IB Vs English National Curriculum for Primary

While many parents understand the IB and UK curricula differences at post 16 level, there are far fewer who truly comprehend the teaching, monitoring and assessments employed by each curriculum throughout the primary years.
IB Vs English National Curriculum for Primary
By C Hoppe
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What subjects are taught by the International Baccalaureate curriculum and English National curriculum at the Primary phase, and how? When are students assessed? What are the learning objectives and which type of child does each curriculum suit? These and more are all questions we hear from parents trying to choose between the IB or English National Curriculum. We asked two UAE school leaders for their thoughts…

To gain a better understanding of how the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and English National Curriculum works at primary level, we spoke to; Clare Turnbull, Principal at the Royal Grammar School Guildford, Dubai (an English National curriculum school) and Peter Bonner, Assistant Principal Primary at GEMS World Academy – Dubai (an 'all through' IB curriculum school), to learn more about their school's chosen curriculum.

Clare, Peter - Are there any main points you think parents should bear in mind when considering which curricula/school to choose for their child?

Clare: For me, whilst the curriculum might be one of the factors when choosing a school, it should not be the driving force. Outstanding schools are outstanding schools, kind and caring schools are kind and caring schools, transformational schools are transformational schools. I am lucky enough to have visited and inspected many schools teaching a variety of curricula, and the common features of outstanding schools have been far more tied to relationships, to ethos, to values and to individualised approaches rather than specific curricula. However, it goes without saying that I have chosen, and I love working in, a British Curriculum school! Finding a school that will suit each of your children is the main thing. Parents here in Dubai have a wonderful choice, make the most of it!

Peter: There are many questions that come to mind when making these hugely important decisions, but the one I often return to is around trust: When I go to this school and speak to the staff and the students, do I trust that this is the community, the environment, the family that will nurture my child and ensure that he or she reaches their full potential? If the answer to the above questions are ‘Yes’, then you are on your way to making the right choice for your family.

I believe the IB curriculum is the gold standard international curriculum, but it may not be the correct fit for every family. Indeed, as the IB offers a framework under which schools operate, not all IB schools will offer the same opportunities to their students. This is why it is very important to visit a school, ask the above questions, and decide whether the school and curriculum are the correct fit for your child.

What is the age range of children on your programme?

Clare: At RGSGD this academic year we have pupils from FS1 through to Year 6 and we will open Year 7 in our senior school in September 22. We will eventually have all year groups, right through to Year 13. The English National Curriculum caters from students from age three through to 18.

Peter: With the GEMS World Academy – Dubai Nursery reopening in September 2021, we now have students ranging in age from 2 to 19 in our programme, which runs from nursery through to Grade 12.

Is your curriculum broken down into further segments within the Primary level? If so, can you explain these further please?

Clare: Absolutely, we split the school into sections which each have two academic year groups: EYFS covers children in FS1 and FS2, Key Stage 1 is for children in Years 1 and 2, Lower Key Stage 2 in Year 3 and 4 and Upper Key Stag 2 in Year 5 and 6. The National Curriculum for England is specifically broken down into the Key Stages.

Peter: There are five key pillars which underpin a high-quality IB Primary Years Programme;

Knowledge. This refers to the content of our curriculum.
Skills: Approaches to Learning. The Approaches to Learning (ATL) are deliberate skills and strategies, which are embedded into our students’ lessons to help them learn.
Concepts. At its core, the IB is a concept-based curriculum, built around trans-disciplinarity and ‘Big Ideas and Understandings’.
Attributes: The IB Learner Profile. The IB Learner Profile comprises 10 attributes and responsibilities that go beyond academic success and help students to meet the aims of the IB programme. The Learner Profile aims to develop learners who are; Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-Minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced and Reflective.
Action. Action is what we hope to inspire in our students. We want them to take action with what they have learned by applying it to their lives.

Can you explain how these segments are taught/assessed/monitored?

