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A continuum of education for a global community of learners

Dr. Peter Fidczuk, UK Recognition and Development Manager at International Baccalaureate, on the importance of a varied education

Posted by Lucinda Reid | January 05, 2017 | People, policy, politics

The news of A Level examination boards dropping creative subjects, such as anthropology, and earlier in the year some modern foreign languages, has made me think about why we, as a nation, are further narrowing student’s opportunities for broad and varied study post-16.


For many generations, students have typically studied three or four subjects at A Level from the age of 16. It seems strange that we, in the UK, have thought for such a long time that it is beneficial to limit the number of subjects studied at sixth form – and now some schools and colleges are reducing the number to a maximum of three, as well as reducing the breadth of subjects on offer.

By limiting choices for our students we are restricting the career potential of students, while also not enabling them to explore their talents and interests. Additionally how many young learners do we know who have changed their minds about their subject choices as they have progressed through sixth form? How will a narrowed curriculum offer support these students?

With the resources and influence of local authorities in decline, multi-academy trusts (MATs) have emerged as major influencers of England’s school system. Due to their independence and structure, MATs are well placed to continue offering a wide number of subject choices for students because they are in a position which allows for the sharing of central resources and subject expertise.

International Baccalaureate (IB) World Schools are also at a distinct advantage because, IB programmes, in particular, the Diploma Programme (DP) delay the age at which students have to make decisions about which pathway to pursue, and keeps students learning broad until the end of mandatory full time education.

Breadth of study

Common with virtually all other state education systems, DP students continue to study English and mathematics, along with four other areas of study: language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, and the arts, in which students are able to select their preferred subjects within each ‘area’, to build a programme of six subjects in total.

These six subjects are studied in parallel to the DP ‘core’, which includes the theory of knowledge (TOK) course; creativity, action and service (CAS) element, which might include learning a musical instrument or hosting a community-based event; and the extended essay (EE), which is a 4,000 word research-based written project.

IB programmes purposefully give students more opportunities to discover their academic passions, before they have to reduce the breadth of their learning and therefore restrict their future opportunities. This doesn’t negatively affect the students in comparison to those taking A Levels, either, as the DP gives students the opportunity to select their strongest subject(s) to study at higher level, alongside three to study at standard level, giving them the opportunity to excel in their chosen fields.

Career pathways

However, if there are students at your academy who have a specific career pathway in mind, the IB Career-related Programme (CP) provides students with hands-on learning and experience that can be tailored to a specific industry or career. Widening accessibility to education, half of the programme is based on coursework rather than exams and packages together a career-related study (for example a BTEC) with at least two DP courses. These two elements are combined with a unique CP core which includes personal and professional skills, service learning, language development, and a reflective project, similar to a dissertation or individual project at university.

 A continuum of education

Predominantly recognised for the DP, the IB offers a continuum of education for students from the age of three through to 19: the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) as well as the CP. All IB programmes seamlessly work together by having a strong international dimension, drawing on content from cultures around the world, along with focusing on not just academic success, but the development of the child as a whole.

Each programme is linked by a unifying thread, known as the IB learner profile, which refers to 10 key learning attributes, such as being reflective, balanced, open-minded and risk-takers, and developing students to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners. All IB programmes also pay attention to teaching and learning approaches. For multi-academy trusts that may run a number of different types of schools, catering for mixed abilities and aspirations, from primary schools feeding into secondary schools with sixth forms, offering a continuum of education is invaluable in shaping a consistent environment in which learning remains at the centre of everything the school does. 

For more information, visit the International Baccalaureate’s website.

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