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Why the International Baccalaureate is on the rise


First established in the late 1960s, the International Baccalaureate (IB) was once the preserve of globetrotting families and diplomats’ children. But with 155 schools in the UK now offering the IB to its pupils, and universities placing increasing value on IB applications, the higher education landscape is looking decidedly more global.


A-levels have been the mainstay of school-leavers’ examinations since 1951, and despite several adaptations over the years, the principles have remained largely the same. With children opting for just three subjects, A-levels aim to prepare students for the focused study of university with in-depth knowledge in their chosen area.


Where A-levels offer depth, the IB places more value on breadth. Students pick one subject from each of the six subject areas – which must include English, maths, a language, a science and one of the humanities. After the first year, they will take three of these to a higher level, as well as completing an additional ‘Theory of Knowledge’ essay, an extended essay on a subject of their choice and 150 hours of creativity, activity and community service.


So why are an increasing number of schools – and their students – choosing the IB over A-levels? While some argue that the IB sacrifices the necessary depth for further study, a report published by the qualifications regulator Ofqual found that the IB’s higher-level maths exam was ‘more challenging’ than the A-level equivalent. There seem to be economic benefits too. Julian Metcalf, UK associate manager for the IBO, reported that the average salary of IB school leavers in full-time employment was £1,500 higher per annum than those with A-levels.


Advocates of the IB also praise its global outlook. With a less UK-centric curriculum, and protected from often changing political winds, the IB offers its students a well-rounded option that’s fit for an increasingly connected world.


The IB remains a minority choice, and with no formal arrangement to bring the IB grades into line with the UCAS university points system, A-levels will no doubt continue to be top of the agenda for many. But as the IB marks its 50th year, this alternative qualification is almost certainly here to stay.


If you’re undecided on the merits of the IB versus A-levels, head over to this month’s blog post to hear our thoughts on the options available. And no matter which route you pursue, the Figtree team is here to help you find your way.

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