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Impact of changes to the A level on IB uptake

(86 Posts)
Figmentofmyimagination Tue 17-Nov-15 09:02:44

DD is currently deciding between the IB and A levels. She is lucky that both are offered at her school - they have maintained a dual sixth form successfully for several years now (single sex independent) although up until now, A level students have significantly outnumbered IBers.

I am wondering whether the change - and the resulting uncertainty - over A levels for the sept 2016 intake - may push more children - and schools - generally across the uk - in the direction of IB where it is offered. Obviously the choice has to be right for the child, but in DD's case, her school has decided that it will no longer be offering AS exams, and anyway with the Gove changes, one of the key attractions of the A level for some children - partial completion after year 1 - will fall away. Also IB has a coursework component, which is interesting.

It would be good to have an AS score, to show universities at Ucas time, but the more schools that stop offering AS exams at all, the less useful it will be as an indicator - rather like the EPQ. I wonder what others think.

Needmoresleep Tue 17-Nov-15 09:09:26

Losing the AS certainly levels the playing field between A levels and IB. I would also expect more schools will look at pre-U, not least because of the level of certainty an established course will provide.

disquisitiones Tue 17-Nov-15 09:21:31

IB is too expensive for most state schools to offer, particularly at a time when funding to sixth form colleges is being cut. Both IB and pre-U are considered hard, relative to A levels, with university offers for IB being particularly hard. I don't think that the uptake of IB and pre-U will increase particularly, even in private schools.

I think most schools will simply go back to the old system of no public exams at the end of year 12. For almost all university courses it makes no difference, as offers are given primarily on predicted A level results (and decided by administrators according to standard rules, rather than by academics). Those universities which select students will do so by combining predicted A level grades with interviews and pretests.

Figmentofmyimagination Tue 17-Nov-15 09:59:13

That's interesting disquisitiones - the other thing I had been wondering was whether most schools will decide not to enter children for AS exams like my DD's school.

Does this also mean that they are more likely to teach only three subjects rather than four from the start of year 12? My DD's school are talking about offering a fourth A level which you drop if you want to, but this sounds rather unstructured and more like e.g. You drop it if you can't cope with it, as opposed to dropping it because the curriculum aimed for some extra breadth in y12 (which I think the AS 4 subject model did achieve).

anneblake20 Tue 17-Nov-15 10:09:32

I stumbled across the following blog this morning and found it really helpful. My son is also approaching A Level age and we're struggling to decide what to do.

Figmentofmyimagination Tue 17-Nov-15 10:12:43

I don't know about this point on IB offers being harder to achieve. That definitely wasn't DD's school's experience this year. IB offers were on the whole reasonable. I wonder if there are any subject specific statistics on this.

Noitsnotteatimeyet Tue 17-Nov-15 13:21:07

Ds1 finished the IB this summer - the vast majority of his cohort comfortably exceeded their uni offers and his school thinks admissions officers are now much more familiar with the diploma so are giving offers which are on a par with A-level offers. I think it's only Cambridge now which still has a standard points offer of 42 which is ludicrously high

It suited ds as he's a genuine all-rounder who's good at applying skills and knowledge and who was pretty busy with extra-curricular stuff but .... It was a shed load of work - the biology coursework in particular seemed to be never-ending

Ds2 will be going into sixth form next year and he's an A-level student through and through (complete maths/science geek) and IB would be a disaster for him

TheDrsDocMartens Tue 17-Nov-15 13:24:51

Dd1 is sixth form from next year. I'd prefer IB as she's v divided about where to specialise. She's v academic so either way will suit her. I'm more bothered about dd2 going through Goves GCSEs and whatever mess is made with P16 by then.

talkinpeace Tue 17-Nov-15 13:26:06

The numbers of schools offering the Pre U is barely in double figures.
The number of schools offering the IB is in low triple figures.

Schools will stick with A levels because they are what the main UK system is geared around.

When even massive colleges like DDs see no benefit from other than A levels it shows that A levels will revert to what they were back in the stone age.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 17-Nov-15 14:09:32

DS's school was all IB and recently converted to offering A levels as well, the first lot just finished. When DS started only IB was on offer and I was a little bit surprised about what I learnt about IB at the recent information evening.

