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DD is considering doing IB instead of A-levels

(40 Posts)
Themumsnot Thu 08-Nov-12 23:54:28

We have a sixth form options evening coming up so I would like some pros and cons from people who have experienced the IB.
I can see that it might work well for her as she is a true all-rounder who doesn't want to limit her choices so soon but I have a couple of concerns.
One is workload: with six subjects and an extended project it must surely be pretty intense.
The other is university offers as I have bee told anecotally that IB offers can be higher than the equivalent A-level offers.
There is also the issue that the only place where she can do IB is an hour and a half away by train, although our local FE college is so dire that quite a few people make the trek for A-level anyway. But three hours travelling a day is a lot, and the last train home is at 8.30 so she will be limited in extracurricular activities too.
But the main thing is for her to choose the right course. She is hardworking and ambitious, but not sure what direction to go in yet.

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 11:00:34

I've been doing a bit of research and it seems that some universities will ask for 777 from IB students compared with A*AA or even AAA from A-level students. Is this a fair comparison?

circular Fri 09-Nov-12 13:26:26

We recently attended an open evening at a school that does both IB and A levels. Although they have had the IB there for many years, there were still twice as many opting for A levels.

With regards to university offers, we were told that it was mainly Oxbridge that were asking for points equivalent to more than the typical 3 A level grades offer, and Cambridge more so than Oxford. But they did not see this as an issue, as the majority of Oxbridge appicants well exceed their offers anyway.
Most universitie would quote a total number of points, possibly specifying a 6 or 7 in the higher for the relevant subject(s) to the degree course.

The year 13 students we spoke to that were taking the IB were very enthusiastic about it, and they were not all straight A students.

Although DD wants to take a cross section of subjects for AS, and does huge amounts of extra curricular, she has still decided the IB is not for her. In her case, all her AS subjects and more could be included but generally there are more subjects available at AS.

The school in question is also at least an hour away for us, although DD is still considering it for A levels.

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 15:17:11

Just been looking at the college website and while they have published a beautifully detailed table of their A-level results there is nothing similar for their IB results. All the say is the average points score is 33 and the top student got 37 points. Not comforting when Cambridge is looking for 42.

eatyourveg Fri 09-Nov-12 15:32:28

I have also heard that the IB scores universities offer far exceed the equivalent in A level points

fraktion Fri 09-Nov-12 15:38:18

42 is hard. 7 is like A*. Count 2 points as a given from the 3 supplemental and you still need to get 7s in 4 subjects and 6s in the other 2. I would not be encouraged by those results. That's 5s (so B equivalent) across the board. That says to me the teachers don't have the knowledge of the system to boost up to 7s but ask them for results.

It is an amazing programme but you need to be looking at universities and being honest abour which will accept it. If you want to study oversees for Uni it is much better than A-levels and employers regard it favourably but universities often make their offers high and that is something to consider. My DH got 38 (clever but lacked application), my dedicated and brainy BIL got 42 (he does astrophysics as a hobby) and my so far out of this world genius does nothing but work SIL got 45. They are all bilingual so the 2 languages were 7s on a plate but it is still hard work. Those were done at specialist schools which have offered the IB for donkeys years and they are all very clever people, who were in the top 10 for their year. Incidentally DH got an Oxford offer but studied abroad, SIL got rejected, so grades aren't everything - your DD will need a (related) extracurricular activity.

It's no more workload than teens in other countries are expected to do - A-levels are lightweight in comparison.

You need to look carefully at the options. Will she cope with (for example) the maths level they're offering? If she's not a natural mathematician and they don't offer maths studies it may not be a good idea.

Have the school been offering it for a long time? Are the teachers experienced in IB schools? What study support do they offer for the EP? What about the CAS component? What is their TOK teaching like?

Does your DD have any idea of where she wants to go? If she wants medicine or science I wouldn't do IB but for law, languages, social sciences etc it's perfect.