Clare: The EYFS curriculum at RGSGD is rooted in the UK’s EYFS curriculum for 0 –5-year-olds. For us at RGSGD, this is a wonderful, individualised programme of development for our young children in FS1 and FS2. Over the two years, there is a holistic programme of learning which builds up each child’s skills and understanding across the Early Learning Goals in Communication and Language, Mathematics, Literacy, Understanding the World, Expressive Arts and Design, Personal, Social and Emotional Development and Physical Development. Step by step development is tracked by the teachers, TAs and we also encourage parental involvement in this so that we have a continuous and developing programme for supporting and monitoring each child’s progress. We supplement the EYFS curriculum with specialist teaching in Arabic, PE, and Music. All our children in FS2 start to learn the violin.

In Key Stage one, we continue the individualised approach to ensure that children develop holistically. As more discrete subjects are brought in to allow the richness and the breadth of the curriculum to develop, each child’s development is encouraged, tracked, and assessed by cross referencing each child’s progress against the national curriculum steps/stages. This allows for children to develop at their own pace, with support and challenge to make sure that every child is making excellent progress. We again supplement the national curriculum with a rich programme of music, art, additional modern foreign languages, and sport, all taught by specialist teachers.

Peter: Each of these segments are intentionally planned and assessed throughout the academic year with learning activities designed to allow students to demonstrate their developing knowledge, skills, concepts, attributes and efforts to take action.

What are the main subjects covered in your primary curriculum?

Clare: One of the beauties of the British curriculum is the depth and breadth of subjects which allow a rich and broad foundation for the pupils. Interwoven through all the subjects are the continuous threads of HOW to learn, not what to learn. This is accomplished through the development of learning skills and, we at RGSGD, have defined these as our Learning Habits. All children enjoy English, Maths, Science, Arabic, Enquiry (History/Geography), Music (all children from FS2 – Year 5 learn an instrument as part of the curriculum), Art and Design, Library, an additional MFL, PSHCE, Moral and Social Studies, Computing, swimming, team sports and PE.

Peter: Our students engage in learning experiences that build on the concepts in each subject area and make connections, exploring relationships in the world in which they live. Subject areas include; English, Maths, Science, Social Studies, Arabic, Islamic, French/Spanish, Music, Physical and Health Education, Swimming, Strings, Visual Arts, and Moral Education.

Languages and multilingualism are hugely important in today’s world, and at GEMS World Academy – Dubai, we are proud to offer the largest language institute in the country, with over 14 mother tongue languages offered to our primary students in addition to their core language options of English, Arabic, French and Spanish.
In addition, GEMS World Academy – Dubai is the GEMS Centre of Excellence for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Social Impact. This is something which is embedded in our programme from Early Years through to Grade 12.

How is assessment carried out and when?

Clare: Continuous assessment is a crucial part of all good teaching, and it takes place on a day-by-day basis by our wonderful teachers who then use the results to ensure that their planning and delivery of the learning is tailored to each child’s need; this is in addition to more formal assessments that take place though out the year. Baseline assessments are carried out with all children who join us. In EYFS, this baseline is completed both at the beginning of FS1 and FS2. Progress testing in English, Maths and Science takes place annually with the children in Years 1 and above, CAT 4 testing from Year 2. However, these are not specifically tailored to the UK National Curriculum.

Peter: Assessment in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) provides students, parents and teachers with information on student performance in a variety of subject areas, and in their development of knowledge, skills, concepts and attitudes.
We assess students' work to ensure they make progress. Assessment is likely to be different in different subjects. The key element to remember is that, immaterial of subject differences, assessment is meant to lead to improvements and an increase in students’ attainment and achievement.

In addition to internal assessments, we also have a number of external standardised assessments that help us to benchmark our programme. CAT4 tests are carried out once per year for students in certain Primary and Secondary grades, and MAP testing is carried out three times per year in Grades 2-5.

What would you say is the broad teaching style/objectives of your curriculum?

