Huge rise in number of schools planning to offer baccalaureate

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The Independent Online

The number of schools in the United Kingdom planning to offer the international baccalaureate (IB) as an alternative to A-levels will triple within the next two years.

The number of schools in the United Kingdom planning to offer the international baccalaureate (IB) as an alternative to A-levels will triple within the next two years.

George Walker, director general of the IB Organisation, said his offices were bracing themselves to deal with an increase in applications after the Government scrapped plans to replace the A-level system with a new diploma.

Initial inquiries indicate the number will triple within the next two years - from 65 to 200.

The rush to offer the IB is being interpreted in the education world as a blow to Secretary of State for Education Ruth Kelly's plans to run separate specialist vocational diplomas alongside A-levels.

Dr Walker, in an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, said applications would be from both the state and independent sectors. He added that the IB was now the "gold standard" of education - a mantle it had inherited from A-levels.

"Initially, when we first started, it was the independent sector that went for it," he said. "Now we cover both edges of the spectrum from prestigious independent schools to hard-working comprehensives." Among those who have expressed an interest in operating the exam is the Capital Academy in Brent, north-west London, one of the Government's new privately sponsored academies set up in areas where education has failed pupils in the past.

Leaders of the IB movement admit to mixed feelings over the Government's decision. On the one hand, they believe ministers have missed out on a golden opportunity to provide youngsters in the UK with a broader sixth-form curriculum that would better equip them for university and the world of work.

On the other, they believe the decision could be one of the best recruiting sergeants they have ever had. Critics say the Government's plans will mean vocational qualifications will still be considered second rate.

Dr Walker said: "Something as well established as A-levels reaches a cross-over point. It is well established and well respected and reassuring, but it can then move over to becoming boring. I suspect that transition has been made in the case of A-levels. I think both teachers and pupils feel that. I think the students deserve a more exciting combination of studies."

Under the IB, there are seven compulsory areas of study, including science, maths, foreign languages, the arts and the student's native language. In addition, there is a compulsory extended essay designed to stretch pupils' thinking skills - which Ruth Kelly has indicated she wants to pilot in UK schools.

"The IB came into being as a purely pragmatic answer to the problem of a more globally mobile population," Dr Walker said. "People wanted a qualification they could take forward and cash in anywhere in the world - at any university. We have to compete on an equal academic footing with qualifications like A-levels but - with the internationalism of the courses we offer - I think we've become the gold standard now."

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