Hundreds of schools set to allow pupils to take baccalaureate

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The Independent Online

Three times as many schools are to offer the international baccalaureate (IB) as an alternative to A-levels within the next two years. Bob Reed, chairman of the IB schools and colleges association in Britain, said the figure would rise from 70 at present to 200.

Three times as many schools are to offer the international baccalaureate (IB) as an alternative to A-levels within the next two years. Bob Reed, chairman of the IB schools and colleges association in Britain, said the figure would rise from 70 at present to 200.

Reasons include the greater breadth of the IB: pupils are expected to study six subjects instead of the traditional three or four A-levels.

Some heads are also worried about the uncertainty created by exam reforms. Mike Tomlinson, the former chief schools inspector who is heading a government inquiry into 14-to-19 education, is expected to recommend replacing the GCSE and A-level system with a new diploma when his final report is published this month. But it is likely to take 10 years for the new diploma to be fully operational in all schools.

Fiona Cordeaux, head of St Dunstan's College in Catford, south London, a £9,000-a-year mixed independent planning to offer the IB for the first time next September, said: "I suspect A-levels will be dumbed down, making it difficult for students to develop their higher-order skills. Universities say they prefer the IB. It is free from political interference and intervention. The IB is the educational euro recognised by employers in other countries as well as the UK."

Schools who want to offer the IB need clearance from its international body well in advance. Under the IB, students choose a subject from each of six compulsory areas; their own language; a second language; humanities such as history, geography, economics and philosophy; science; maths and arts.

They also have to write a 4,000-word extended essay aimed at developing their thinking skills, get credit for outside school activities and study the theory of knowledge. Each of the six subject areas are awarded six points (or grades) and there are three points awarded for the extra activities.

Dr Richard Barnes, admissions tutor for medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, said: "Taking the IB is not going to be a disadvantage and may be a significant advantage in preparation for university. There is no grade inflation: 30 to 40 pupils [in the world] get 45 points in a given year."

One of the concerns elite universities have over A-levels is that the rise in A-grade passes to 20 per cent of the cohort has left admissions tutors facing a plethora of candidates with three A-grade passes. Mr Reed, headteacher of the Anglo-European school in Essex, a comprehensive which already offers the IB, said he expected the number of UK schools with students taking the IB to increase to 400 within a few years.

They include both independent and state schools. Some of the Government's new City Academies, inner-city state-financed schools run by private sponsors, are to offer it. Almost all schools putting on the IB offer it alongside A-levels.

Ministers have made clear they will only accept Mr Tomlinson's proposals if they are convinced they will stretch the brightest pupils. Mr Tomlinson is adamant they will.

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