Why are UK Schools Switching to the IB?

WhichSchoolAdvisor speaks to independent, state and online schools in the UK to find out why they are choosing the International Baccalaureate for a more holistic and globally minded-education.
Why are UK Schools Switching to the IB?
By Carli Allan
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Bryanston is one of 130 IB World Schools in the UK; while still in the minority, the number of UK students switching to the International Baccalaureate (IB) is on the rise.

Around 4,500 UK students are receiving their Diploma or Career-related Programme results today. While still a minority in the UK, the number of students switching to the International Baccalaureate (IB) is on the rise.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is studied by 1.4 million students across 158 countries in 5,300 schools. In the UK, there are currently 130 IB World Schools, with 60% in the independent sector, mainly offering the IB Diploma Programme.

Some independent schools in the UK offer only the IB, while others provide sixth formers with the option of IB or A Levels. There are 21 state schools that have switched to the IBDP, and the UK-based online school, Kings InterHigh, is piloting the first fully-virtual IB programme. 

What is it about the IB that has everyone talking?

While A Levels are the more traditional qualification in the UK, the IB is gaining recognition across the country. Both qualifications have their strengths and weaknesses, but as the world becomes more global, the IB is increasingly seen as the qualification to open up doors to universities worldwide.

As students celebrate their IB results today, we explore the reasons why some headteachers in the UK are opting for the International Baccalaureate over the traditional curriculum.

Studying the IB in UK independent schools

While the International Baccalaureate is normally associated with American and fee-paying international schools, there are plenty of opportunities to study the IB in the UK.


Bryanston says that the IBDP allows it to offer a tailored curriculum for the all-rounders who want to keep studying maths, languages and a blend of science and humanities subjects.

Bryanston, a day and boarding school for three to 18 year-olds, offers a choice of pathways at sixth form, including A Levels, the IBDP and the IB Career-related Programme (IBCP). The IB aligns well with the Bryanston model of education, which encourages students to be independent, self-disciplined learners.

Why did Bryanston make the decision to offer the IB Diploma Programme?

Mark Deketelaere, Deputy Head Academic at Bryanston, says:

“We decided to deliver the IBDP because we wanted to maintain, and actually increase, the breadth of our sixth form offering. At the time we became an IB School, we were concerned at the imminent disappearance of AS exams and the narrowing of the curriculum in the sixth form.  

“We'd always prided ourselves on being able to offer a tailored curriculum for our students and the IBDP allowed that to happen for the all-rounders who wanted to keep studying maths, languages and a blend of science and humanities subjects.

"The IB and Bryanston also made good bedfellows, as our ethos has always been very much about developing attributes in our students that chime with the IB Learner Profile. Most notably those are independence, curiosity, creativity and risk-taking, all at the heart of the IBDP, as well our tradition in pioneering and community service which fitted neatly into CAS (Creativity Activity and Service).”
How has the IBDP become such a globally recognised qualification to rival A Levels?

Mr Deketelaere adds:

“The IB and IBSCA have skilfully marketed the IBDP, universities understand it and their offers reflect that, while parents and pupils are starting to understand it better. It also produces very well-rounded students with broad skill sets, the ability to reflect and with an international mindset.

"Combined with the views of industry, who want students to develop their soft skills and keep studying maths and English in the sixth form, and the conclusion of the Times Education Commission to develop an EBacc, it all makes fertile ground for promoting the IBDP.”

St Clare’s, Oxford

St Clare’s, Oxford is one of the world's longest-running providers of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

St Clare’s is a co-ed day and boarding Sixth Form college in North Oxford, which offers a small international community of students a choice of pre-university courses and is one of the world's longest-running providers of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

Why did you make the decision to offer the IB Diploma Programme at your school?

Principal Duncan Reith says:

“Our school was founded after the Second World War, in 1953, to bring students from different countries together to advance international education and understanding, so when the IB was established to offer an international curriculum, this was an attractive prospect.

