November 2013 issue

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IB courses in UK schools

Many independent schools in the UK offer the International Baccalaureate as an exit qualification from school, and more are jumping on the bandwagon, writes Bethan Norris.

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.” bethan@hothousemedia.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

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Britannia Student Services  

English Australia  
English New Zealand  
Feltom (Via Malta Tourism Authority)  
IALC International  
Languages Canada  
Spanish Tourist Office  

Ability English  
Academia International Collegs  
Access Macquarie   
Australian Institute of Professional Education  
Cairns Language Centre  
English Australia  
ILSC Australia  
Impact English College  
UNSW — University of New South Wales  
UNSW — University of New South Wales  

CERAN Lingua International  

Dialogo Language School  
FAAP - Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado  
IH Sao Paulo  
The Language Club (TLC)  
UNISUL- Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina-  

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Bow Valley College  
Braemar College  
Cambrian College  
Camosun College  
Centennial College of Appplied Arts and Technology  
College of New Caledonia  
College Platon  
Georgian College  
Global Village  
Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced  
Languages Canada  
London Language Institute  
Niagara College  
North Island College  
Pickering College  

World Education  

English 100  
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GSM (Greenwich School of Management)  
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King's School Ely  
LAL Language Centres Holding Ltd  
Language in Group  
The Language Gallery  
Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE)  
Queen Ethelburga's College  
St Giles International  
Target English International  
Worthing College  

Goethe Institut Berlin  

English For Asia  

Dr. Walter GmbH  

Celtic School of English  
Clare Language Centre  
Dublin Cultural Institute  
University College Cork Language Centre  

Italian in Tuscany  

Kai Japanese Language School  

Feltom (Via Malta Tourism Authority)  

Auckland English Academy  
Campbell Institute, The  
English New Zealand  
Southern Lakes English College  
University of Otago Language Centre  

CIAL - Centro de Linguas  

EF International Language Centers  
Eurocentres International  

Malta Tourism Authority  
Spanish Tourist Office  

ELS Language Centers  
Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart  
Global Language Institute  
Zoni Language Centers  

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