There is no doubt the International Baccalaureate (IB) is a huge selling point,” says Chris Edwards at Bromsgrove School in Worcestershire. “New markets have been opened and continue to be opened. A-levels are often seen as a way into university a means to an end. The IB is seen as preparation for life.” The fact that fewer IB students drop out of university, more get first-class degrees and more start on higher salaries than A-level students is not lost on parents, he adds.
With selling points including a wider breadth of focus, greater flexibility and a strong worldwide reputation, schools praise the qualification’s benefits. “I believe the IB diploma is a selling point for the school... as it represents a gold standard of qualification,” says Brendan Wignall at Ellesmere College in Shropshire. “It has the additional advantage for international students...that its currency is much more widely recognised than A-levels.”
Nicola Smith from CATS Canterbury, part of Cambridge Education Group, says that the IB has definitely become more popular with students since they started offering it six years ago. “We started with only one class of students in 2007, whereas in 2013 our IB and A-level cohort are identical in size,” she explains. “Many students are familiar with the Middle Years programme in their home country and recognise the IB as a passport to international education.”
One of the the IB’s main attractions is that it requires students to sit a wider selection of subjects than A-levels, including arts, sciences and a foreign language. According to Simone Lorenz-Weir at Oakham School in Rutland, this wider breadth of academic focus particularly appeals to parents. “They might have experience of other qualifications in different countries and realise that doing three subjects only will disadvantage their children in an international job market,” she says. “Most other countries teach children several languages and maths and their mother tongue up to university entry.”
Smith adds that for students who are already bilingual, the IB qualification offers a particular advantage. “They have the opportunity to study literature in their native language in addition to another language,” she says. “The breadth of subject offerings means that they can keep their options open for HE longer.”
In terms of the IB’s popularity, schools report varying interest. Pip Cockeram from Rydal Penrhos School in Colwyn Bay says, “In Europe and ex-Soviet countries, the IB is a must and is often a university requirement. However, in Hong Kong and China, A-levels are favoured.” Nick Pettingale, also from Ellesmere School, says that this difference is due largely to the different goals of students from different parts of the world. “We still have a big take-up for A-levels among Asian students, as the IB is too broad for them and they prefer to specialise, typically in maths and sciences.”
Simon Wormleighton at Plymouth College, which has 28 different nationalities currently studying at the school due to its high performance swimming programme, says the IB curriculum has become more popular with various nationalities over the four years since they started offering it. However, he adds that the largest nationality for them is German. “Germans specifically come to the UK to follow the IB programme,” he says. “We offer a pre-IB foundation course. This is a one-year course in year 11. Students follow a simplified GCSE programme and mix with the GCSE classes. At the end of the year they take five GCSE subjects and are introduced to the subject areas covered in the IB. When they start the IB they are ready to go full steam ahead.”
While a plus point to the IB is that the curriculum has remained largely unchanged, Justin Benson at King Edwards School in Surrey says that the course has been subject to a few tweaks over the years. “The introduction of new subjects such as Sport and Exercise Science, Text and Performance; streamlined administration to cope with growth worldwide; some changes to individual syllabi; and steadily less emphasis on the overall educational philosophy/ethos of promoting world peace, which was off-putting to some who saw it as ideological,” he explains.
Edwards points out that course content and mode of course delivery has also been updated. “Some courses are taken online now and in a few cases this has been very useful: Mandarin and Psychology in our case,” he says. “While IB courses are of course updated, one of the attractions of the IB is its resistance to political interference. Forty points was a wonderful score thirty years ago and remains so today. The same cannot be said of A-level.” email@example.com
How do agents view the IB?
“I think it really depends what part of the world the agent is from. It is still viewed with a little scepticism in the Far East. The European agents are fully up to speed with the IB and its benefits, the Middle and Far East agents traditional A-level countries are being forced to learn more about it as more and more students from that part of the world want and are asking for the IB. As with most client-based industries, you do as the client asks. That said I think that now they have a viable alternative to A-levels, they are becoming better at offering the client both options rather than historically one.”
Justin Benson, King Edwards School, Surrey
“Some agents in certain countries only recommend IB schools. A number of factors come into play. A South East Asian student looking to read maths at university is more likely to be advised to take the A-level route by an agent (though there are exceptions), whereas a German pupil wanting to enter into business or banking will often be directed towards IB. There are many agents promoting IB vigorously to their clients, but it remains arcane to others.”
Chris Edwards, Bromsgrove School, Worcestershire