IB vs. A' Level: Which Curriculum is Right for You?

Increasingly the most common question when it comes to choosing a curricula, particularly for those going to UK curriculum based schools is whether to study IB or A Level. Here we have compiled a set of frequently asked questions on the two curricula. 
IB vs. A' Level: Which Curriculum is Right for You?
By WhichSchoolAdvisor.com
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The UAE offers a myriad of curricula - details here - for parents who, in their home country have only one national option. A key choice, particularly for those going to UK curriculum based schools is the choice between IB and A Level. Here we have compiled a set of frequently asked questions on the two curricula. 

What is the primary difference between the GCE A' Level and IB Diploma?

They are both popular terminal qualifications for school based education and strong attainment indicators for university admission tutors.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma (IBDP) continues the broad and balanced learning approach to subjects as usually found in the school curriculum up to the age of sixteen; whereas, the students taking the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced level, tend to become more specialised and focus on three of four subject areas that reflect the direction that they are likely to take at university level.

The IB subjects can be taken as stand-alone ones where an IB Certificate may be awarded. To receive the full award of the IB Diploma (IBDP) students need to successfully complete six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level, plus core components in the Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an extended essay and Creativity, Action, Service (CAS). However, it must be noted that areas similar to these are offered in good post-sixteen institutions also. The extended essay has become a characteristic of the A level programme and TOK is often addressed through critical studies. A school’s extracurricular programme usually addresses similar activities to the CAS programme, particularly if the International Award (known as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, DofE, in the UK) is offered in the school at this level.

Which is a more credible qualification?

There is no definitive answer to this. The IB Diploma has been around for many years although its popularity has really gained momentum over the past decade. In part, this is due to its continuation of the broad base of study and it being deemed excellent preparation for entry to university. University admissions tutors from top universities around the world continue to go on record with regards to this.

In the UK, there is an interesting situation where Scotland has always maintained the broader approach in the final years of school, whereas the rest of the UK has adopted the narrower approach with the GCE A levels often referred to as the ‘gold standard’. But, even in this, there has been debate over recent years about the ongoing validity of this narrow approach

The IB Diploma has an international focus whereas the GCE A levels can be UK/Euro-centric.

Other IB Articles:
IB versus A' Level - What's Best?
IB - A student's view
6th Form Life - Living with the IB

Does it make any difference in terms of university entrance?

The key element in a university application, is for the admissions tutor to be able to assess the level of academic attainment that the applicant has achieved to ensure that the university’s minimum criteria are met in the appropriate areas for a particularly course of study.

The admissions tutor will also be seeking to understand how the applicant has grown in a wider sense and his or her developing attitudes towards independent learning, social responsibility and so forth.

The beauty of the IB Diploma is that it covers all of these aspects and offers credit for them against clearly stated criteria for success in obtaining the diploma. But as mentioned, good schools also offer opportunities for a student to grow through these areas and it is important, therefore, that there is some form of reference to this and/or evidence of it in the college or university application. As too, the student’s developing curriculum vitae (CV), resume as s/he builds an experience and academic profile.

Some would argue that the IB Diploma requires the student to develop a stronger sense of time-management which is also considered good preparation for university study.

For more information on the IBDP points awarded visit www.ibo.org and how these translate into the UCAS tariffs for entry to UK universities see www.ucas.com. The bottom line is that university entrance is competitive and the top-tier universities will always require the applicant to attain the highest grade levels to gain entry.

Most good universities, anywhere in the world, would now recognise both qualifications.

Would you advise switching schools to take the IB diploma/GCE A Level, or is continuity of schooling more important than curriculum?

This is a very personal decision and can only be based on what is best for the student. For able students, success will come through both routes with high grades achieved. These two programmes of study are academic ones and it should be clear that they are not suitable for all students, Discussion regarding the best routes should take pace with the schools where they have a better understanding of a student’s learning profile. This discussion should take place early in to academic year prior to the post-sixteen entry. It should be an honest and open discussion, yet, sensitive to the needs of the student so as not to undermine his or her confidence in the examinations at the end of the year.

If I am serious about IB, is it better to go to a school outside of the UAE. I see higher average scores in some UK private schools, for example?

In the UK the IB Diploma has gained an enormous amount of popularity as a post-sixteen qualification. This was prompted further by Tony Blair, when Prime Minister of the UK, who stated that every education authority should have at least one good school offering the IB Diploma. Many good private schools have also introduced the IB Diploma over the past decade.

Some institutions opted for a route that offered both the GCE A level in a parallel programme to the diploma one. As a consequent of this, it appears that the Diploma was recommended for the more able students. Naturally, this would skew the statistics. In the UAE the IB Diploma is often the sole post-sixteen offering with schools fully embracing the philosophy of the IB at this level. Consequently and, in-keeping with the IB philosophy, a wider less selective route to entry has been adopted by these schools leading to a wider range of outcomes.

In answer, therefore, there are equal opportunities for a student to realise his or her potential in the IBDP both in the UAE, the UK - and elsewhere. The important question is which school best suits and supports the individual student as the IBDP is a challenging programme.

What are the IB schools in the UAE?

The UAE has an increasing number of schools that implement elements of the International Baccalaureate curriculum - the highest number in the region. Of these schools, 24 are listed as fully accredited by the governing body in Geneva, Switzerland, on the IBO website. 

Currently one one school has committed to the dual pathway of A' Level and IB DP within the same school - Sunmarke.

Abu Dhabi - all Abu Dhabi IB Schools here

Schools include: Abu Dhabi International Private School; Al Najah Private School; American Community School, Abu Dhabi; American International School in Abu Dhabi; Australian School of Abu Dhabi; Raha International School.

Dubai - all Dubai IB Schools here

Schools include: Deira International School; Dubai American Academy; Dubai International Academy; Dubai Modern High School; Emirates International School; Emirates International School - Meadows; GEMS Wellington International School; GEMS World Academy - Dubai; Greenfield Community School; Jumeirah Baccalaureate School; Jumeirah English Speaking School; Raffles World Academy; Repton School, Dubai; Universal American School, Dubai; Uptown School

Ras Al Khaimah
RAK Academy

Sharjah - all Sharjah IB schools here
Schools include: Australian International School; Victoria International School of Sharjah

More information?

Clearly the best source of factual information about the IBDP will be the International Baccalaureate’s site at www.ibo.org

We would also recommend that you visit well respected school sites where they offer the IBDP or A levels as these school sites are a great source of more general information about the two routes. The JESS Arabian Ranches site, for example, has some great information and links about the IBDP under the sixth form section with the Presentation to Parents’ link containing a great number of comments from UK universities in support of the IB DP.

Other IB Articles:
IB versus A' Level - What's Best?
IB - A student's view
6th Form Life - Living with the IB

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