Two important boosts for schools offering the International Baccalaureate to sixth-form students have come from university admissions tutors and one of the country's largest private sector employers.
In a survey by ACS International Schools, university admissions' tutors said while A-levels should not be phased out, the IB was the "best preparation for university". In another fillip for students undertaking these studies, audit and consulting company Deloitte, which takes on more than 1,400 graduates and undergraduates in the UK each year, says the points system used by the IB makes it easier to differentiate between candidates.
Sarah Shillingford, graduate recruitment partner at the company , says it sees growing benefits in the IB system as well as the new A* classification for A-levels, which students starting courses this year will be able to attain for the first time.
"With so many of the people applying for our graduate positions having attained top grades, it is difficult to differentiate between A-level candidates on academic results alone," she says. "The points system used does make it easier to differentiate."
Fifty-one admissions tutors contacted by ACS International said the IB is considered to provide the "best preparation to thrive at university" of the main sixth-form exam in the UK. Over one-third, 35 per cent, believe the IB provides the best preparation to thrive, compared to 18 per cent citing A-levels, and six per cent the new diploma.
Les Webb, who runs baccalaureate.eu.com, a site which advises how to choose an IB school, says that while debate has raged over the status of A-levels, there's been "staggering interest" in the IB from parents. He says they should be aware that only the A-level modular system offers total freedom of subject choice, and the IB does restrict choice.
At Sevenoaks School in Kent, for example, where IB courses have been run for 30 years, IB co-ordinator Nick Allchin says students have studied Japanese, Mandarin and Danish, as well as a wide range of the performance and visual arts. The school decided to drop A-levels entirely in favour of the IB four years ago.
"For us it's the coherence of the overall package which stands out," he says. "It's a diploma package where all three parts of the core that is studied promote not just content but thinking skills, critical thinking and crucially, the ability to learn new skills. What you see in the IB is not just academic, it's a philosophy of education that has ideals lacking in the national system. And it inspires teachers."
It has inspired teaches at Westbourne School in Penarth, where the school has taken the decision that the new sixth form will study only the IB. "The IB philosophy fitted with ours – we want to develop all-rounders who give back to the community," says the school's IB co-ordinator Lindsay Emyr.
Teachers also say parents should ask whether the IB diploma, which requires students to keep up a range of subjects including maths and science, will suit their particular child.
"Parents need to assess their child before choosing. Are they self-motivating? Can they manage their time? If so they will be suited to the IB diploma, which needs application and independent thought," says Paul Clark, who runs the IB programme at Felsted School in Essex.
"A-levels might suit a child who is very strong in one area – say, an engineer who is not a linguist – who doesn't want to keep up a range of subjects."
Head of Taunton School, John Newton agrees. "It's more about attitude than aptitude", he says. Taunton, echoes the view that the IB is for the "independently minded person who is disciplined about study".
But the IB, with its insistence that studies relate to how other cultures learn and view things, is perfectly suited to the global future children will face, he says.
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