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 16:13:00

Thank you Fraktion for that incredibly informative post. Your family sound very high-achieving!
The college has been offering the IB for 20 years. They had 27 students do it last year. I don't know a lot about the staffing yet or the results over time.
DD has been thinking about doing Pyschology at university and has been considering Cambridge, mainly because they came to her school as part of their outreach programme and impressed her a lot. In theory the IB should be ideal for this but they say they would look for 777 at higher level and 42 points or A*AA at A-level, whicih sounds distinctly more doable.
She is predicted A*s at GCSE in nearly all of her subjects including English Maths and all three sciences and would be looking at doing Eng Lit, History and Psychology at H level and Maths, Physics or Chemistry and German at S level.
DD is clever and hard working and musically talented too, but she needs a supportive environment which she hasn't particularly had so far so I want to help her get it right - such a big decision. I'm an English teacher myself so A-levels would be my comfort zone, but if she is serious about giving the IB a go I want to make sure I can support her as far as possible.

nemno Fri 09-Nov-12 16:24:00

My 2 sons did IB, their school did not offer anything else. My nieces and friends' children do/did A levels. Honestly, if we could choose again I would probably go for A levels.

IB seems to have a much greater workload and requires a great ability to be organised. Certainly in schools which offer both, the contact hours for IB are longer and the homework possibly more (a bit subject dependent). The depth that A levels offer is very similar to the standard of the Higher Level subjects (again subject dependent, some IB HLs are reckoned to be more challenging) so the often used explanation that IB offers more breadth while A levels more depth is arguable.

There is coursework that takes a huge amount of time but most of the marks (most subjects) come from the exams. These take place in one block over 2 and half weeks at the end. There is nothing stopping an exam schedule (it varies each year) being morning and afternoon for a week solid. You don't want to be below par that week! The way exam questions are set means they really do need to have all 2 years work in their heads right then.

There are very many ways to fail an IB Diploma. It is a scary reality that the whole thing is endangered by one slip.

The other biggie which makes me lean towards A levels is university admissions in the UK. Most of the better regarded ones ignore the tariff as suggested by UCAS and do imo give more challenging conditions for IB takers. There are exceptions so doing some research regarding specific subjects at specific universities might throw up a pleasant surprise. Anecdotal evidence suggests a near-miss at IB is more likely to get you accepted onto the course anyway if the university has any 'spare' places (a dropped IB point looking like a smaller miss than a whole A level grade).

On the other hand IB is a really great programme imo. It gave my kids loads of confidence and I'd say it did make them well set to start uni because they were used to organising their study and well used to giving presentations etc (poss more so than some of their A level peers). However this difference would be negligible by second year and universities are geared to supporting A level students through this anyway.

Having typed that all out (and thought of a few other things)I've convinced myself I'd choose A levels for myself! Er, which I actually did do way back when.

nemno Fri 09-Nov-12 16:28:07

Crossed posts. If she is considering Cambridge then yes, they do ask for very high IB scores which is terrifying pressure at exam time compared to A level students who have high module scores already achieved. Good luck.

basildonbond Fri 09-Nov-12 17:02:00

trying to make the same decision at the moment ...

ds very keen on IB - his school offers both A-levels and IB and is doing a very 'hard sell' on IB at the moment

he is very bright, but very lazy, which makes me wonder if it's the right route for him, however he's also a real all-rounder and actively wants to keep maths, a science and a language going even though he doesn't want to study any of them at university

complexnumber Fri 09-Nov-12 17:03:03

The IB programme is quite 'sink or swim'. If successful, your DD will transform into a self-motivated independent learner who values her own personal achievments above the grades given to her by a teacher. She will develop a rounded view of the notion of 'knowledge' and its implications. She will understand what is meant by intellectual property and how to properly cite what is not her's.

Briefly, she will be streets ahead of her A' level peers during the first years of her degree.

I teach Higher Level maths, it's not an option to be taken by the nervous, but it is recognised around the world as a gateway into all mathematical, scientific, engineering or any other respected courses

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 18:17:53

Thanks Complex. She finds GCSE maths relatively easy and is on target for an A*. Is there a big jump between GCSE and standard level IB - she probably wouldn't choose it as one of her higher subjects? She likes physics and chemistry too and would want to do one of those.

