International Baccalaureate: Out with the old and in with the new exams

An IB gives pupils an exciting degree of choice, says Jessica Moore

At Sevenoaks School in Kent, A-levels are off the curriculum. Since 1978, their students have been offered the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma – a system that sees 16- to 19-year-olds studying a range of six subjects, rather than three or four A-levels. Head teacher Katy Ricks explains: "When we started teaching the IB, it was primarily for overseas students who wanted to board in England but do something international. In 1999, we decided to phase out the A-level altogether. We have now gone completely over to the IB."

Diploma students take three major and three minor subjects (or, in some cases, four major and two minor). These include their first language, a foreign language, maths, a science and a humanities subject. Pupils also study theory of knowledge, where they learn how to analyse evidence and express an argument; creativity, action and service, which involves theatre, music or sports activities or community service; and an extended essay, which the students set themselves.

The two-year course leads to a single qualification, assessed by final-year exams. This makes it significantly different from A-levels, which are modular and result in separate qualifications for individual subjects.

Ricks describes the diploma as "a very open and imaginative programme" that has been "an unmitigated success" for her school. She believes it raises levels of attainment, increases enthusiasm for learning and prepares students for work and further study in both the UK and abroad.

The IB diploma is popular, too. According to the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), 217 UK schools currently offer the diploma (139 state-maintained and 78 independent). At Sevenoaks, Ricks says students and parents have embraced the diploma wholeheartedly. Meanwhile, teachers at the school find it inspiring because it gives them "a chance to think afresh". They receive regular training through the IBO, sharing ideas with colleagues from all over the world and from a range of learning environments.

A little newer to the IB model is Taunton School in Somerset. It has taught the diploma alongside A-levels since 2007. Martin Bluemel, IB co-ordinator at the independent school, says: "In America especially, it is viewed as a stable, solid currency you can trust. With GCSEs and A-levels, some people argue that it's easier to get the top grades now than it was previously, but the educational value of each grade in the IB hasn't changed." With the impending UK university fee hike, an increasing number of students are looking to study abroad. Bluemel believes the IB will put them in good stead.

An admissions tutor at a leading Russell Group university says: "Students who have taken the IB qualification are generally much better prepared for a degree than those who have taken A-levels. IB students tend to have better independent study skills, greater ability to take sensible notes in lectures, and are more able to deal with open-ended and multi-part questions than their A-level counterparts."

But is the qualification right for everyone? "We tend to advise that it is good for those getting GCSE grades B or above," says Bluemel. "GCSEs are a 'learn and churn' operation, and have to be because of the modular way they are devised. To convert from that to [the IB's] more holistic way of learning takes some getting used to."

Ultimately, the best judges of the diploma must be its students. In March 2010, Taunton surveyed the opinions of its first IB cohort, who studied the programme from 2007 to 2009. All but one said that, if they had their time again, they would still choose the diploma over A-levels. Taunton graduate Kieran Gajraj, now studying medicine at Birmingham University, says: "Had I studied A-levels, I may have been a science and maths kind of person. Instead, I also speak good French, have developed invaluable oral presentation skills, as well as critical analysis and interpretation."

In our increasingly demanding, competitive and global education system, these are valuable skills indeed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower