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The British System vs I.B.

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The British Examination System compared with the International Baccalaureate

The late High Mistress of St Paul's School for Girls in London (Elizabeth Diggory) indicated some years ago that she believed GCSE's to be a waste of her girls' time and that now seems to be the view of the current Secretary of State  - Michael Gove - so we may well be seeing change once again. At that time, the comment was quickly followed was the comment made by the Head Master of Eton, indicating that he thought them to be like Boy Scouts collecting badges. The Government's review on education has seemingly confirmed their view, with the establishing of the British Baccalaureate and now the proposed return to O levels.

Schools such as Sevenoaks in Kent, which for a number of years had the IB (International Baccalaureate) working side by side with the A levels, have now abolished A levels completely and their students only take the IB. North London Collegiate, Kings College School Wimbledon, Godolphin and Latymer, along with schools such as Oakham and Haileybury have already established outstanding results in the IB programme. Indeed Eton have gone one step further with their boys not undertaking GCSE's but going straight to AS levels and schools such as City of London undertaking more and more  the IGCSEs (International General Certificate of Secondary Education).

Students whose parents are continually moving around the world because of their profession (i.e. the expatriate nomad) will find the IB is clearly the best solution. A child is able to transfer easily into any school, which undertakes the IB, and follow a curriculum, which allows them to continually progress.

Many parents who live and work in ever changing areas within the UK itself also find difficulty when trying to change schools for their 15/16 year olds. They too discover different Examination Board requirements and different syllabus areas within subjects, factors which make changing school at this time in the pupil's life very distressing.

It is often asked what the problem seems to be with the GCSE and A level system in comparison with the IB. One example of how difficulties may arise is in the case of a child moving from abroad, to the UK with their parents at 15 years of age. The GCSE programme starts at Year 10 for a 14 year old and is a two-year programme involving considerable course work. That course work is so demanding that no top school in the UK will allow any student to enter their programme after the half-term of the first term of Year 10. The very nature of the course does not allow for such a late start and would be poor educational practice. Thus for a 15 year old there are two options:

  • To start year 10 again with the 14 year olds and begin the system at the correct point - although this has worked for some, the social implications here are self-evident and can be for the pupil distressing, disruptive and undesirable.
  • Undertake the IB where no such problems arise and movement into the system is simple. Pupils will have a year pre-IB preparing for the Diploma. At this point it must be stated that the IB is not an easy option, it is very academic and any school which undertakes the programme will wish to see that the student is capable of achieving a good mark.


Some important points of which to be aware

Most British schools abroad start their academic year in February undertaking the IGCSE programme. If a student completes their programme in February and as a 14 /15 year old then moves with parents to the UK they will have already missed six months of the course and not be able to slot into the system; it would be necessary to begin the programme once again. Likewise the content of the syllabus used by the IGCSE is unlike that of the GCSE and therefore incompatible.

A 16 year old arriving with no GCSE qualifications and who wants to do A levels will be required by the top schools to acquire some GCSE results during the following year before returning or alternatively embarking upon the IB.

Parents who, for many reasons wish to give their children the "British Experience" must be sensitive to the needs of a 16 year old within an educational structure. Experience suggests that if a pupil is already established, for example, in the American High School Programme it is desirable that they should be allowed to complete it, if this is at all possible. Many children, at this time, do not make the transition easily and although some do, it is important that the position in which they find themselves at an already emotional stage in their lives be carefully considered.

The question every parent should ideally ask before they move their children into any educational system is "Where will I be in three to four years time?" The answer is critical and the choice of education for the child should reflect the answer.

The IB with the Primary Years Programme (3-11), Middle Years Programme (12-15), Diploma (16-18) allows flexibility within a demanding academic environment, especially for the family who by the very nature of their transitory lifestyle desire to provide a sound educational base for their children.

Only five, at present, provide all three programmes of the IB curriculum and they are all located in or around London:

The IB website can be found at

The most helpful and important move a family can make is to seek professional advice.

The system is changing and all pupils are individuals, what might be suitable for one child may not be right for another.

The British examination system of GCSE and A Level may not necessarily be the right one for your child's needs and consideration of all the options is advisable.