International Baccalaureate - 'It teaches you not to give up'

Make no mistake, an International Baccalaureate is tough, but that's when pupils really get going

It's one thing to know what the International Baccalaureate (IB) might involve, but anyone enrolled on a programme or investigating the qualification for the first time may well be daunted by the prospect. The good news is that they won't be alone in those fears, as many students share them. They may also turn out to be largely unfounded.

"Before starting the IB I felt extremely intimidated," admits Josh Hammond, a student at St Clare's school, Oxford. "I had heard countless complaints about the difficulties of the IB. But, once you get going, you become more efficient at time management and the work seems less daunting."

There's plenty to think about when it comes to the day-to-day reality of following an IB programme and, like Hammond, many students and teachers highlight the importance of good time-management from the outset. "Your IB experience can become quite gruelling if you don't get on top of it," says Alex Bird, head of the theory of knowledge and world religions faculty at UWC Atlantic College. "If you've got a deadline in six months, don't wait until it's upon you. Chip away at it."

Although students need to sharpen their organisational and study skills, they needn't do it silently – or without support. "IB students are expected to be risk-takers and communicators," says Sarah Jinks, a biology teacher at St Clare's. "But the tasks we set are designed to help them develop those skills. You're not expected to have them when you arrive."

The IB emphasises dialogue and group work, she continues, which can initially be a stretch if you're used to a one-way flow of information from teacher to student. "Being willing to voice your opinions and participate may be intimidating at first," says Jinks. "The benefit is that you're forced to challenge what you think."

According to Bird, being exposed to other perspectives through group work as well as being required to carry on with a broad range of subjects can be both helpful and challenging for students. "They may struggle in one subject but be a master of another, and that can be very humbling," he explains. "But it's also really powerful, it will teach them not to give up and help develop their self-respect."

The IB's broad curriculum isn't its only selling point. At the core of the qualification are three elements – an extended essay, a series of creativity, action and service (CAS) activities, and the theory of knowledge course – that set it apart from other programmes and may seem alien to students at first. However, they clearly have a purpose. Former ACS Hillingdon student Oscar Croysdale, currently an undergraduate at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, found that the extended essay gave him more confidence in his written work. "Students who last wrote an essay for their GCSEs have found it a big challenge," he says. "But because I completed the extended essay, I haven't found it so daunting."

Likewise, at the start of the course, the 150 hours of CAS activities students must undertake can seem intimidating. Not so, reassures St Clare's student Jonny Corrie: "CAS is the least intimidating part of the IB. It's an opportunity to do what you love the most and even try something you've never done before."

A wise choice of activities will stop it becoming a chore, he says, and the target isn't hard to reach with regular work. "Provided you attend an activity in each area at least once a week you won't have any problems."

Tom Walsh, vice-principal, adds that a further benefit is the recognition of the students' efforts within the curriculum. The end result is personal satisfaction and development. "Whether it's through sports teams, expeditions, learning to play a musical instrument or helping care for people with learning difficulties," he says.

The final aspect of the IB, the Theory of Knowledge course, considers abstract questions such as "What is reality?", explains Bird. "I'll ask, 'if we close the classroom door, how do we know that the corridor outside is still there?' Some people find that frustrating but then you'll bring it back to the subjects they're studying. For example, in the natural sciences, what would you have to do to prove that the corridor is still there?"

Charlie Constable, a student at Whitgift School in Croydon, London, explains that the theory of knowledge course broadens horizons and helps students strengthen their ideas or beliefs by questioning them. "My experience has been enjoyable, if a little strange at times, but that's the purpose of the course. I would advise people to come in to theory of knowledge with an open mind," he says.

The IB clearly challenges students and, as a result, parents can expect their charges to be tired (several students mention a need for plenty of coffee). They may even need to step in to enforce some time off now and then, says Bird, while Constable's father would support him with encouragement, persistent interest and discussions of how things were going.

Jennifer Nadel, whose son is at UWC Atlantic College, adds that the academic step up from GCSE to the IB can be quite large, "so children have to find their own motivation, otherwise they simply can't keep up".

She notes that the high workload can also mean setting aside holiday time for coursework and essays, but points out that support is always available from staff and other students.

Michael Burns, a Whitgift student, would agree. "The worst parts of the course have been the occasional nights where work has continued into the small hours of the morning," he reveals. "But the best parts have been being able to laugh them off, talking about our shared struggles with fellow IB students."

While the realities of the IB may include multiple deadlines, hard work and the occasional late night, there are plenty of benefits too: developing a broad, inquiring mind; self-discipline; even language skills. They're all things universities and employers value, and Bird adds that IB graduates are often the most interesting people "to sit and talk to about the meaning of life".

But for those only just beginning their IB journey, UWC Atlantic College student Nicholas Olsen has one simple bit of advice: enjoy it. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to continue education with a wide breadth of ideas and a lot of scope to try something new," he says. "Just have fun!"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
ESPN footage showed a split-screen Murray’s partner Kim Sears and Berdych’s partner Ester Satorova 'sporting' their jewellery
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee