Results from the 2012 International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme examination session were issued in the last few days with over 119,000 students across the world receiving their diplomas or course results. In light of the recent debate surrounding secondary school qualifications in England, the IB has once again been thrown into the spotlight as a serious alternative to traditional domestic examinations.
According to the IB Organisation, there has been an increase in IB student numbers of over 8,000 from this time last year. This year, on average, Diploma students scored 29.83 with 109 achieving the maximum score of 45 points. One of those students was from Cheltenham Ladies' College in the UK, which has seen some of the best results in the Diploma since the College started teaching the qualification four years ago. Principal Eve Jardine-Young commented, "The results are a well-deserved reward for the girls who have thoroughly embraced the diploma and its values, thriving on the broad and challenging curriculum."
The IB Diploma, often a favoured curriculum choice for the relocating student due its international transferability, has been hitting the headlines in recent weeks amidst the current debate on exam and curriculum reform in England’s state schools. Some commentators believe that the IB offers a serious alternative to the traditional English examination system and addresses the criticisms thrown at GCSE and A Level that they lack rigour and breadth of study.
Commenting in the Telegraph this week, Tony Evans, chairman of Sevenoaks School in Kent said, “The IB Diploma encourages an international perspective, flexibility of mind and confidence in areas of learning which are essential for life beyond school and university. It is by far the most balanced and enlightened education one can offer a young person.”
Although, the IB is not without its detractors; critics of the IB claim that the qualification might not be suitable for all, that A-levels provide a better grounding for the study of some specialist degrees. It has also been found that IB students may be at a disadvantage when applying for a place at university; a study last year from the Institute of Education (IOE) found that IB candidates were consistently being asked for higher scores than their A-level contemporaries when entering higher education institutions.
However, a surprising one in 20 of UK university applicants are now IB candidates reflecting perhaps the 31% increase worldwide in the number of students studying the qualification and an increase in applications from overseas students generally. According to annual research, commissioned by ACS International Schools amongst university admissions officers in the UK, a half of admissions officers claim they have noticed an increase in the number of IB applicants this year.
The research from ACS also suggests an overwhelming endorsement by admissions officers of current moves to make post 16 exams more challenging. Last week, a cross-party education committee concluded that, "The public have lost confidence in exam standards and this needs to be put right. We’ve got to stop the dumbing down of the courses young people sit.”
In the week before the committee published its report, proposals from the Department for Education (DfE) on curriculum and examination reform were leaked by the national press. In a series of speeches and statements, Education Secretary, Michael Gove made it clear that he was committed to the urgent reform of the examination system in England to “restore rigour” and end the “culture of low expectations”.
Mr Gove has proposed that Universities take on a more formal role in shaping post 16 qualifications in England. "I do not envisage the Department for Education having a role in the development of A-level qualifications,” Mr Gove said in a letter to the exam regulator Ofqual. “It is more important that universities are satisfied that A-levels enable young people to start their undergraduate degrees having gained the right knowledge and skills.”
"I am particularly keen that universities should be able to determine subject content, and that they should endorse specifications, including details of how the subject should be assessed."
Interestingly, almost half of UK university admissions officers surveyed by ACS prize ‘independent inquiry’ above any other post-16 exam quality. In line with previous year’s reports, university admission officers still differentiate clearly between the two main post-16 qualifications citing the IB Diploma Programme top for encouraging independent inquiry and A levels for ‘developing in-depth subject expertise’.
It is clear that no qualification is a ‘one size fits all’ but as Jeremy Lewis of ACS International Schools explains, “Universities are looking first and foremost for students able to challenge conventional thinking and want to see clear evidence of this above all else in the qualifications and written submissions they receive from university applicants.”
“The research sends a stark message to young people applying to university: your capacity for free and rigorous thought matter above all else.”