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 18:18:58

From what you say she would love the IB - independent thinking is her thing!

fraktion Fri 09-Nov-12 20:16:28

I would say IB is not for the lazy. I slacked and got 3 As at A-level, DH wouldn't have been allowed to slack that much (my MIL is fearsome) and did comparatively less well. I agree that it's sink or swim, you need to have a lot of internal motivation to do it along with a hefty dose of natural intelligence.

It's not my family who are clever (although we're not thick wink), just DH's. It's like wandering into a parallel universe where achievement is utterly standard and you're expected to have intellectual discussions over breakfast. I spend most of my time feeling utterly inadequate.

Dozer Fri 09-Nov-12 20:51:47

I do 1.5 hours commute for work, and it is awful, would not recommend for school-age pupil tbh, however good the course. A-levels can be broad too.

eatyourveg Sun 11-Nov-12 19:40:26

The very same question was posed in today's Sunday Times. Chris Woodhead recommended A levels if you knew what you wanted to do and IB if you were a good all rounder. Still think A levels make getting into uni easier and at the end of the day thats what (most) people want them for.

marriedinwhite Sun 11-Nov-12 23:22:24

Our DS is in the U6 of a leading IB school which gets a very high point score but is also very selective. DS is not really an all rounder but opted to stay at the school he loves where he has been since he was 8. Interestingly they are reintroducing A'Levels from next year. We though DS would have been better doing A'Levels but didn't want to rock the status quo. He has had to work incredibly hard for the IB but appears on track to achieve over 40 points and expects to go to a leading university. The school liaises well with the universities.

TBH to succeed at the IB incredible teaching is required and an inside out knowledge of it by the staff. I wouldn't contemplate sending one of our children to an establishment that averaged 33 points. If your daughter can't do it at Sevenoaks or KCS or somewhere very similar I would go for A'Levels.

Themumsnot Mon 12-Nov-12 01:15:56

Thanks everyone. I am armed with a lot of questions for open evening tomorrow. I honestly don't know what to do for the best. She is bored at school at the moment, and wants to be doing something more interesting. She feels IB will be more intellectually challenging than A-levels and I can't disagree but I worry about the implications for university entrance.

marriedinwhite Mon 12-Nov-12 05:59:42

Actually two thoughts mumsnot. There may be less competition for university places with the ratcheting up of the fees. And something DS's school told us was that once at university the proportion of IB students taking a first is higher than for those who have done A'Levels.

To put things in perspective DS got 11 A*s (and an A - for maths which he hates but which is compulsory). He is on target for 40-42 points (fingers and toes crossed). That is at a leading IB provider - his school was top in the UK last year I think.

complexnumber Mon 12-Nov-12 06:35:40

* I wouldn't contemplate sending one of our children to an establishment that averaged 33 points*

I think the global average is about 30 points. But there are several other factors that need considering, a major one being whether the school is selective or not.

I would not dismiss an average of 33 points without looking a little deeper into the background of the school.

Theas18 Mon 12-Nov-12 07:38:08

Oi! Don't diss A levels as a " soft option" yet again LOL. It purely depends of the courses taken and what else the child does at school and outside.

My "outsider" take on it is that and allrounder with a really good language aptitude is likely to do very well, but the levels expected may be higher than the equivalent A level grades for the same course at top unis.

The interesting observation I have is the co-ed local selective school that offers both IB and A levels started doing that when we looked around for DD1 (now 19) and she chose single sex selective mostly because of the uncertainties around IB (whether they'd drop the A levels , how it would be seen by uni etc) . 10yrs on that school still offers both choices, so it is very clear there isn't an "answer" for all kids.

Yes you can have a lazy time at A levels and do "OK" , but depends on subject choice and where your " OK" lies grade wise etc.

