More schools in the UK are offering sixth formers the chance of studying for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma as well as A-levels.
Fettes wanted to broaden its A-level curriculum
A survey of 53 university admissions officers by the ACS group of international schools found 29% thought A-levels prepared students "quite badly" for university.
Only 2% said it prepared them "very well" - whereas 29% thought the IB Diploma did so.
Here, two very different schools chart their courses towards running the IB: The Ridings High, Bristol and (below) Fettes College, Edinburgh.
THE RIDINGS HIGH SCHOOL, COMMUNITY COMPREHENSIVE
Head teacher Dr Rob Gibson
Over the last five years The Ridings High School has been developing the international dimension of its education programme.
This culminated in July 2005 with the school being awarded International School status. As part of this development it was therefore logical that we should offer an international qualification to run alongside our A-level programme.
After three years' planning and preparation we received authorisation to run the International Baccalaureate Diploma from September 2006, the only state school in the south west of England to do so.
We believe that the IB provides students with breadth of study, requisite skill development, independence of thought, maturity and self-confidence to become active learners across a broad range of academic and life skills.
As such it will offer students a highly respected and globally recognised qualification route to higher education and employment both in the UK and abroad.
Director of Sixth Form, Lindsay Hewson
A decision to investigate the possibility of delivering the IB Diploma was taken early in 2004. This resulted in two members of staff undertaking IB training in Geneva in June that year.
They presented a feasibility study to the senior management board, after which a decision to offer the programme was made.
six main subjects studied over two years
from literature, a second language, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics and computer sciences and the arts
three to higher level (240 teaching hours)
three at standard level (150 hours)
plus three compulsory sections: 4,000-word essay on a topic of the student's interest; theory of knowledge; and creativity, action, service
In order to give the fullest possible time for planning it was agreed to offer the Diploma from September 2006, with a request for the authorisation visit to take place in September 2005.
This allowed us to plan carefully for its introduction and ensured that at least one member of staff from each of the subjects being offered received accredited training.
Nine teachers went to Bratislava in July 2005 and a further eight received training this year in Athens.
Central to our planning for the programme was the construction of detailed schemes of work.
Some of the work was completed as part of in-school Inset [training], but it is a manifestation of the enthusiasm of the staff for the IB that they spent many hours of their own time completing this.
It was therefore particularly pleasing when, in October 2005, we received authorisation to run the programme.
It is with quiet confidence that we look forward to the actual delivery of the programme in September.
Teacher Rob Ford
To teach the IB Diploma, you have to be not only familiar with its philosophy and rationale, but truly believe it.
The IB Diploma is about educating students not only to progress through a programme of study and obtain exams, but to see their education in a wider context and to become skilled and lifelong independent learners.
I have been involved for a number of years in international education and have led developments at The Ridings High School.
It is my belief that in a global age without boundaries, a meaningful education for citizens of the 21st century is about allowing our students to see their place in the world and to realise opportunities.
This was reinforced on the recent IB Diploma co-ordinators' course I undertook in Athens.
Colleagues from across the world shared their experiences from diverse schools and countries but all came to the same point about wanting to realise greater opportunities for their students and to allow their horizons and understanding to be widened.
A school's philosophy and ethos is carried out by its teachers and IB teachers have to teach their respective subjects in terms of knowledge, skills and understanding - but the IB is about teachers and learners thinking locally and globally.
Student Charlotte Vaughton
I am considering studying the IB course for several reasons.
I am interested in the creativity, action and service area of assessment, because this allows students who take part in activities outside of school to incorporate these into their education.
The programme allows for only one set of exams at the end of the second year, compared with those taken at the end of each of the two A-level years. This means that students are under less stress.
The grading in the IB programme is done with points, which means that at a glance, employers and universities can distinguish between a higher and lower grade, for example a high and low A. This benefits the more able students.
The university aspect: with the International Baccalaureate Diploma, a student can continue to study in Britain or abroad as it is recognised in lots of countries, and is easier for foreign universities to comprehend than A-levels.
The biggest reason I am considering the IB is that you get to study more subjects, and don't have to focus on one path so soon.
For someone who knows what they want to do in the future, A-levels are perfect.
However if a student is undecided, like myself, the IB Diploma lets them keep their options open for a longer time.
