The IB has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It is now available at 190 schools and is well respected by Oxbridge and other leading universities. Many see it is a more academically rigorous alternative to A Levels; whilst A Levels are have frequently been criticised for grade inflation (though the introduction of the A* has gone some way to counteract this), the percentage of IB candidates achieving the top score of 45 has remained roughly the same for 20 years.
Furthermore, Katy Ricks, Headmaster of Sevenoaks School, argues that the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge better prepare IB students for university by providing them with the independent learning and critical thinking skills they will need for studying at degree-level. The Institute of Education found that IB students with good scores of 37 or higher are 5.4% more likely to get a 2:1 or first than their A Level equivalents.
However, the IB isn’t for everyone. There are a number of important points you should bear in mind whilst helping your son or daughter to decide between A Levels and the IB.
Is your child an ‘all-rounder’?
IB students take six main subjects, which must include English, Maths, a Science and a language. This means that, to excel in the diploma, a student will need to be an ‘all-rounder’. The breadth of the IB is well suited to students who have achieved similar results across all academic areas. The IB will allow them not only to continue developing this broad range of skills, but also help them to better demonstrate their abilities to universities.
A student with patchier GCSE results, who excels in some areas but less in others, would be better suited to A Levels. A poor result in one IB subject will pull down the overall score, potentially jeopardising university entrance. As Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, points out, only 69% of IB students get into their first-choice university, compared to 81% of A Level students. As A Level candidates will typically only need to carry three subjects through to their A2 year, they can drop subjects they find more difficult to increase chances of securing a place at their first-choice university.
Does your child know what they want to do at university and beyond?
If your child isn’t yet sure of their future plans, the IB is a good way to keep doors open. Because of the balance between the arts, sciences and humanities built into the IB, students do not need to make difficult decisions about subjects that may close off opportunities for them in the future.
A Levels, on the other hand, allow students to specialise, which is very good for students who have a firm idea of what they want to do at university and beyond. Dedicated scientists in particular are better catered for by this specialisation, as are only able to study two sciences as part of the IB, as opposed to the three science A Levels they would otherwise be able to take.
Can your child commit the extra time needed for the IB?
With the six subjects, the extended essay and Theory of Knowledge, as well as 150 hours of ‘Creativity, Action, Service’ (CAS), the IB is generally a more time consuming course than the A Levels. Hugh Carson, former Headmaster of Malvern College, estimates that there is 15% more teaching and study time involved with the IB. As well as additional hours in the classroom, IB students will need to be very organised and diligent in completing homework, coursework and revision.
It is worth bearing in mind that the IB may take time away from your child’s co-curricular pursuits. If they are a dedicated sportsperson or musician, taking A Levels may leave them with some more free time to develop their interests.
Is your child considering studying or working abroad?
According to Katy Ricks, Headmaster of Sevenoaks, the IB has an “international spirit” – it is recognised across the globe, students are required to take a foreign language, and it, “provides serious an valuable opportunities for teachers to look outwards.” If you are hoping to prepare your child for a global future, the IB provides a strong foundation for today’s international education and jobs market.
The IB is particularly well suited for entrance to American universities. Dr. Donald Billingsley, former Dean of Davenport College, Yale, says that whilst “A Levels are well respected in the US, they are geared towards to UK university system of specialisation.” The IB, with its broad spectrum of subjects that cross the arts, sciences and humanities, better prepares a British student for the American university system, where they will need to study a range of subjects alongside their major.
Both the IB and A Levels are good options
This decision may appear to be daunting, affecting not just two years of your child’s life, but also their university admissions beyond that. However, it is best to remember that both options are extremely good, respected by universities and employers in Britain and worldwide.