At the kids schools the A levels offered and chosen are all academically rigorous and things like AQA bacc/EPQ are pretty normal too in order to gain the self directed learning skills and offer " something extra" to unis.

A 90 minute commute for a 6th former would be a really difficult one and the school would have tyo offer her amazing things that would really e to her advantage. Basically she is exchanging much of her opportunities to do anything other than school for the IB. She will find a social life either at the new school or with her " home" friends hard and hobbies/music/sport/volunteering would really have little time .

Phineyj Tue 13-Nov-12 20:59:56

I teach at a school that is all-IB in sixth form and it does suit well-organised, independent learners (and those who can acquire those skills). I think it is is also good that students continue with Maths, English and a language - avenues in later life may open up with those (we had a scientist who moaned about the compulsory language - now she's at CERN it's coming in handy). Cambridge is a special case - Oxford is more realistic with points offers.

We have found that while points offers can be high, universities are more likely to take IB candidates who have missed their predictions than A level students - and the IB students have an advantage as their results come out earlier.

To me the major sales point is that it's a better preparation for university, and therefore, rather than having a massive adjustment to university-level study, IB students can enjoy their first year. Having said that, some of the features of IB -- academic rigour, public exams only at the end of the second year, restricted retakes etc were features of A levels when I took them...!

You should only consider schools with a reasonable number of IB students though, otherwise classes will be small, there may be a restricted range of options and as the poster above pointed out, staff may lack expertise.

I would have loved to do it at school, personally, as I could have carried on with a language and done Music as part of CAS rather than doing a stressful A level in it, when I only really wanted to play music.

Phineyj Tue 13-Nov-12 21:03:36

Oh, meant to say -- I find IB subjects vary a great deal as to how hard it is to get the higher grades, so choice needs to be made with care and the school quizzed about past outcomes in detail. It would be good to ask, for instance, how the school would deal with a Y12 student wanting to change options during the year because of either changed career ambitions or as a strategic decision to boost points at the end of Y13 (for instance students may embark on Higher Level Maths without realising it's very much harder than the A level courses).

Themumsnot Tue 13-Nov-12 21:56:43

OK. Well the open evening was not particularly useful as the college reps there were mobbed and only giving out the most general information (two of them to deal with 300-odd parents) but there is a college open day coming up soon that DD can go to with school. However she did manage to snaffle a photocopied booklet with a lots more info about the IB than the glossy prospectus contained. Results historically have been quite good, last year may have been a blip so that is comforting. DD is now very keen and so are a couple of her friends which would make the commute more bearable anyway. I am still worried about the Cambridge issue, but I do think DD is the kind of student the IB is made for. She is predicted at least 9A* at GCSE and although she works hard doesn't find the work particularly challenging, so I think she would be in a good position to cope.
PhineyJ - what would you call a reasonable number of students? I think there were only about 30 last year, but I understand there have been up to 50 in the past. Thank you for your suggestion of questions to ask. Right now she plans to take English, History and Chemistry at Higher and Maths, German and Pyschology at Standard but one would hope there would be a little flexibility on that.

squeezedatbothends Tue 20-Nov-12 22:26:06

Consider a couple of things - she will be competing with some of the most wealthy students in the world who have been taught in classes of ten pupils, each with their own iMac and with lots of study support. The international IB schools in China for example are unbelievable. The IB starts when you are 6 with the PYP programme and continues through middle school with the MYP programme, both incorporating an educational philosophy which fosters independence, creativity and an engagement with global politics and culture. Those children, when they get to the higher levels of the IB are well prepared to be autonomous and often have the resources to really go to town with research projects. One child I know in a school in Geneva flew to south America to conduct their IB research after their parents set up interviews with senior politicians and diplomats! Having said that, it is a fantastic qualification. Your daughter will have to think globally, be aware that the other aspects of the course such as Theory of Knowledge are considered hugely important and will need to be very well motivated. I am always impressed when I meet IB students and they do well getting in to top unis as the high numbers at Harvard, Yale, The Sorbonne and Oxbridge testify.

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