The International Baccalaureate is now on offer at 194 schools across the UK, educating over 5000 students. The UK has happily ambled through the last half of a century with dreams that the A-Levels are the best assessment for eighteen year olds. Whilst most of us would have agreed, clearly others have been left wondering if there is a better option. So why does the A-Level’s foreign cousin seem more and more alluring? I feel there are three main reasons: stability; breadth; international flavour.
- Stability. The IB offers a stability which gives confidence to its sponsors. The average A-Level score has climbed over the past three decades, with the number of students ranking in the top grades at a sharp increase. Over the same period, the average IB diploma score has remained broadly the same. Similarly, A-Level reforms materialise with alarming frequency, throwing its students for six with new syllabi and structures. In the last five years, the AS has been overhauled, drastic grade boundary changes have been made, and the curriculum has been altered. These constant amendments imply that A-Levels are unpredictable by nature and make it difficult for both teachers and students to become familiar with the syllabus. In contrast, the IB diploma has remained the same since its inception, which is a comfort for something so recent.
- Breadth. I met a father recently who insisted that all of his children took Maths for A-Level, regardless of their aptitude or attraction to the subject. He argued that Maths keeps your options open and improves employability. There is indeed a strong case for leaving school with a solid foundation in a variety of subjects, particularly Maths and English, which equip students with flexibility for their later careers. This breadth is much more easily achieved with IB, which ensures that every student has put in the groundwork in a broader range of core subjects, as well as an extended essay, a course in Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and a creativity, action and service (CAS) programme.
In contrast, now that AS Levels have been reformed, students will be less likely to take AS Levels and their subject choice will be narrower. For parents concerned about keeping their children busy, A Level timetables are littered with free periods, unlike the IB timetable which is bursting to the brim. Particularly if you are paying for your children to attend fee-paying schools, this may seem like a waste of money.
- International Flavour. Given the IB is universally recognised across the globe, it emits a certain international flavour which is not achieved by the A level. This international aspect is probably more popular with employers than it is for universities, though some non-UK universities (for instance in the US) are known to prefer IB to A levels. If you or your child is thinking about heading overseas for higher education, the IB is definitely worth considering. That the IB is taught across the globe also means that it carries the advantage of presenting ideas which might not be fostered so naturally in the UK.
The idea of a ‘global’ 21st Century exam’ is undoubtedly an attractive one. That it adds stability and breadth to this ideal is surely the reason for its popularity and why the IB is something seriously worth contemplating.