What is the International Baccalaureate?


The International Baccalaureate (IB) recently celebrated its 50th birthday, which tempted us to write a blog highlighting its value and discussing how it compares to the A Levels. As the School House Magazine sums it up “The wise men present at [the IB’s] birth were innovative educators, several of them British, who set about creating an education with some fundamental features: it should be rigorous and valued globally; it should have a philosophy not just a syllabus; it should teach skills and not only content; it should encourage thought not only memory and it should pursue breadth rather than the specialisation that has bedevilled British education for a century”. What high aspirations! Certainly, sounds good in theory. So now let’s take a closer look at what the IB actually involves, and whether it is a good option for your child.

The IB in a Nutshell
Today, there are 1.5 million students from 4,775 schools in 153 countries who study the IB. However, it started in Geneva, Switzerland, a worldwide centre for diplomacy and a city known for its international organisations.


The programme now has four forms: the primary years programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), the Diploma Programme (DP) and, the most recent creation of 2012, the Career-related Programme (CP). Over the years, it has remained a top-quality academic programme, gaining worldwide recognition. However, the IB hasn’t had as much success in the UK as expected. Although the number of students choosing to take the IB has marginally increased, the schools offering the programme have decreased, especially in the state sector due to costs. Some independent schools have also stopped offering the IB, since it has been more difficult to “attract students to the greater challenge of IB’s six subjects when the alternative is the simplicity of three A-levels”, argues the School House. Nonetheless, in some schools, the IB seems to be growing and thriving. We can certainly see the pros of choosing this programme!

What does the IB (DP) involve exactly?
Whenever the A Levels get more scrutiny, the major contender is often the IB (Diploma Programme). As a programme that has worldwide recognition, it’s easy to see why some may find reasons to replace the A Levels with the IB, as its quality, breadth and depth are indisputable. So, what is the IB all about? Let’s take a look.
The programme allows students to choose six subjects from within each of the following main areas:
– A first language (your child’s mother tongue)

– A second language

– Experimental sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, design technology)

– Mathematics and computer science

– The arts (visual, theatre and music)

– Individuals and society (history, psychology, geography)


Then, after the six subjects are chosen (for example English A1, German B2, History, Biology, Maths and Theatre), each student must then decide which three will be Higher Level and which three will be Standard Level (240 hours of coursework for HL and 150 hours for SL). In addition to this, each student must take a Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class aimed at introducing students to the nature and limitations of knowledge (basic epistemology), as well as help them learn how to evaluate the meaning and validity of knowledge (critical thinking). Each student must also fulfil a number of activities that will count towards their Creativity Activity and Service (CAS). These activities, that the students must find and decide on themselves, are aimed to develop their personal growth, self-reflection, intellectual, physical and creative challenges, as well as increase their awareness of themselves as responsible members of their communities. These will include creative activities (creativity), athletics or other physical activities (activity), and participation in social or community work (service). The last important part of the IB is the Extended Essay (EE). All students must undertake this project, which is an independent research essay of up to 4,000 words, in order to complete their diploma.


The marking system for the IB is not like the A Levels, but it’s pretty easy to understand. Each of the six subjects taken is marked out of 7 (maximum of 42 points). Candidates can gain up to 3 extra points for their extended essay and the TOK elements of the IB. The diploma is awarded to students who gain at least 24 points, out of a total of 45 points. An IB diploma total of 24 points is worth a B and two C grades at A level, rising to the equivalent of six A levels at grade A for the maximum 45 points. The top UK universities usually make offers to students who achieve between 32 and 40 points. Making info taken from What is the International Baccalaureate (IB)? by the BBC.

Why is it so great?
The IB, though perhaps a little more demanding, really does offer a wonderful education. It offers knowledge, skills and human qualities necessary for academic and professional success. Many universities in the UK and abroad recognise its value, acknowledging how well the IB prepares students for their higher education. The IB is accessible for all types of learners, which is testament to its overall quality. Allowing students to access 6 subjects instead of 3, is not only more enriching, but also vital at a time when we need to learn how to be more adaptable and open. Narrow, specialisation is no longer fit for our globalised world. As the President of the Royal Society, Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan states: “The UK risks falling behind its global competitors as a result of maintaining a narrow, outdated model of post-16 education. Our system which encourages early specialisation is no longer fit for purpose in an increasingly interdisciplinary world”.


As we can see, the IB gives students a considerable amount of work. However, it really encourages a love of learning and exploration, which may not be as easily accessed in the A Levels. It also has the added benefit of being a world-wide recognised diploma, which means your child’s education will be easily recognised abroad, as well as help him or her be better prepared for our global world. The IB has also been said to prepared students very well for university, as it not only introduces the skills needed to write longer essays, but also continually pushes students to explore different perspectives and think critically throughout the curriculum. An added bonus of having students take 6 subjects (which is actually more manageable than it sounds), is that it allows them to not specialise too early. It’s crucial to let our children pursue different academic interests and not specialise too early. And in the supported environment of the IB, your child shouldn’t have any difficulty managing the 6 subjects. Yes, it’s a challenging programme and will require considerable dedication and academic work. But it’s effort that will truly pay off, both in the short and long run.


Here’s the official IB page if you are looking for more information regarding the programme. Also, feel free to contact us at 02030867311 or info@ubertutors.co.uk to ask us any questions regarding your child’s academic journey. We have education consultants who know the ins and outs of the UK’s education system, so don’t hesitate to call or email us!