Following the publication of The Times Education Commission’s report into the future of schooling in the UK, it is heartening to see support for the notion of a broader education for 16 to 18 year olds.
At the age of 15, when pupils need to choose their sixth form options, many students do not have a clear idea of which direction they want to go in, and consequently struggle to narrow their subject choices to three or four A-Levels.
For those who know they want to go into medicine or really want to focus on languages for example, the A-Level route works well, however large numbers of students would prefer not to narrow their choices and appreciate the ability to choose six subjects and keep their options open.
“The breadth of subjects offered suited many of our students who are often enthusiastic polymaths.”
A baccalaureate system, whether the International version (IB) or an adaptation for British students, would allow a much wider range of subjects to be studied right through to university. For so many students, this could lead to them having a breadth of knowledge that is appealing not only to university admissions departments, but also to employers, particularly at a time when the future of work is changing so rapidly.
At North London Collegiate School (NLCS) we welcome this suggested move to a more diverse and skills-based programme, modelled on the IB. We began offering the IB in 2004 because the breadth of subjects offered suited many of our students who are often enthusiastic polymaths. We found that the IB’s philosophy chimed well with our own ethos and aims as a school where the values of intellectual “risk-taking”, inquiry, diversity and international-mindedness are important.
The popularity of this sixth form pathway has resulted in more students making this choice and enjoying the much smaller class sizes allowing for in-depth exploration of their subjects. In addition, we find that universities in the US and the UK see the type of study involved in the IB as a strong foundation for undergraduate life.
“The IB acknowledges that subjects, as they are taught at school, do not exist in discrete silos.”
The IB’s emphasis on research and its positioning as a “pre-University” rather than “end of secondary school” course equips students remarkably well for leaving school. It provides students with the understanding of how to find, interrogate and present knowledge, and it is hoped that a British Baccalaureate would follow this model.
The Diploma Programme’s requirements for coursework in most subjects and the Extended Essay set a clear expectation that students should have already acquired the vital skills of researching, referencing, critically analysing and presenting knowledge by the time they leave school.
Likewise, the IB acknowledges that subjects, as they are taught at school, do not exist in discrete silos: the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, an essential and distinct element of the IB, is a thoroughly enjoyable way for students to explore what they know and how, spanning both the intersections and divisions between their subjects and the challenges of acquiring reliable knowledge in the information age.
“A British Baccalaureate will ensure that students are not restricted by a narrow choice.”
Moreover, the spirit of reflection inculcated in the CAS (community, activity, service) portion of the IB course encourages students to recognise the value of extra-curricular activities and take the initiative to embark on new ones. This in turn develops skills and preparation for the flexibility, creativity, introspection and growth that the modern workplace requires.
A British Baccalaureate offering the breadth and variety currently available via the International Diploma would be a welcome addition to the curriculum in the UK, ensuring that students are not restricted by a narrow choice and thus restricting their career pathway prematurely.