IB – Giving our Students a Global Perspective in a Post-Brexit World

WITH all eyes focused on the August exam results season for most leaving Sixth Form students this year, another group of students will be quietly celebrating their exam results this week away from the glare of the press: those taking the International Baccalaureate Diploma.

The growth of this group of students has been steady and, I believe, enduring. I believe that growth will now accelerate, both because students are seeking an alternative to the new two year A level courses and because many are not willing to specialise in only three subjects at such an early age.

The International Baccalaureate – or IB – Diploma, an alternative but – crucially – equal qualification to A levels in England and Wales and the Highers in Scotland, recently celebrated its 50th birthday.

It was founded in 1968 by a group of determined educators to offer an education model which combined European breadth with British specialisation. From 7 schools in 1968, 4,871 schools worldwide now study for the IB Diploma.

Here at the Royal High School in Bath, we have recently celebrated ten years of teaching the IB Diploma. We offer both the IB Diploma and A levels to students, and, as such, have a dedicated structure in place to enable us to do so.

And yet we are – so far – the only school in Bath to offer the IB Diploma and the only school in the entire Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) network of 25 schools to do so. Why is this?

The IB Diploma was originally introduced to the Royal High by a former Head who joined us from Sevenoaks School, perhaps the most passionate supporter of IB in this country. But for this twist of fate, perhaps the school may never have come to do so and we would have been a poorer place without it because it has enriched what we offer post 16.

We have become firm believers in offering students the choice between A levels and the IB Diploma and which best suits them.

The IB Diploma was originally seen as elitist and only designed to suit the most academic children and perhaps this myth deters many from considering it as an option.

This belief that it is only suitable for the most academic is far from the truth – although it is certainly popular with some of our most gifted children, it attracts a range of students with different talents – as it does in other schools.

Indeed, our experience is that children with a range of talents are going on to obtain a better university place than children with similar talents who have opted for A levels.

The breadth of the course – six subjects – plus an extended essay – compared to specialising in three subjects as students do with A levels – plays to the strengths of those all-rounders who may not be able to achieve an outstanding performance in three subjects but have the opportunity to show real promise across six.

Also, many pupils have no idea what they would like to study at university or what career they might be interested in and so they are unwilling to cut their studies down to three core subjects and make that choice at 16. Others are simply attracted by the nature and variety of the course – where coursework is still included – and creative activities are part of the course, albeit unmarked.

Crucially, universities also seem to have changed their attitude towards IB students. Rather than being the exception and regarded with perhaps a little suspicion, IB students are now actively being recruited by universities, not least because their own research has showed that IB students are the least likely to drop out of a university course. I believe this is probably because their IB Diploma course has given them a taste of the variety of university-style study and critical thinking which proves invaluable for them.

All universities now set grade targets for IB students in the same way they might offer 3 As or 2As and a B, which is more familiar to many students and parents. Current IB targets set by universities also seem to reflect their interest in recruiting IB students; with relative grades set lower than for A level students of the same standard.

Marked, as it is, out of 45, Cambridge sets the most stringent targets for IB results – usually always over 40 points – with other Russell Group universities setting targets mainly in the 30s, depending on the course and the student.

Another significant development which I believe will see the IB going from strength to strength is the growth of more international style degree courses at UK universities such as the joint honours course of Liberal Arts and Science offered at University College London. Change is certainly in the air when students have the opportunity to study in diverse disciplines at undergraduate level. So we see a knock-on effect coming from above and below which, I believe, will encourage the growth of the IB Diploma.

Traditionally, at A level, it is often hard for students to study a varied range of subjects but for the IB Diploma, for example, students have to take a language they are acquiring so if they have studied French, they are perhaps encouraged to study Spanish or Italian and so gain a valuable introduction to a second or even third language depending on the courses they have chosen.

Here at the Royal High School, we introduce the choice of IB Diploma or A levels when students are in Year 9. We recognise that the IB Diploma is still a relative novelty and an unknown area for many which is a hurdle we need to get over.

Parents and students are invited to an introduction to both so an informed choice can be made. Initially, many of our overseas students favoured the IB Diploma as they were more familiar with retaining a broad range of subjects. Increasingly, however, the IB Diploma is becoming the qualification of choice for British students too.

This year, nearly a fifth of our cohort studied the IB Diploma but next year that number will double, meaning a third of our Sixth Formers will be studying it.

The IB’s mission is “to develop young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. IB’s courses encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners, who understand, that other people, with their differences, can also be right”.

That original mission conceived in Geneva where the IB Diploma was launched seems more relevant than ever today. As we head towards an uncertain post Brexit world, I also believe many students are opting for a qualification which they believe will help them to fulfil that mission, gain a global perspective and help them keep their options open for whatever the future may hold.

I for one will continue to fly the flag for the IB Diploma in Bath and beyond!


Jo Duncan, Head, Royal High School Bath

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