Higher level IB maths is very hard, harder than A level additional maths. This was confirmed by an external maths tutor who has tutored it. It is extremely difficult to get a "7", top grade, in higher level maths and very few boys do so. If DS wants to study economics at Uni, many insist on a "7" at higher level although they are only asking for normal A level maths without additional maths. So, obviously if Economics or anything with similar requirements is an option A levels are a much better bet unless your DS is a mathematical genius.

Apparently at lower level maths it is also hard to get a "7", but Maths Studies is very easy and everyone gets the top grade.

DS's school is selective and has an excellent record at IB, average points last year were 41.97, and 67% of passes were at "7". If they can't get boys the top grade at Maths it's a problem.

And to answer your question the take up for IB this year has dropped to below 30% after only 3 years of introducing A levels. So IBs looking a lot less popular at his school.

Needmoresleep Tue 17-Nov-15 14:28:36

Do you mean Further Maths? Additonal is something different. I would be surprised if IB Higher Maths is harder than Further, given the time devoted to maths if you do the double A level, though could accept that the two have different syllabi.

There has been quite a lot of what maths Universities want for economics students. Safe to say, I think, that for top Unis a child at a school that can teach further maths well, is very well advised to take the double. Minimum requirements, and what Universities expect from candidates at good schools, are two different things.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 17-Nov-15 14:36:16

Yes I mean Further Maths, and yes it is harder! Apparently some IB higher level topics are first year maths at Oxford.

Our independent advice has also been that the IB syllabus is a bit patchy and the A level Maths/Further Maths syllabus is better.

DS's head says that the leading IB schools have made the board aware that there is a problem with maths and there has been an improvement but DS will still probably do A levels.

disquisitiones Tue 17-Nov-15 16:16:27

it is hard to get 7s in HL maths and a number of courses require a 7. I don't think the material is harder than that in FM (and it does miss out important topics contained in FM) but the correspondence used by many universities between IB HL maths grades and A level FM grades isn't felt to be entirely fair.

"Some IB higher level topics are first year maths at Oxford" is a bit of a misleading statement. First of all, Oxford first year maths is similar to most other top 10-20 maths courses in syllabus (so you could equally write Nottingham first year or Exeter first year). Secondly, a lot of FM topics are on first year maths syllabi, as not all A level boards cover the same topics in the same way. So being covered in first year university maths is not a big deal in itself.

A level maths plus FM covers more maths and is a better option for somebody who wants to study maths/physics/engineering. But IB has other advantages, including breadth of study.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 17-Nov-15 17:03:21

The Oxford first year quote applies to the calculus type module of the maths options, sorry I don't know enough to be more to be specific. Obviously the teacher had only been to Oxford so wouldn't know what was taught at other Unis.

DS would have liked to do IB for the breadth but he wouldn't want to do FM at A level just normal Maths so he will probably be doing A levels instead. Its annoying because otherwise the IB would suit him a lot better.

BoboChic Tue 17-Nov-15 17:30:37

"So being covered in first year university maths is not a big deal in itself."

Both my DSSs, who are reading Economics and did the French bac S with spé Maths, have reported that there is a lot of swapping of maths skills in the first term between students who have covered different material during their A-level/IB/French bac/whatever.

Figmentofmyimagination Tue 17-Nov-15 17:57:30

Does anyone sense whether doing three A levels are likely to be the new normal again? My DD1 completed A levels last year and I'm sure doing four A levels would have compromised her final result - but doing the AS in the lower sixth (a language) worked nicely.

I am a bit put off by the suggestion at our DD's school that from sept 2016, A level students are to be offered the chance to sit 4 A levels. Unless something is to change in relation to universities' approach to students with 4 or more A levels, this strikes me as a poor idea.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 17-Nov-15 18:09:24

The problem with the IB higher maths is the very small number getting 7s and that is what some Unis are requesting. I was told by DS's school it was a unique problem with the maths and the big IB schools in the country are speaking to them about it. Having a cynical nature I then checked this out with someone who had taught both who confirmed it and explained what he thought was wrong.

