The International Baccalaureate: developing enquiring minds

A flexible learning programme for students aged from three to 19, the International Baccalaureate, or IB, is studied by over one million students worldwide and is fast becoming the world’s leading international qualification. We take a close look at this challenging academic programme.

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 When choosing a programme of study for their children in a new location, relocating families must consider which curriculum and final exam system will best suit their child.The International Baccalaureate (IB) caters for pupils from the ages of three to 19 and is taught in thousands of international schools in popular relocation destinations across the globe, including many independent and international schools and a small but growing number of 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, the IB Organisation (IBO) has increased its range to span the whole of a child’s education through the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), and the recently developed Career-related Programme (CP).School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsFocusing on each student as a whole person, IB programmes address not only children’s intellectual development but also their social, emotional and physical progress.

Why do schools choose the IB?

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. Almost 4,800 schools across the world, in both state and independent sectors, now teach the IB.In order to teach one or more of the IB programmes, schools must complete an authorisation process administered by the IBO; only then is the school allowed to call itself an IB World School. This rigorous and challenging 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 in their new location.The DP is available in a wide range of subjects. It is known for encouraging students to develop independent study and critical thought, but can be quite challenging for students who are not all-rounders and 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 is truly globally transferable.

Primary Years Programme (PYP)

The PYP is for pupils aged from three to 12. The curriculum 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 children 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, whilst 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. 

Middle Years Programme (MYP)

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.

IB 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 more than 150 countries.An annual survey of University admissions officers by ACS International Schools and the IB Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA) reveals the high regard that universities have for the IB. The 2017 survey asked respondents to rate three exam systems – A Levels, the DP and Scottish Highers – and rank them against factors such as ‘encouraging independent enquiry’ and ‘developing ability to cope with pressure’.Among the 81 UK universities surveyed, the DP was rated top in developing 12 out of 13 factors considered useful in preparing students to thrive at university. ACS is a group of four international schools, three based in Greater London and one in Qatar, that takes students aged two to 18 from over 100 different countries. The schools all teach the IB as part of their international curriculum. Jeremy Lewis, Head of School, ACS Egham International School said,Recent research from the World Economic Forum asked executives from the world’s leading companies what they thought would be the most important job skills in 2020. And the number one response? Complex problem solving. Shortly followed by critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence. For many these are also the hallmarks of an entrepreneurial outlook. “To my mind, there is only one education programme that ticks all these boxes – the International Baccalaureate. “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.“Our latest survey, Inspiring Entrepreneurship in Education,conducted among heads of enterprise at UK universities shows that the IB is also a qualification which develops an entrepreneurial mindset – ultimately, a versatile mind frame with flexible skills that will stand our children in good stead for the future world of work whatever field or career they pursue.” Fergus Rose, Advancement Director at ACS International Schools,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.” 

IB 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 diploma results in July and January.The maximum score a student can achieve is 45 points. Scores are calculated on the awarded grades of 1 to 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 componentsUnlike 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.

The IB Career-related Programme

The newest addition to the IB is the Career-related Programme (CP) for students aged 16–19. The CP gives students the option to pursue employment, apprenticeships or further education alongside academic study.Taught in more than 140 schools in 23 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.Jeremy Lewis, Head of School, ACS Egham sums up the IB as, “an ‘all round’ or holistic qualification, well suited to our multi-cultural, fast paced, digital 21st century lives. A good IB school, will also teach time management and study skills to help students complete their Diploma, and so, not surprisingly, universities prize the IB over and above a number of other qualifications.”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.“Around 23 per cent of our pupils live outside the UK and others have dual or triple nationality or have attended school overseas,” says Sevenoaks’ Katy Ricks. “Students benefit from a diverse student body. Linguistic and cultural divides are bridged in a safe environment and this is a huge advantage in preparing students for life in the global workplace.”As an internationally transferable curriculum, which has high status with universities globally and prepares students effectively for the global workplace, the IB programme only looks set to increase in popularity.This article was refreshed on 25 July 2019.
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