Leap aboard the Bacc bandwagon

More schools are offering the IB as demand grows for an alternative to A-levels
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The Independent Online

Last year saw the biggest annual rise in the number of independent schools offering the International Baccalaureate, with 16 more schools joining the long list of those who have decided that the IB offers a better – and broader – education than A-levels. The number of fee-paying schools laying on the qualification has now risen to 66.

What wows the schools is the multidisciplinary nature of the IB; the fact that students take a range of subjects, covering literature, languages, the arts, maths and science. In a globalised world, where students are required to have an international perspective and face competition for university places and jobs, the cross-curricular nature of the IB is attractive. “Students are definitely aware of the international marketplace in terms of jobs,” says James Kazi, director of IB at Charterhouse School, which plans to introduce the qualification in 2011. “The flexibility of an IB student is extraordinary. We don’t sit in jobs for life any more, and individual jobs evolve, so that flexibility is critical.”

David James, director of IB at Wellington School, agrees. Its decision to offer the IB is partly pragmatic, he says; parents and students know that graduates from other countries possess language and numeracy skills that many students give up before A-level.

But the philosophy behind the IB is also attractive to schools. “The IB asks pupils to think about thinking, and not just about ticking boxes or their next module,” Kazi says.

The education the IB provides appeals to Headington School in Oxford, which starts teaching it from September. James Stephenson, diploma co-ordinator, says the emphasis on a rounded education and lifelong learning was attractive and in line with the ethos that the school already aimed to promote.

Of course, independent schools need to attract parents and are eager to offer more choice to students. They recognise that A-levels can be limiting because they require students to specialise early. Schools that have adopted the IB recently are offering it in tandem with A-levels, to give students a choice.

Ross Cameron, director of studies at Red Maids School in Bristol, disputes that the IB is elitist, and appeals only to top students. “The trend is that pupils who are better risk-takers are going to opt for the IB,” he says. “This group doesn’t necessarily correspond exactly to the brightest.” These risk-takers are inclined to persevere with subjects they find hard at IB, whereas they may not have chosen them at AS or A-level.

But in 2006, when the IB was incorporated into the Ucas tariff, the points score system for entry into higher education, the highest IB mark of 45 points was deemed equivalent to more than six A-levels. For 2010 university entry this has been revised down slightly, but the tariff, designed to enable comparison between the growing number of post-16 qualifications, reflects the demanding nature of the IB programme. With this summer sure to bring further criticism of grade inflation and dumbing down at A-level, the popularity of the IB looks set to rise.

Moreover, university admissions tutors appear to value the soft skills and creative thinking of the IB. In a survey by ACS International Schools in August last year, almost all admissions officers interviewed looked favourably on the qualification, and 35 per cent thought that the IB provided the best preparation for university. University applicants are now increasingly career-focused, the survey found. This trend is a further incentive for independent schools to adopt the IB, determined to make their students the most employable.

Admissions tutors felt that the IB was the best qualification for those who wanted to study internationally. Holly Buick, 22, who sat the IB and studied history at Oxford, says: “If you enjoy that kind of breadth, the British university system, where you only study one or two subjects, can be restrictive.”

She also liked the fact that the IB was infused with the ethos of global citizenship, and all subjects had a strong international dimension.

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