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!"

Voices
Numbers of complaints about unwanted calls have trebled in just six months
voices
News
people
Arts & Entertainment
Picture of innocence: Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington in ‘Derek’
tvReview: The insights of Ricky Gervais's sweet and kind character call to mind Karl Pilkington's faux-naïf podcast observations
Arts & Entertainment
Tangled up in blue: Singer-songwriter Judith Owen
musicAnd how husband Harry Shearer - of Spinal Tap and The Simpsons fame - helped her music flourish
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Paul Weller: 'I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting'
music
Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
arts
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
sportReal Madrid 1 Bayern Munich 0: Germans will need their legendary self-belief to rescue Champions League tie in second leg
Life & Style
Looking familiar: The global biometrics industry is expected to grow to $20bn by 2020
tech
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Life & Style
Balancing act: City workers at the launch of Cityfathers
lifeThe organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group boasting more than 3,000 members
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
Fresh hope: Ruth Womak and her dog Jess. A free training course in basic computing skills changed Ruth’s life
educationHow a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Migrants in Britain a decade on: The Poles who brought prosperity

Migrants in Britain a decade on

The Poles who brought prosperity
Philippe Legrain: 'The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - we need a European Spring'

Philippe Legrain: 'We need a European Spring'

The eurozone crisis has tipped many into disillusionment, despair and extremism - this radically altered landscape calls for a new kind of politics, argues the economist
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A moment of glory on the Western Front for the soldiers of the Raj
Judith Owen reveals how husband Harry Shearer - star of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons - helped her music flourish

Judith Owen: 'How my husband helped my music flourish'

Her mother's suicide and father's cancer also informed the singer-songwriter's new album, says Pierre Perrone
The online lifeline: How a housing association's remarkable educational initiative gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression

Online lifeline: Housing association's educational initiative

South Yorkshire Housing Association's free training courses gave hope to tenant battling long-term illness and depression
Face-recognition software: Is this the end of anonymity for all of us?

Face-recognition software: The end of anonymity?

The software is already used for military surveillance, by police to identify suspects - and on Facebook
Train Kick Selfie Guy is set to scoop up to $250,000 thanks to his viral video - so how can you cash in on your candid moments?

Viral videos: Cashing in on candid moments

Train Kick Selfie Guy Jared Frank could receive anything between $30,000 to $250,000 for his misfortune - and that's just his cut of advertising revenue from being viewed on YouTube
The world's fastest elevators - 20 metres per second - are coming soon to China

World's fastest elevators coming soon to China

Whatever next? Simon Usborne finds out from Britain's highest authority on the subject
Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture that causes men to miss out on seeing their children

Cityfathers tackles long-hours culture

The organisation is the brainchild of Louisa Symington-Mills, a chief operating officer who set up Citymothers in 2012 - a group that now boasts more than 3,000 members
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable