How to receive a rounded education, and be admitted to a top university
Question: Why, as recent research suggests, are proportionately more IB diploma applicants made conditional offers to top UK universities than their peers applying with alternative qualifications? Statistics, as we all know, can be skewed to support any argument – which in my case, in answer to this question, it is because IB applicants are better qualified.
By ‘qualified’, I do not just mean in the narrow academic sense, although close analysis of the content of IB diploma courses identifies an academic rigour and substance missing from equivalent university entry qualifications. The currency of diploma IB grades has also not been devalued by the phenomenon of ‘grade inflation’ which has debased the coinage of many countries’ national qualifications systems. Grade inflation aside, the IB assessment system is finely calibrated so can effectively discriminate between, for example, the very good, and the outstanding, student.
But it is the qualities within the IB diploma which cannot be measured or clearly identified which, arguably, are the most valuable. So valuable, in fact, that some universities have been bold enough to state publicly their preference for IB diploma applicants.
Whilst some schools may have established their reputation on teaching their students to pass exams, those offering the IB diploma have no option but to educate them – in the widest sense of the term. The diploma is more than a qualification; it is an educational programme, underpinned by a philosophy enshrined in the IB’s mission statement and Learner Profile.
The Extended Essay of 4000 words develops independent learning, and Theory of Knowledge (a high grade critical thinking course) teaches students to question the assumptions on which their education, and indeed lives, may have been based.
If you choose to approach the IB diploma from a pragmatic, even commercial, perspective, it should be identified as offering a gold card to university entrance – in the UK, North America, and many other countries across the globe. From a more principled, even idealistic, standpoint the IB diploma allows me to put my hand on my heart and promote it as a programme whose educational value is second to none.
Rather than considering the question “should I study the IB diploma?’’ perhaps better ask “is there a good reason why I should not?”
Executive Principal, Southbank International School
Southbank International School
Southbank International School belongs to the top 1% of schools in the UK, has 3 campuses in central London and is the first UK school to be accredited to offer all three IB (International Baccalaureate) programmes.
Southbank is an independent co-ed school, established in 1979, and has about 750 students aged 3 – 18, who represent 70+ different nationalities. Only about 10% of the school’s students are British, and the school offers over 20 different languages, from beginner to mother tongue.
The school is known for its academic excellence: In 2014, Southbank’s IB graduates achieved a 100% pass rate and scored on average 36 points (against the worldwide average of 29 points), while one student achieved the perfect score of 45 points, and a further three students reached 44 points. The school’s destination universities include Cambridge, Oxford, and Yale, and 95% of the school’s graduates receive an offer from their first-choice university.
To offer students individual attention, Southbank keeps its class sizes very small (max. of 17 students per class), and is proud to be able to offer above-average teacher face time and accessibility to its students. The schools PYP (Primary Years Programme) campuses are located in Kensington/Notting Hill and Hampstead, which offer identical programmes and welcome students from 3 years old. Southbank’s MYP (Middle Years Programme) and DP (Diploma Programme) are based at the schools’ Westminster campus, with dedicated facilities in a separate building for DP students.
The IB Diploma Programme
The IB programmes are taught worldwide to students aged 3 to 19 from a wide range of cultural, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. There are nearly 4,000 IB schools in 143 countries around the world, and the number has grown exponentially in the last five years (+ 66%). In the UK, there are 144 IB schools at the moment, of which only 12 are accredited to deliver PYP and MYP programmes.
The IB Diploma Programme (DP) is an academically challenging and balanced programme of education with final examinations that prepares students aged 16 to 19 for success at university and life beyond. It has been designed to address the intellectual, social, emotional and physical well-being of students in the modern globalised world. The programme has gained recognition and respect from the world’s leading universities.
More information on the International Baccalaureate can be found here:
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Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution. Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.
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The IB school in my city (Winston-Salem) is quite bad, and offers much less in terms of rigor and opportunity than STEM schools and AP classes
I’m a huge supporter of the IB, particularly since I started working at NIST in Bangkok. As someone who learned in a very traditional public school setting in the US, I now wonder what it would have been like if I had been provided the same opportunities that our students receive.
Compared to any other system, the IB is simply more in tune with a world that has radically changed over the past few decades. However, as you pointed out in your response to Seychellesmama, it’s most effective if schools implement the whole spectrum, from PYP to DP. I think too many opt only for the DP, and students simply aren’t prepared for the transition.
I agree that the IB is a fantastic programme! I actually did it when I moved to America with my parents at 17. However the school I attended offered it but was not actually an IB school and was not set up for it effectively. Subject choice was severely limited and you were put into regular classes and not taught around the IB curriculum, this meant we were at a severe disadvantage come exam time!
I would suggest that if choosing to take/get your child to take the IB diploma, ensure that the school is truly behind the programme and not just using it as a “string to their bow!”
Completely agree! I also wish more schools would realise that the IB programme starts from the early years too. It’s not just an alternative to ‘A’levels (in the UK), but a completely unique way of learning from the word go. An older child joining an IB school after learning a different curriculum can be at quite a disadvantage.