What is the International Baccalaureate?
Whilst similar to A-level post-16 studies in terms of length and structure, there are key differences to the International Baccalaureate. At the forefront of the IB curriculum is an ethos built from three core development principles. These each apply in unison and provide a broad and all-encompassing academic, individual, and practical approach to further education.
At an IB school the 3 key development principles are:
- A Theory of Knowledge – teachers encourage pupils to consider the nature of knowledge, reflect on the process of learning within all their subjects, and apply this understanding within different academic contexts.
- Creativity, Activity, and Service – this allows pupils to apply their theories of knowledge within practical settings, ranging from science to physical and artistic contexts. In turn, pupils boost their employability skills and experience.
- The Extended Essay – which requires pupils to write a study piece of around 4,000 words. This module allows pupils to independently dig deeper into a topic that they find interesting.
Building on these educational values, the International Baccalaureate splits the curriculum into six core subject groups that aim to provide students with a broad set of skills to best prepare them for university and later life. Students must study from the core six subject groups but can choose one subject from each group that they want to pursue. This means pupils study six subjects in total, with one from each of the mandatory groups.
These six mandatory subject groups are:
- Studies in language and literature – Pupils have a wide range of course options to pursue, ranging from literature, language and literature, and literature and performance learning. These courses aim to develop strong written and oral communication skills as well as offer an understanding of language and/or literature from a diverse set of cultures.
- Language acquisition – This core subject group aims to develop a pupil's understanding of a second language as well as the country’s culture. While each school offers a different choice of languages to study, each school offers a mix of modern and classical languages tailored to those both with experience learning a language and those without.
- Individuals and societies – This subject group offers students an opportunity to learn about the different physical, economic, and social contexts that operate within society. Subjects in this group are varied and depending on the school, can offer everything from business studies and economics to geography, philosophy, and information technology.
- Sciences – Students also have the opportunity to pursue a science of choice and learn about the models, theories, and applications behind the science. The choice of science course is extensive and spans biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, health science, and more.
- Mathematics – IB Mathematics study provides different courses tailored to pupil background and expertise in the subject through standard and higher-level options.
- The arts – The art courses are suitably designed to provide a balance of creativity and a disciplined understanding of the specific art. Art subject choices are varied, covering dance, music, film, theatre, and visual art.
Similar to how AS and A2 levels work in the sixth form, IB pupils choose six topics to study in year one (standard level) and can then choose three of the six subjects to pursue further into the higher-level year 2. This provides pupils with an education driven by fundamental core subjects, whilst allowing them to determine the direction they want to take in their studies going forward.
Why choose the International Baccalaureate?
Approaching the end of the senior school
journey can seem a daunting prospect, but the International Baccalaureate provides a wide range of benefits and opportunities that can calm these anxieties and make it a solid choice for post-16 studies.
Depth and breadth of learning
One of the key issues with the choice-based approach of A-level studies is that students are required to choose four subjects to pursue that can potentially impact the direction of future studies at university and beyond. The problem here is that while some may know the career they want to peruse, 78 per cent of secondary students
are unsure about the right career for them.
Choosing the International Baccalaureate route instead lowers this potential career anxiety by easing pupils into further study with a series of broad core subject groups and a range of courses to choose from within each group. Similarly, these subjects are not taught in isolation and pupils are encouraged to make connections between subjects to really discover the direction they want to take their future university studies and career
Similarly, the three core development principles of IB learning foster an individual’s independence and confidence in their learning abilities. Such a set of skills better prepare pupils for the self-led learning expectations of university studies going forward. The independent essay, for instance, is a key part of the IB curriculum and requires in-depth, independent research around a chosen topic similar to a university essay or dissertation.
Future industry preparation
Beyond this, the International Baccalaureate Diploma is driven by a practical assessment-based approach instead of solely examinations. For those who find the pressures of exams to be a major worry, this is a considerable plus and provides a basis to learn and understand what is being taught as opposed to simply memorising information for an exam.
Another benefit of this is that IB assessments encourage practical and critical thinking, students learn outside the classroom and develop beyond assessment results by discovering how to analyse and evaluate objectively, generate innovative ideas, and consider new perspectives. As a result, IB courses better prepare pupils for future industry work and provide a key set of employability skills that can be applied in their future careers.
With one of the core principles of IB development being creativity, activity, and service, pupils are taught with a focus on emotional and social development. This not only encourages inclusivity inside the classroom but also gets pupils involved in cross-curricular activities outside the classroom. In addition to academic development, pupils also have the opportunity to develop softer transferable skills like empathy, teamwork, and organisation.
How are IB school pupils assessed?
Assessment for an International Baccalaureate Diploma is determined by a mix of practical coursework assessments and examinations. This gives pupils breathing room if they feel they have performed badly in either assessment. The average pass rate for IB pupils is 82 per cent, with subject grades being scored from 1-7. Up to three extra points can be added for the extended essays. 24 points are required at the end of the two-year study in order to obtain the IB Diploma, although pupils can earn up to 45 points.
Should you choose an IB school?
The most important thing to remember when deciding on post-16 education is that there is no universal option. Those with a more reinforced understanding of what they want to do going forward may benefit from A-levels, while those looking to broaden their skill set and discover new subject interests may benefit from the IB approach.
Why not browse our reviews on some of the most successful and tailored IB school experiences? Our reviews contain unbiased information to ensure you have the best tools available when choosing a school for your child.
Is the IB harder than A-levels?
While neither the IB nor A-levels are harder at face value, they each provide a different approach to learning, meaning that different students may thrive better in one over the other. Both can be difficult; however, A-levels tend to have a greater focus on exams and the application of academic theoretical knowledge. On the other hand, the IB encourages critical thinking and practical problem-solving for assessment which creates different challenges.
Do universities prefer A-Levels or the IB?
Universities place equal weight on both A-Levels and the IB, so your choice will not impact your university application. The main impacting factors for universities are the final grades a pupil gets, the willingness to study a particular course, and the relevance of the subjects they have studied.