A levels vs IB
Why we have chosen A Levels rather than the IB for our Sixth Form
There has been much talk in recent years about the differences between the traditional A level examinations for Sixth Form students, and the relative newcomer to the U.K. - the International Baccalaureate. There is perhaps a tendency in life to think that newer must be more “up to date” and therefore “better”. However, this is not always the case.
We have made the decision at Blackheath High School to stay with the A level curriculum. We made this decision after considering the pros and cons of each course, because we believe that the A level curriculum best meets the requirements of our students.
So, what are the differences between the IB and A levels? The IB is divided into six groups: Experimental Sciences, Mathematics and Computer Science, Language, Second Language and the Arts. In addition, students complete an Extended Essay, follow a Theory of Knowledge Course and participate in the CAS program.
A levels are an established qualification, with individual subjects being studied in a combination that suits each individual student. (It is important to note here that, at Blackheath, we try very hard to build the timetable around the option choices of the students, so that most get the combination that they want).
The disadvantages of the IB are:
- The spread of subjects would not suit most of our students as they prefer to specialise at this stage.
- The fact that all six subjects have to be studied means that the weaker subject can pull down the overall IB score. It is very important to realise that this is backed by the data showing the success rates of students gaining their first or second choice university places: For A level applicants there is an 81% success rate, but for the IB it is only 69%
- Studying the IB takes up a great deal of time. This can then detract from time spent participating in sport, extra-curricular activities or gaining important work experience. Therefore, instead of the IB being a “broadening” curriculum, it can actually close down some important developmental experiences.
- There is evidence to show that students who go on to study academically specific courses at university do less well if they come from an IB experience in the Sixth Form. For example, first year medical students, who took the IB route, are more likely to struggle due to the fact that they have not studied the sciences in as much detail as is required.
The advantages of A levels are many and the changes in the A level curricula have proved to be positive
- The majority of British Sixth Formers sit them and university admissions tutors and employers understand the system.
- A levels allow students to specialise in subject areas that are relevant to chosen Higher Education courses. They can also drop subjects that they are weaker at. Year on year, the vast majority of our students at Blackheath High choose options that are specific and related, not general.
- There is more breadth at A level than there used to be; students can take a fourth AS level which can complement their main A level choices.
- There is more stretch and challenge; the new A* grade is harder to achieve than the top IB mark.
- The A level courses examine subjects in more detail, which is a definite advantage prior to studying specialist academic subjects at university.
However, there is one aspect of the IB course that we have decided to embrace and that is the “Theory of Knowledge." This is because we think that this will help to develop critical awareness and to question “knowledge” and “truth”. Being able to consider facts in a philosophical manner is an important life skill and also helps to develop analytical skills.
All Sixth Formers at Blackheath High are able to take the highly valued Extended Project Qualification. This is an independent project which can take a number of forms. It is an AS qualification, and because of the independent study skills needed, it is seen in a very positive light by admissions tutors, who are looking for undergraduates who can work alone.
In short, we have taken what we believe to be the best of the examination courses available, and have created our own specific combination, to work to the best advantage for our girls.