DS is very keen on IB but not taking Higher maths closes some doors, fortunately not all of them. Apparently the lower level maths is easier than A level normal Maths. So DS is still on the A level/IB fence, as are quite a few of his friends. He likes the breadth of the IB and is having difficulty narrowing down his A level choices, but he likes maths and would want it to be one of his main subjects. I'm sure it will all sort out over the next few months. I just wish we'd been told about the maths earlier, but then I think they have been trying to get it sorted.

Figmentofmyimagination Tue 17-Nov-15 18:15:20

I remember last year one of the maths tutors frankly told a friend's DD during the sixth form evening exactly that - that sevens are impossible in higher maths - so she did the two maths at A level instead.

The mere thought of any maths at all was enough to send my DD1 fleeing for the hills, so IB passed me by last time around.

disquisitiones Tue 17-Nov-15 18:30:08

IB is an international qualification, taken in many different countries. Complaints from a handful of UK private schools won't be enough to make them change IB maths (which is perfectly appropriate for many university courses in many countries and indeed perfectly sensible preparation for many UK courses too).

The reason courses ask for 7 at HL maths is because it does cover less content than FM. For highly mathematical courses where FM is necessary/strongly desirable mastering HL maths is needed for students to keep up with those who have FM. If a student already knows that they are interested in a subject which requires FM for the top courses, they are better off doing A levels. But if they only realise this too late I would bet that there are lots of top 10-20 courses (even if not top 3-5 courses) which don't ask for a 7 at HL maths. It's only the very top few courses that can enforce such high grades.

My guess is that many students at high achieving schools will start with 4 A levels and then drop the weakest one part way through/at the end of year 12 if necessary. Students at state sixth form colleges/less high achieving schools may be more likely to start with 3, since very few universities courses will ask for or select based on more than 3.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 17-Nov-15 18:32:14

The other problem Figment is that if Higher Maths is basically a double subject at IB you also have 5 others to cover, that is a shed load of work.

DS's school are continuing with the start 4 drop one A level route, but with no AS's. It seems weird doing a subject for a year and having nothing to show you did.

Figmentofmyimagination Tue 17-Nov-15 18:36:39

Yes that's what I think too - but since from an access point of view, universities won't be able to give extra weight to extra qualifications that are only offered to the few, I can't really see a good argument for loading children up with the extra stress of additional A levels when they could be doing something else with their time - especially if dropping one partway through is to be more of a "norm".

Temporaryusername8 Tue 17-Nov-15 18:40:17

I checked the latest worldwide stats for IB (May 2014),

No. of candidates 5 6 7
MATH.STUDIES SL 29,235 27% 17% 7%
MATHEMATICS HL 11,784 24% 15% 9%
MATHEMATICS SL 38,926 23% 21% 8%

From this a much lower percentage of candidates get 7s in HL or SL maths than A* in maths or further maths A level. This is probably due to a combination of a different cohort (more students got for HL maths than A Level FM and a more harshly grading. I don't think it can be inferred that the material in HL is harder than that of A level FM.

However if I had a DC who was an able mathematician, I would choose A levels, both for material covered and for fairer entrance criteria

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 17-Nov-15 19:08:44

disquiet, I'm not so sure, the UK has the top performing IB schools globally, they get a lot of PR from prestigious schools using their qualifications and it is not a good reflection on them if they abandon IB and go back to all A levels. I think Sevenoaks is the only large school now to only offer IB.

As I've said DS's school is very selective with 67% of entries at "7". Regards cohort because Higher level maths is very difficult they only allow the top 25% to take it and even then the % getting 7s is much lower than for any other subject.

It's all been enough to put quite a few boys off doing IB, including DS which is a shame. However, if you don't need maths and can do maths studies instead I think the IB is great.

cakeisalwaystheanswer Tue 17-Nov-15 19:09:33

And yes Temp8, that is the independent advice we had.

Noitsnotteatimeyet Tue 17-Nov-15 21:51:17

Well a 7 at HL in IB isn't directly comparable to an A* at A-level - only 3% of candidates worldwide get a 7 in HL English so it's obviously much harder than getting an A*

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