Has the IB finally overtaken A levels as the smart choice for kids?
The International Baccalaureate is admired by universities, respected by companies and gaining traction in the UK with online school Kings InterHigh offering the first ever fully-virtual IB from Sept 22. What’s the fuss about? We ask Head of Sixth Form Alessandro Capozzi
What is the IB – and why should we care about it?
The IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) is a recognised alternative to A-levels for children 16-19 years that came out of post-war Switzerland in the 1960s as an education option that was designed to be independent of government. One of the IBs greatest appeals, particularly in these uncertain times, is its international outlook – all students must take a foreign language and the global mindset is also woven into other IB subjects, from learning about genetic diseases across ethnic groups in Biology to studying cultural identity in Psychology.
There’s also a holistic element the IB, with community service and a physical challenge as part of the programme. But actually the reason why most pupils and parents are increasingly taking notice of the IB is its credibility – 97% of admissions officers agree that the IB prepares students well for university, and the IB is currently the fastest growing qualification in the world, taught in 97 countries and accepted by the top academic institutions. As part of that growth there are now currently 91 physical schools offering the programme across the UK—including Inspired Education Group’s Fulham School in London. Kings InterHigh is the first school to offer the full IBDP online which is incredibly exciting.
It all sounds all modern and right on, but surely British students are better to stick with what they know?
Actually, the IB Diploma and A Levels have more in common than you think. Like A Levels, the IB Diploma is a two-year pathway studied at Sixth Form (making it a seamless follow-on after GCSEs), and they’re both widely recognised and respected by universities and employers around the world, including across the UK. The main differences really are about the breadth, learning approach and aims, so that should be where the decision to take IB or stick to A levels should sit.
A levels are great for those who want to specialise early across three of four subjects, whereas the IB offers a less detailed but more rounded journey across six subjects of English Language and Literature, Maths, Sciences, Languages, Humanities and the Arts. I think most educators would agree that the IB fosters a more independent approach to learning as it’s part of the curriculum to incorporate elements such as Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), where students complete self-led projects in the arts, physical activity, and charity. University admissions officers are very keen on IB students for that reason, it’s a collegiate skill that Emily Tomlinson, the admissions officer for Christ’s College, University of Cambridge recently picked up on it, describing IB students as taking to the Cambridge style of tuition ‘like ducks to water’.
OK, we’re warming up to the IB. But why do it online?
We all know the world of education and work has shifted following the pandemic – online study have become part of our normal lives. Our IB Diploma offers the same curriculum as traditional brick-and-mortar schools, but with a fully online offering we also have an advantage in being able enhance the learning experience in ground-breaking ways. Our uniquely-immersive virtual reality (VR) teaching during live classes is a hugely exciting for the pupils and gives a depth to the teaching not possible in a normal classroom environment. Using VR headsets in selected lessons, our learners can interact personally with any simulated environment, an experiential method that plunges students into the content they’re studying.
In science, for example, we use a revolutionary simulation software that’s highly interactive and already in use at top universities such as Harvard which allows students to conduct the same experiments they’d do in person, but testing and experiencing a limitless number of times. Remember at school when you dissected a frog – ten kids per frog and only one got to do the cutting? Here there are unlimited frogs, unlimited experiments and the frogs remain unharmed!
But VR also allows students to go beyond experiments – they can look inside an atom, step inside a heart to see how it works. In languages they can have a totally natural VR conversation about what bread to buy with the owner of a Paris boulangerie, or in history they can tour Anne Frank’s annex from their desks at home. Experiencing Frank’s living conditions up close, our learners are able to truly explore the experiences and events of the time, and actually get a sense of the challenges she faced. VR really is brilliant!
Another major benefit of an online IB is its flexibility, both in terms of location and timings. If you love the idea of the IBDP for your child but live too far from a school or you move frequently; or if your child has commitments to passions like sport or acting, or perhaps have physical or mental health concerns that prohibit mainstream school, this is when the online IG comes into its own – it can be picked up anywhere and any time, with 24/7 access to recordings of all life lessons.
Talk us through a Kings InterHigh IBDP school day
In many ways it’s a typical of bricks and mortar schools, starting at 8.30am and finishing at 3.50pm GMT, and children hand their work in online as is now the norm for everyone. There’s a lunch break, and two smaller breaks and lessons and study periods of 40 minutes each between them. There’s a traditional relationship-based pastoral system where the kids meet with their tutor once a week as well as their head of year, and a programme of extra-curricular activities and clubs in the online spaces including F1, debating club, book club and chess.
The big difference is that there’s no commute, no rushing from room to room, no fire alarms to put the kids off their stride, and when they click the button to join at 8.30am they’re live and the school day has begun! All the learning at the school happens within live lessons that are simultaneously recorded, and interaction is a priority – so we use breakout rooms with the cameras and microphones on so the kids can work collaboratively. The idea that kids are passively sitting at their computers and not engaging isn’t the case. Learning online is a very active experience.
What are the challenges with the IB online?
I think the biggest challenge is the perception that the children are sedentary with online learning. The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are stitched into the pastoral culture here with the pastoral leads making sure students are physically active. As with the IBDP at any school, our learners also stay active as part of their studies. Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) asks students to take part in and document an active pursuit—whether that’s a sport, a personal challenge, or an athletic competition. Plus, it’s an obvious point but true – the flexibility of King’s InterHigh provides a better school-life balance, so students have more time than ever to engage in physical activity outside of school too.
The other misconception about online education in general might be aimed more keenly at IBPT as it’s such a rigorous course, is that it’s a lonely experience. Anyone who has worked for the last two years via Zoom or Teams will know that friendships are made and maintained with ease!
Aside from the virtual extra-curricular clubs, there are ‘real life’ experiences, including activity weekends (the Inspired group is just back from Condover Hall in Shropshire from a residential), exchange programmes, and summer camps at Inspired schools across the world – amazing opportunities on offer from a sports camp in Madrid, two weeks studying fashion in Milan, to an outdoor activity week in St George’s school in Montreaux, Switzerland. One of our alumni, quantum physics entrepreneur Kieran Bjergstrom, tells us he still speaks to his former classmates almost a decade since graduating.
You’re persuasive! But isn’t it a bit of a risk for kids join in the first year in Sept 2022?
I think you just need to look at our history to put that fear to bed. As an Inspired school, King’s InterHigh is backed by more than 44 years of academic excellence in delivering the International Baccalaureate®. The Inspired Education Group has the most IB schools of any group. Inspired schools record exceptional IB results year after year, with over a third of Inspired students score more than 38 points (well above the global average), and many achieve the maximum score—a feat only reached by the top 0.5% of students worldwide. When you add that to Kings InterHigh’s virtual schooling experience as the world’s largest online school outside the US, teaching more than 10,000 pupils over 16 years – we’re pretty confident we have it covered!
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