Accessing the IB diploma

Global educationThe International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma is a well-established internationally recognised qualification which provides students with an excellent grounding across a broad and balanced curriculum. It is based on a core; theory of knowledge, creativity, activity, service and an extended essay as well as 6 subject groups; language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, maths and the arts. These offer some opportunity for deeper, additional study in chosen areas as well as interdisciplinary connections. The IB is founded on a strong unifying set of values based on intercultural understanding and respect for others and it encourages inquiry, action and reflection, critical thinking and awareness of the global context.

It’s the kind of curriculum which, while not necessarily being right for every student, we would ideally want to offer as an option to sixth formers in publicly funded education within reasonably easy reach for all.

10 years ago, this is precisely what the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was aiming for:

“We believe that there should be at least one sixth form college or school in every local authority offering students the choice of the IB. So we will support up to 100 extra schools and colleges in training staff to offer the qualification by 2010.”

(Tony Blair, 2006)

At that time, there were 46 publicly funded IB providers in England. In 2015, the performance table data show there are 48. So why has the envisaged tripling of publicly funded providers not materialised over the last decade?

The key problem is funding. At a time when the funding rate per 16-18 year old student has shrunk to a level where it can barely support the provision of a 3 A level programme, it is very difficult to resource a broader offer such as the IB Diploma which is equivalent to far more. Achieving the critical mass of students to make the IB Diploma viable is that much more difficult in our under-resourced system.

Also, in a context where market demand is the only driver, there’s no policy ‘push’ to ensure that more students have access to the IB. The idea is that, as with any other qualification which can be offered, if there is demand for it, it will thrive – otherwise it will simply wither.

However, the government has acknowledged the additional cost of running the IB through the ‘large programme uplift’ which includes an additional 20% funding for IB Diploma students, but only if they achieve at least 28 points, worth 348 UCAS points and roughly equivalent to 3.5 grade B’s at A level. This is applied retrospectively, so the high achievement has to precede the funding and it this may not prove attractive enough in itself to prompt much growth.

Nationally in 2015, there were 3,339 IB Diploma entries across 104 centres England. More than half of these (54%) came from private schools. In London, the ratio is reversed with 56% of the total of 419 IB entries coming from publicly funded sixth forms. Overall provision is very patchy however, with 24 London boroughs having no public provision at all and some centres’ entries in single figures.

Nevertheless, there might be enough demand to support viable regional IB centres if sixth forms could partner up to support such provision. For example, the data for London suggest that three or four substantial IB centres could thrive and attract young people from across a wide area of the city if providers could agree to share and consolidate. This is another example of the kind of benefits we could achieve for students by working together and planning more coherently.

10 years on, Tony Blair’s vision of an IB provider in every local authority seems very distant, but creating just a few viable centres serving a group of local authorities would be a big step forward to improve student access to this worthwhile educational opportunity.

IB diploma entries by London borough (2015)

London borough Entries Centres Sector
Barking 0 0
Barnet 16 1 Private
Bexley 68 1 Public
Brent 0 0
Bromley 13 1 Public
Camden 1 1 Public
City of London 0 0
Croydon 34 1 Private
Ealing 15 1 Private
Enfield 0 0
Greenwich 3 1 Public
Hackney 0 0
Hammersmith & Fulham 22 1 Private
Haringey 0 0
Harrow 18 1 Private
Havering 0 0
Hillingdon 0 0
Hounslow 0 0
Islington 58 2 Public
Kensington & Chelsea 0 0
Kingston 0 0
Lambeth 0 0
Lewisham 8 1 Private
Merton 69 1 Private
Newham 0 0
Redbridge 0 0
Richmond 41 1 Public
Southwark 0 0
Sutton 0 0
Tower Hamlets 16 1 Public
Waltham Forest 0 0
Wandsworth 15 1 Public
Westminster 22 1 Public
London total 419 17  

Data drawn from the underlying data in the 2015 performance tables.

See also:

A-level minority report: Dance, Music, Philosophy (February 2016)

More sixth formers doing research projects (February 2016)

More on the IB Diploma here.

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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