International Baccalaureate versus A Levels: which is right for you?

With continued controversy over A-level examinations, and ongoing reforms rolling out, such as a move to linear rather than modular courses, many are questioning whether the International Baccalaureate might be a better system. But what exactly is it, and how could it affect your educational prospects?

What is the International Baccalaureate?

Originally taught predominantly in overseas schools, more and more schools in the UK are choosing to offer the IB as an alternative to A-levels.

The IB consists of a selection of six subjects, three of which are taken at standard level, and three at higher level. A further two modules are taken in Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) and the Theory of Knowledge (ToK).

The first key differentiator is that of the six subjects, four subjects must be in maths, science, English and a foreign language.

What are A-levels?

Widely taught across the UK, A-levels, and the more recent addition of AS-levels, are the familiar choice for most students considering further education after their GCSEs.

Students normally study three or more A-levels of their choice. This means that students have slightly more choice in what to study than with the IB, but the story doesn’t end there.

What are the differences?

The IB has been described as being ‘an ethos of learning’. It has been designed to teach students how to think. This is deemed to be an advantage as it means pupils who have studied the IB are more capable of learning independently in later life. They are equipped with learning behaviours that allow them to quickly assess, analyse and problem solve. Certainly these traits are seen as beneficial by university’s as you are considered more prepared for the independent learning required.

A levels place more emphasis on in-depth subject knowledge. This is an advantage when a student has a clear career path mapped out as they can dedicate the 2yrs pre-university to building a solid foundation in their choice of subject. A-levels are also more suited to students who have a clear preference for either the arts or the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). With the IB, these students would be required to study both types of subjects, meaning those who are highly proficient in maths, but struggle with written subjects, will invariably have their overall mark pulled down by their weaker areas. The A-level system avoids this by allowing pupils to specialise in the areas they feel they’re strongest.

On the flipside of that scenario are the many students who feel that 16 is too young to have to choose a career path. Having to decide on specific subjects so early, really does narrow your scope of choice when it comes to university as you are unlikely to get into a computer science course with A-levels in drama, English and music, even if you did discover a passion for IT midway through you’re a-levels.

Additionally, with the UK in seriously short supply of students taking STEM subjects, in particular girls, many suggest that the IB could be the solution. By ensuring all pupils up to the age 18 study a balanced curriculum of arts and STEM subjects, there is more chance of students choosing these in demand subjects at university.

What’s the outlook?

Currently the IB diploma is not widely available in the UK. Just 135 schools currently offer it, 79 of which are independent schools and 56 state schools. Of the top 20 state schools, approximately half are grammar schools.

However there is a strong call for reform, and it is likely that in the coming years we will see more schools rolling out the IB as an alternative to A-levels. There are some stats that suggest that universities are favouring the IB, when faced with a tied decision between two pupils with the same equivalent grade. This is possibly down to several factors, but in the main it just comes down to the students ability to adjust and flourish when faced with new educational experiences. It has also been suggested that the IB suffers less ‘grade inflation’ than the A-level, perhaps making it a more accurate measure of success year on year.

Bright Young Things…

We believe that a positive educational future is all about choice. Schools that are able to offer their pupils the option to choose which route is best suited for them, will enable all to reach their maximum potential.

At bright Young Things we offer both curriculums, so if you want an informal discussion about your, or your child’s options, or are looking for any extra support in your current studies, don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0207 723 0506 or email [email protected]