The International Baccalaureate

Thanks to its international transferability, rigour and breadth of study, the highly regarded International Baccalaureate (widely referred to as the IB) has become a popular choice for globally mobile families seeking an internationally transferable curriculum for their children.

The International School of London

The International School of London (ISL)

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The International Baccalaureate (IB) offers programmes for pupils aged from three to 19. It is taught in thousands of international schools in popular relocation destinations worldwide, including many independent and international schools and some state schools in the UK.The IB is probably best known for its two-year Diploma Programme (DP), which is studied internationally by students between the ages of 16 and 19. Since its inception in 1968, however, awarding body the IB Organisation (IBO) has increased its offering to span the early years via the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the recently developed Career-related Programme (CP).“Families are more mobile than ever,” explains Tim Jones, deputy head of Sevenoaks School, a coeducational independent school in Kent. “Curricula need to change quickly, too, to reflect the changing ideas, interests and viewpoints of the teachers and pupils. The IB has experience in not underselling the capability of young minds.”Sevenoaks is one of just a handful of schools that celebrated 40 years of offering the IB programme in 2018, including SEK International School – El Castillo, Spain and the International School of London (ISL).The York School, a coeducational independent school in Toronto, Canada was the first school in Canada and the fourth in North America to be accredited to offer the full International Baccalaureate (IB) programme from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. Anthony Westenberg, communications and marketing, says, “We are uniquely positioned to provide an international experience for our students – firmly rooted in the diverse and multicultural context of Toronto. Our academic programme incorporates both the Ontario curriculum and the IB.“Recognised around the world, the IB education is the ultimate passport in an increasingly global context. The IB has grown into three interdisciplinary programmes for students aged 3-19, all of which are offered at The York School. The result is a seamless progression of skills and learning that supports students through every stage of their development and prepares them to excel in any university programme.”Focusing on each student as a whole person, IB programmes address not only children’s intellectual development but also their social, emotional and physical progress.

Developing global citizens

The IB mission statement demonstrates the IBO’s commitment to the development of an all-round, internationally educated global citizen. “The International Baccalaureate,” it says, “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”Alongside the DP, the PYP and the MYP have grown in popularity. Over 4,700 schools across the world, in both the state and the independent sector, now teach the IB.Bryan Nixon, Head of School at The American School in England (TASIS), an international school based in Surrey, sums up the advantages of the IB programme.“TASIS The American School in England offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. Our students are engaged in a curriculum that promotes international-mindedness and helps them to develop the attributes of the IB Learner Profile: Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-Takers, Balanced, and Reflective.

“A curriculum that prepares future leaders must delve into and grapple with issues that have personal, local, and global relevance and significance. We provide opportunities that enable students to develop an awareness of different cultural perspectives and an appreciation for the commonality and the complexity of human experience. If schools can develop leaders who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right, what impact might they have on a world entangled in conflicts based on cultural, religious, economic, and political differences?”

In order to teach one or more of the IB programmes, a school must complete an authorisation process administered by the IBO; only then is it allowed to call itself an IB World School. This rigorous process can take anything from two to three years, and can be a helpful indicator of quality for families looking for a school for their child.The British School in the Netherlands (BSN) offers an academic programme based on the National Curriculum for England and Wales but has been adapted to meet the needs of our international student body.Post-age 16, its students can choose to follow either English A-Levels, BTECs, the IBDP or the IBCP. The BSN is the only international school in the Netherlands to offer this choice.Paul Topping, member of executive leadership team and headteacher of senior school Voorschoten, says, “We are extremely proud to also offer a choice of other academic pathways at 16, including the IB and BTECs; this means that our students can choose the option that is right for them, and our excellent results in all areas show how successful this tailored approach is.”One of the huge benefits is its international transferability, as explains Linda Belonje, director of marketing and development at KIS International School – a school in Bangkok, Thailand that offers the full IB programme from ages three to 18. “The IB curriculum places a high importance on developing skills and attitudes. When students are regularly transferring from one school to another, the content (even within the same curriculum) may not always be the same, but the ability to think critically, to learn independently, to work together with others, to analyse your research, to solve problems and to take responsibility for your own learning are all transferable and allow easy transition from an IB school into any other school.”United World Colleges (UWC) is an educational movement with 17 campuses across the globe. Its Pearson College campus was one of the first schools in North America to offer the IB programme.UWC places a strong emphasis on bringing students together regardless of their background or nationality and its mission is to make education a force for peace and sustainability.Students study the IB programme and the school has developed some of its own courses in order to pursue its ethos: such as Marine Science, which has been adopted by the IB and used around the world. Currently the school is implementing a Global Politics course and developing an Anthropology course on Indigenous Nations and Settler States.The DP is known for encouraging students to develop independent study and critical thought, but can be quite challenging for students who are not all-rounders. Some consider it too broad for students who wish to specialise. However, the DP is highly regarded by university admissions officers and is one of the few international curricula that are truly globally transferable.

Primary Years Programme

The PYP is for pupils aged from three to 12. It focuses on encouraging children to be interested and motivated in their own learning by helping them to investigate subjects that they are curious about. It inspires them to make connections between different pieces of information and, in so doing, increase their understanding of how the world works.This enquiry-based approach enables pupils to build on their knowledge through an emphasis on learning how to learn and how to find out.The PYP curriculum is designed to ensure that children also receive a grounding in the traditional basics of literacy and numeracy, while placing emphasis on broad communication skills, problem-solving skills, teamwork, and the ability to apply learning to new situations.Most schools offering the PYP will be able to provide details of the programme, and should be able to supply a PYP curriculum guide on request.“A recent study of PYP and MYP student performance on the International Schools’ Assessment (ISA) examined the performance of IB students in maths and literacy tasks compare to their non-IB peers,” says a spokesperson for ICS Inter-Community School – the only school in Zurich offering all three IB programmes. “The ISA assesses maths, literacy, reading and expository writing among international students in Grades three to 10. The study showed that IB students tended to outperform their non-IB peers across all domains in the majority of grade levels.“The PYP is also transferable. Whilst its implementation may differ from school to school, the central structure and ethos of the programme remain constant. This provides parents and children with a vital continuity of learning when changing countries.”