"Our former Chair of Governors, Alec Peterson, was one of the originators of the IB diploma programme and the first Director General of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO). He was a strong influence on St Clare’s adopting and consolidating the IB. We are now the longest-serving IB school in England and continue to provide training for IB teachers from around the world.”

How has the IBDP become such a globally recognised qualification to rival A Levels?

Mr Reith adds:

“The wider range of subjects, the inclusion of Theory of Knowledge and the depth of learning acquired, both in subjects and through the extended essay, has for decades marked out the IB as a top-quality educational programme - and the research shows the most impressive outcomes for students at degree level and beyond. Yet it is also the style of teaching, and the learner profiles, which does a first-class job of ensuring that students develop the level of independence, the right attitudes to learning, and the life skills needed to thrive. 

“The importance of an international education itself should not be underestimated.  Students who leave school with a broader understanding of other cultures and an international outlook have wider aspirations. For so many of our graduates, this has meant access to the most highly regarded universities around the world, and rewarding, international careers.”

Oakham School

Dr Leo Dudin, Deputy Head – Academic, Oakham School says that the IBDP's broader range of subjects and compulsory English, Maths and Science elements are part of its appeal.

At Oakham School boarding can be full or flexible, and students can study the IB or A Levels. This East Midlands school has run the IBDP for 21 years and has increased its Sixth Form – raising it from 160 to 200 – to accommodate the additional students attracted through offering the Diploma Programme.

Why did you make the decision to offer the IB Diploma Programme at your school?

Dr Leo Dudin, Deputy Head – Academic, Oakham School, says:

“Colleagues of mine who were involved in its introduction tell me we adopted the IBDP at a time when A Levels were a bit staid and uninspiring. As a school, we have always had a desire to suit the diverse needs of pupils in the school to the very best of our ability, and the IBDP offers a holistic educational programme which very much aligns with our ideals.
“There were certain aspects of the IBDP course that particularly caught our eye. The breadth of offering was an obvious plus, and concepts like the Theory of Knowledge were not really discussed much in schools at the time. CAS was also an easy fit for us, as a school that prides itself on thinking and doing, through service, sport and activities. The subject base aligned well with our curriculum, and offered greater choice compared with an uninspiring suite of A Levels at the time.

“The modular nature of A Levels, and the removal of coursework modules from many courses, raised concerns that they were being dumbed down. The IBDP is attractive given the broader range of subjects studied by each pupil (six versus three) and the compulsory English, Maths and Science elements – it seems wise for pupils to further their knowledge of these key subjects while in secondary education. We also like the IA coursework element of the IBDP."

How has the IBDP become such a globally recognised qualification to rival A Levels?

Dr Dudin adds: 

“There is a huge deal to like about the IBDP. We particularly like the holistic philosophy of the course. 
“The skill of writing an Extended Essay is of value to every child as they head off to university. The Theory of Knowledge - ToK - arms them with a broader perspective on the nature of knowledge, and the ability to question the validity of statements and the basis of arguments - important skills for the modern workplace. Whether pupils immediately see the value or not - as the ToK can seem rather abstract at first - they invariably see the benefit over time. Some seeds take a little time to grow and flower!

“The formal element of ToK and the Extended Essay as part of the IBDP core is attractive; these are not just interesting general studies-type elements of the course, but they actually constitute part of the curriculum, for which pupils earn valuable marks. The core must also be supported by CAS (Creativity, Activity and Service) evidence, meaning that pupils must engage in each of the three CAS strands over a period of time, encouraging a more meaningful experience than one-off events might. Again, some seeds take a while to blossom.

There is a delight in the delivery of the IBDP, with an international mindedness and an interconnectedness which brings a freshness to how we deliver our other courses. The interconnectedness inherent in the IBDP also helps us to see novel opportunities in other areas of Oakham School. This has led to positive developments in our A Level programme, which is no longer the poor cousin to the IBDP of 20 years ago, but now constitutes an increasingly vibrant offering.”

Next: Studying the IB in UK state schools

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