Can the International Baccalaureate improve English education?
Many believe the International Baccalaureate could bring English education back up to scratch.
The European Survey of Language Competences found last week that English pupils are among the worst in Europe at foreign languages. “For England, an international trading nation, to lie at the bottom of a league of language competence is economically and socially dangerous,” said the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb.
Reports that Education Secretary Michael Gove is considering a return to an O-level-type exam in an attempt to raise standards, the establishment of single boards to avoid grade inflation in core subjects, and the setting up of a review of A-level syllabuses in English, science and maths by leading universities reinforce the sense of unease at the present state of English education. The Telegraph’s Make Britain Count campaign (see Weekend’s front pages) has already called attention to the deficiencies in maths and science teaching in this country.
Yesterday, students of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, offered by more than 200 schools in England as an alternative to A-level, got their results, along with thousands of other students across the northern hemisphere. The pass mark, and the number of those reaching it, is likely to be the same, within one to two percentage points, as it has been since the exam began in 1970. Run by an organisation based in Geneva, the exam is subject to no political pressure and exists for the convenience of the large numbers of people working abroad whose children need a qualification accepted by universities worldwide.
The Diploma Programme’s syllabus might have been invented with Mr Gove’s ideas in mind. As with A-level, all candidates can choose three subjects in six compulsory domains to study at “higher” level; but they must also choose three more subjects from the other three domains to study at “standard” level. Thus, a science-based candidate might choose to do, say, chemistry, biology and maths at higher level. But he or she would also have to do English, a foreign language and a subject such as history at standard level. For an arts-based candidate, the situation would be reversed — there would be no escaping standard-level maths or a science. No candidate, in other words, can avoid doing a core subject up to the age of 18.
The IB regards languages as core subjects. It believes study of your native language teaches you to speak and write precisely, clearly and sensitively; and that it’s important to continue it beyond 16 so that you can learn to express the more complex ways in which you see the world. Continued study of a foreign language is essential for members of a global society, as IB Diploma candidates are encouraged to consider themselves.