Middle Years Programme

The MYP is for students aged 11–16. It lasts for approximately five years and classes are divided into eight subject groups: 
  • Language acquisition
  • Language and literature
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Arts
  • Physical and health education
  • Design
In their final year of study, students also engage in a personal project, which allows them to demonstrate the understanding and skills they have developed throughout the programme. They are expected to lead the process, with supervision from their teacher.Students can opt to take MYP eAssessment, which provides them with IB-validated grades based on their exams and coursework, and ultimately receive an MYP Certificate.

Diploma Programme

In 1968, the IBO sought to create a programme that would be recognised by universities around the world. Today, the DP provides learning over a very broad base of disciplines, preparing students for further learning and a future career.It has proved itself to be the success story in secondary education over the past 30 years, and is now recognised as an entrance qualification to universities in nearly 90 countries.Amal Hirani, deputy principal of Southbank International School in London, which offers all three IB programmes, believes that one of the major benefits of choosing the DP is that it enables students to keep their options open. “Students take up to six subjects and can choose from a broad range of subjects,” she says.“The age of 16 is too early for most students to narrow down their course options and the path they want to take in life. The IB Diploma gives them a breadth of subjects and keeps them open to learning languages and humanities, as well as learning sciences and maths, so they have more choices open to them compared to A Level students who are restricted to taking three or four subjects.”

Giving students the edge

The IBO regularly collaborates with research companies and universities to assess the effectiveness and value of the IB Diploma as explains KIS’s Ms Belonje, “Results [Key Findings from Research on the Impact of the Diploma Programme, 2016] show that IB students are more likely than non-IB students to complete their university degree and that they do so in less time. IB students are also better able to adjust to university expectations, thanks to their ability to think critically, manage their time and perform research.”According to one of the school’s recent graduates who went to The University of California, Berkeley, “I can’t stress enough how well the IB programme has prepared me for university. The IB has taught me how to be an active learner who is unafraid to ask challenging questions and a learner who knows how to reflect and think critically.”Karin Purcell, development director at Marymount International School London, supports the view that the IB gives students the edge when it comes to applying for a university place. “Our experience shows that our students who graduate with an IB Diploma are increasingly at an advantage when applying for university, especially here in the UK,” she says.

Diploma scores

The IB Diploma is awarded to students who receive a minimum of 24 points and who successfully complete the core components, including the Extended Essay and the Theory of Knowledge. Students receive their results in July and January.The maximum score a student can achieve is 45 points. Scores are calculated on the awarded grades of 1–7 for each of the six subject areas, to combine for a total of 42 points, plus an extra three points for the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge components.Unlike GCSEs and A Levels – which have seen grade inflation and been criticised for lowering standards – the IB has maintained consistently high standards across the globe for more than 40 years. According to the IBO, DP pass rates have remained consistent at around 80 per cent, with the average score sitting at around 30 points.

Career-related Programme

The newest addition to the IB is the Career-related Programme (CP) for students aged 16–19. The CP gives learners the option to pursue employment, apprenticeships or further education alongside academic study. Taught in more than 100 schools in 14 countries across the world, the CP helps students along the path to their chosen career, while arming them with transferable and lifelong skills, such as the ability to work as part of a team, time management skills, and intercultural understanding.Students develop rigour through a combination of academic and career-related courses, resulting in a more rounded understanding of the working world through components that develop skills such as communication, problem-solving and responsibility.“The IBCP appeals to students who wish to pursue career-related studies, combining the IB’s rigorous approach to education with practical hands-on experience within the working world,” says Kristi Sedlacek, IBCP coordinator at ACS Egham.The fact that the IB is accessible to students from any country, and from different educational backgrounds, makes it a popular choice for the relocating family concerned about the transferability of their child’s education. Jeremy Lewis, Head of School, ACS Egham International School in Surrey, believes that the IB is a truly internationally transferable qualification for families with globally mobile lifestyles.“ACS International Schools’ research among university admission officers has proved over many years that the IB Diploma is excellent preparation for university life and the most highly regarded academic qualification for 16-18 year olds.“The IB programmes in particular provide a flexible and culturally broad approach towards education. Taught throughout the world, the modules and subjects covered are tailored to the differing demographics of the students in the class. Take a common theme, such as peace and conflict for example; the subject will be more broadly analysed within the context of many different nations, demonstrating how it has impacted on a variety of cultures, rather than just the home country which is so often the case with national education programmes.”Fergus Rose, Advancement Director at ACS International Schools, also supports the view that the IB gives students the edge when it comes to applying for a university place.“Half of the leavers from ACS International Schools go to university in the UK, around a third to university in America and others to universities across the globe. This gives us a rare, deep knowledge of how to apply successfully to universities around the world.“What do we know from our school leavers? That the IB is the ideal qualification to help you prepare for and thrive at university.“Good exam results are required to secure a place at university. But over and above these, an International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) gives an edge. Why? Because it is the sign of an independent, inquiring mind which universities prize above all other attributes. Universities also want students who have good self-management skills and can marshal and communicate ideas, characteristics all very much associated with the IB.”
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