Student Lindsay Thomas
I chose to do the International Baccalaureate Diploma because it allows me to take a much wider range of subjects.
I want to be a vet, so taking A-levels would force me to specify too much. As places in veterinary colleges are very limited the IB would enable me to change career direction if necessary.
By taking the IB I can still take the subjects I need but also others such as English, German and history, which are subjects I enjoy.
I also like the idea of the core elements; the extended essay is good practice for university and the theory of knowledge sounds really interesting.
I think that CAS [creativity, action and service] is a good way to prepare us for life after school as well, as it encourages you to lead a healthy lifestyle - taking exercise, finding a hobby which helps you to relax and taking an interest in your community.
I also like the idea of the Diploma being accepted worldwide. With university places being limited in this country you could study in a different country.
I think that this course will offer a real challenge and I am really looking forward to September.
FETTES COLLEGE, INDEPENDENT BOARDING AND DAY SCHOOL
Fettes College is the only Scottish independent school to offer the IB Diploma as well as A-levels to its sixth year pupils and one of only three Scottish independent schools offering the IB.
The reason was simple: augment the current A-level curriculum with a system that offers breadth of knowledge and a strong preparation for university life by encouraging independent thought and learning.
For Fettes College the IB is a natural fit as pupils, no matter what curriculum they follow, must already complete community service and have a strong involvement with the arts in their extra-curricular activities.
The course will start in September. Each student and their parents will be given advice on both, then can decide which would be most suitable.
A quarter of the new year group have already signed up.
Offering the IB at Fettes was discussed for over three years but with 92% agreement from parents, the two-stage accreditation process was initiated.
The college had to produce an in-depth analysis of its philosophy and the IB curriculum then identifying the resources required to deliver it.
A delegation from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) came on a school visit to create a detailed report on its ability to provide the IB Diploma.
Full accreditation was confirmed in December 2005.
"The open and enthusiastic support from the staff enabled us to prepare Fettes for the IBO inspection in 2005 and pass it with glowing commendations. The IBO team also noted the enthusiasm and interest of the students," said co-ordinator John Fern.
Since then Fettes College has been preparing and developing resources and training to ensure a smooth introduction of the IB Diploma in September 2006.
All staff who will be involved in teaching it have recently undertaken rigorous training in Athens to prepare them for the new curriculum.
Lucas Von Hoff, creativity, action and service co-ordinator
Trained in Bratislava and Athens.
In Athens there were 600 teachers the week that I attended and it was a fantastic opportunity to meet teachers from our IB region - Africa, Europe and the Middle East - and discuss the teaching methods and curriculum.
I think that A-levels are an excellent choice for those pupils who know what they want to do and want to specialise but with IB there is much more breadth.
By offering GCSE, A-levels and IB, Fettes will give our students the opportunity to choose a path of learning that will suit them.
The basics of teaching, interaction, enthusing students and encouraging learning will remain.
Does this change the way in which we will teach?
Well, there is still a full curriculum that has to be accomplished but with IB, I think that teachers will move away from being lecturers and towards being facilitators promoting individual learning and independent thought."
This is a particular benefit to students. They will need to think for themselves, which will be more like university.
Pupil and parent feedback
Being one of the first pupils to undertake the IB at Fettes is a complex decision, but parents have found the process relatively easy due to the levels of information and recommendation.
"I would like to say that we have been very impressed with the thoroughness with which Fettes has approached this project," said one parent who was already a strong exponent of the IB and who was delighted when it became part of the curriculum.
"For us it was a very easy decision particularly because our daughter had found it very difficult indeed to make the choice between the arts and the sciences for her A-levels.
"In the end she chose three sciences - plus a language at AS-level - but we all regretted that she had to make such a narrow choice.
"Our son is now taking IB at Fettes and will probably be taking maths, chemistry and history at higher level and English, German and physics at standard level."
Drew Parnell's daughter Emily is one of the first at Fettes to study for the IB and the strength of the international element was the main deciding factor.
"We felt that the IB diploma would give Emily a broader education and a better chance at gaining a position at an international/European university."
This is reflected by other parents who know that competition for university places is constantly getting tougher.
As they come from all over the UK and around the world, some see the IB as opening the doors to further education worldwide and not necessarily in the UK.
We will be hearing from the schools again as the courses progress.