Why we offer the International Baccalaureate at Windermere School
7 November 2023
In the King’s Speech today, Tuesday 7 November 2023, the government renewed their commitment to replace A levels and T levels with the Advanced British Standard, a single qualification in the 16-19 age range – it would mean that all students would study five subjects, and everyone would continue to do English and Maths until they left school. This long-term ambition reflects the debate which has been going on most of my teaching career – do A levels require children to make life affecting choices and specialise too young, at 15 years old?
The rest of the world would say a resounding ‘yes’. The UK has the most specialised sixth form curriculum of all developed nations in the world. It was designed in an era where the upper middle classes went into lifelong careers – civil service, armed forces, medicine, law etc. For quite some time now most people have recognised that the old world no longer exists and life-long careers are now a rarity.
Another factor we must consider is that the world is now a much smaller place. Wherever we work we are likely to be alongside people from other countries, speaking different languages, with diverse cultures and outlooks. In preparing for future careers in such environments, young people need to be comfortable in both meeting and working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Better still, being able to communicate in a second language will be more advantageous for their futures.
But if there is now general agreement we should move to a broader education at sixth form level, why should a decade of young people miss this upgrade to our education system when the alternative already exists, is already taught in schools across the UK and is enthusiastically welcomed by universities across the world.
Most students at Windermere School will want to go on to university with all the academic expectations this entails. Our students have followed the International Baccalaureate (IB) where they have had to learn to learn independently as part of their programme, had to research challenging questions, had to reference sources and to write bibliographies. Our students find the gear shift into university academic life smoother than others and they are more likely to stick with their chosen courses because they have acquired the skills to cope with the demands of university academic life.
The IB offers all this and more. The founders of the IB saw a need for an international approach to education which would equip young people with the skills, values and knowledge necessary to build a better future. A recent HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) study showed that IB graduates on average earn 5% more in their first post-university job than their A level peers. Through the IB, students are given a unique education that helps them develop strong academic, social, and emotional characteristics. As a result, students become very well-rounded, with an increased understanding of different languages, cultures, and globally significant ideas and issues.
The IB Diploma programme requires students to study 3 higher subjects, 3 standard subjects, including maths and science. They must write an extended essay, study the different ways we know things and how to discern the value and reliability of different sources, and be engaged in service to their communities through the Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) elements of the programme. It is a busy and stimulating course that focuses not only on academic results, but on developing individuals who are prepared for the challenges that await them in the world.
The UK for a long time has not been able to establish equal credibility for vocational courses at sixth form level. The dominance of A level has made this difficult and yet a more applied approach, which relies more upon continuous assessment, is a valid form of learning and done well, is an excellent preparation for both work and further study. The IB Careers Programme, offers such a pathway by incorporating recognised BTECs within its qualification. At Windermere School we offer the BTEC in Business and in 2024 will offer a second BTEC in Sport and Outdoor Activities to take full advantage of our adventure and water sports facilities.
All these benefits make IB stand out. There are further advantages too. As the UK continues to stutter in reforming its sixth form curriculum, the IB is already well established both as a curriculum and as a qualification. First started in 1968, it is now delivered in 151 countries and around four and a half thousand schools to tens of thousands of students. It is recognised by all leading universities across the world, including the Russell Group universities, for its strengths and understood to be an exceptional preparation for higher education.
Universities and businesses are very aware that innovation is sparked when different disciplines share ideas and deliberately structure their organisations to encourage this to gain a competitive edge. The IB provides an excellent model for the review and updating of qualifications ensuring that courses remain relevant in content and up-to-date. And, crucially, because it is one organisation, the subject leaders talk to each other regularly.
The IB is therefore not just a set of subject qualifications that stand alone. It is an integrated program where connections across subjects are made. It instils a lateral approach to thinking and a set of underpinning values; including internationalism, inclusivity and an understanding of our place in and impact upon the environment.
The choice of course at sixth form is so important and it is tempting to stick with the tried and trusted, even though its days may be numbered. The breadth and balance of the IB develops inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who will help create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. This is the mission of the IB, and as a school we cannot imagine a better set of skills to equip our pupils with.
– Frank Thompson, Head of Windermere School