Clare: To encourage love of learning, a confidence in the learning habits and skills we need to approach life with intellectual curiosity. Unashamedly to also love enquiry, to seek knowledge, to have a broad range of interests and to have a strong grounding in the core skills. The UK National Curriculum offers a good mix between pupil directed enquiry and standards-based education.

Peter: In our Early Childhood Department (Nursery – KG2), the PYP essential elements are taught through a play-based approach to learning. Teachers support learning by planning uninterrupted time for play, building strong relationships with students and their families, creating responsive, stimulating indoor and outdoor learning spaces, and offering opportunities for symbolic exploration and expression. Language and Mathematics teaching follows students’ learning pathways that are connected to personal interests and larger concepts. Through play, as the primary driver for inquiry, children develop cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically.

In Grades 1-5, students are also challenged at their own pace through a mixture of individual, small-group and whole-class learning. Our classrooms use various grouping strategies to organise students flexibly throughout the day according to ability, interest or prior knowledge around a subject or skill.

What significant testing if any is undertaken prior to leaving the primary phase?

Clare: Here in the UAE, we complete the same tests as other schools for the KHDA – CAT 4 and PTE, PTM and PTS.

Peter: There are no final examinations at the end of our Primary journey. Instead, assessment is an integral part of the programme and is ongoing throughout.

What do you think are the main personal/character attributes/traits a student leaves your primary curriculum with?

Clare: The most important thing for our young people is to have confidence and to be kind. Having a clear understanding of how to learn, how to be flexible, how to take responsible risks, think critically and be astute, and to work as a team… and then, perhaps most importantly, to be emotionally intelligent and secure, able to make friends, to work collaboratively and to be comfortable with differences as well as similarities.

Peter: The IB Learner Profile is the central pillar around which the IB exists. The 10 traits of the Learner Profile are the set of characteristics that make a well-rounded, internationally-minded global citizen. Irrespective of the starting point of each child, all can be successful in achieving these lofty goals and attributes. We aim to develop these 10 traits in each of our students.

Can you explain broadly the role/frequency/expectations of homework in your curriculum?

Clare: We expect our children to complete approximately 20 mins of home learning 4 days a week. This will be rooted in English, Maths and Arabic. It might be a consolidation task; it might be some flip learning, or it might even be chatting to some of the grown-ups at home about a topic.

Peter: Through professional discussions and an inquiry into research on homework in primary schools, we have found that:
1. Consistent reading for pleasure is directly linked to higher test scores
2. Children who read for pleasure are likely to perform better in school than their peers
3. There is no positive correlation between homework and achievement for students before middle school

Each team from KG2 to Grade 5 has developed a set of agreements for how homework will look. The common threads among all agreements are:

  • Home learning will always emphasise the importance of reading daily
  • Home learning should not be completed at the expense of students leading a healthy, balanced life – which should include relaxation, exercise, time with family, and play
  • Additional home learning should involve an element of student choice to allow children and their families to manage their at-home time effectively

What in your view makes your curriculum unique?

Clare: The beauty of the British curriculum is that it is rooted in so much research and history. It is not old fashioned or traditional but, rather, well thought out, proven and has a depth and richness to it. I love the combination of developing world ready learning habits and structure and depth of knowledge – it makes every day exciting.

Peter: Going beyond the teaching of knowledge in silos, the IB programmes challenge students to think more critically about the world around them and make connections between their learning in a transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach. These goals are a hallmark of an IB school and something that is very much a part of our identity at GEMS World Academy – Dubai.

What type of child do you think your curriculum is best suited for?

Clare: RGSGD is suited to children who are excited to learn, inquisitive, intellectually curious, and keen to have a go… perhaps most importantly, to children and families who want to be part of a community.

Peter: All students can be successful in a PYP setting. The programme itself is designed in a way that allows for personalisation for each child and it meets all children at their own starting points. We ensure all children are treated as individuals and supported to reach their potential.

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