answer (known by the teacher, to be used in the exam).Examiners have strict guidelines to follow which some feel punishes the brightest who do not deliver formulaic answers. But knowledge is an “exploding”, ever expanding concept so the ability to be critical, to think outside artificial boundaries and to be reflective, is essential for life-long learning and individual development. In short, the IB in its various incarnations (not to be confused with the Ebacc) believes in the autonomy of subjects and academic disciplines, but also in their connectivity and for the need for pupils to be global in their outlook. It also encourages the kind of disciplines, including intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, much in demand among employers, and universities, but which are in short supply.

So, are there any downsides?. Possibly. The IB formats are demanding on both teachers and students and require a degree of self-reliance and discipline which in not always evident in pupils. And because they demand more teachers’ time they are more expensive to deliver than other formats. Anthony Seldon has pointed out too that there is a perception that the IB receives unsympathetic offers from some universities, and this is having a direct impact on the number opting to sit the diploma. Recent research by Anna Vignoles and Francis Green ,of the Institute of Education, uncovered a systematic underestimating of top applicants with IB qualifications. But those IB students who are accepted by top universities, they find, tend to perform better than similar A-level students and are more likely to achieve upper-second-class degrees or firsts.

But what of the MYP? 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.

Dr Seldon will be particularly pleased by the findings of a recent an NFER report on the IB Middle Years programme. The NFER conducted an investigation into the teaching and learning benefits of the IB MYP, in the UK. The aim was to provide a rich qualitative picture of the programme implementation in the UK, including the impact of the MYP on non-scholastic attributes such as international mindedness and civic engagement, classroom learning environments and school culture. The research design included a comparison of IBMYP, GCSE and IGCSE curriculum and assessment documents, online surveys of teachers, students and parents, and four detailed qualitative case studies.

The Key findings:

IBMYP, GCSE and iGCSE curriculums covered broadly similar content, but IBMYP had a greater focus on thinking skills and international mindedness.

Teachers, students and parents were overwhelmingly positive about the programme and its benefits, although did acknowledge some challenges, especially in regard to public recognition in the UK.

MYP in the UK:

Promotes a teaching style and school ethos valued by teachers, parents and students;

Develops students as independent learners, critical thinkers and active citizens, and encourages involvement in local and global communities;

Impacts positively on school culture and classroom environments – promotes feedback and reflection, engaging and motivating for students and teachers;

MYP students demonstrate greater awareness of global issues, greater interest in understanding other cultures and greater self-efficacy and sense of civic responsibility (local and global) than other students in the UK.

Teachers had positive views on the programme,  but some teachers held negative views  about the MYP qualification. In particular, the lack of recognition in the UK was identified as problematic. Some uncertainty was expressed about how the qualification would be perceived by universities.

Offering the MYP alongside the National Curriculum was identified as the main challenge of delivery and development of the MYP. Some teachers expressed the  view that schools cannot deliver both programmes effectively.

The majority of students said they enjoyed participating in the programme and acknowledged the benefits of its focus on critical thinking and reflection whilst accepting the greater workload they perceived, compared with other courses.  Students, unlike parents and teachers, expressed less concern that the IB MYP qualification may be less useful than GCSE or IGCSE courses. A number of students felt that too much reflection was required and some felt that the  assessment criteria could be clearer.

The survey found ‘IB MYP students reported high levels of awareness on issues such as diversity, social justice, human rights, sustainable development, conflict resolution and interdependence as well as  understanding how cultural values and assumptions shape behaviours. Although  ‘self-reported’, and therefore to be interpreted with some caution, the awareness  levels of IB MYP students were significantly different from, and higher than, those  of students in non IB schools; they were also more likely to cite school assemblies,  lessons and trips alongside family and friends as major sources of learning about  these issues.  In terms of their attitudes and beliefs in relation to global issues, the responses of IB MYP students were significantly different; more said they like learning about 110 different cultures and people with different backgrounds than non-IB students.  They also demonstrated more strongly positive views in terms of ‘self- efficacy‘ in  relation to the global issues mentioned i.e. the extent to which, as individuals,  could make a difference or contribute to the global community.  In terms of citizenship self-efficacy, the belief in one’s own ability to participate in  citizenship issues, identified as a driver of participatory citizenship in adulthood, IB MYP students were more likely than non IB students to report that they thought they could do the following well: argue their point of view about a controversial political or social issue; follow a television debate about a controversial issue;  speak in front of the class about a social or political issue or discuss a newspaper  article about a conflict between countries. Finally, when asked about actions they might become involved in the next few years, IB MYP students were more likely than non-IB students to report that they  would volunteer time to help people in the local community, talk to others about their views on political and social issues and join an organisation for a political or  social cause. All of the non-scholastic attributes displayed by IB MYP students and discussed above reflect the IB ethos and demonstrate that the students espouse the values the MYP strives to promote.

Whether or not the IB continues to expand probably depends on whether reforms to GCSEs and A levels offer, to some degree at least ,what the IB is currently offering to parents and pupils. (unlikely as things stand, but there is a way to go) The IB exists because there is a demand for what it offers to students, because it  claims not to be subject to grade inflation and  because of the perception ,among some stakeholders, that   GCSEs, and to some extent, A levels, are not fit for purpose. Will the IB expand significantly into State schools? On cost grounds alone, this seems unlikely, over the medium term.  And while this report on the MYP is broadly positive ,the big question is    that -if its so good, why  have so few schools opted to take up  the qualification?

NFER-Report for the International Baccalaureate

International Baccalaureate  Middle Years Programme  (MYP) in the UK-2013


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