The Education Secretary is seeking to give universities a greater say in the structure of A levels, but we believe that the work to create a more rounded and holistic post-16 education that better prepares students for the life ahead of them has already been done.
Since the early 1970s UWC has been teaching the International Baccalaureate and today graduates thousands of students each year from its 12 schools and colleges, many of whom go on to Ivy League, Oxbridge and other leading universities all over the world.
Working in collaboration with the International School of Geneva, the UN International School, New York and Oxford University's Department of Education, teachers from UWC Atlantic College, Wales, developed the IB in response to the inflexible and formulaic systems that characterised education in the 60s and 70s. More than 40 years on and the IB Diploma still represents a far better opportunity than in other systems for students to expand and develop the skills and attributes that don't just make them successful undergraduates, but successful human beings.
The IB is both intellectually robust and internationally recognised. Since its foundation, it has been the subject of choice in international schools, but its expansion in recent years - about a million students will take the IB this year - has focused on state and private schools in national systems, including many very well-regarded schools in the UK. A focus on service, action and creativity outside of the core subject areas allows students to explore the world around them and become critical, analytical and compassionate about their own environments beyond the world of their text books. A unique Theory of Knowledge course enables students to learn how to think, and the Extended Essay encourages a depth of study that would normally be reserved for university level.
When visiting UWC Atlantic College, or any of the UWC schools and colleges worldwide, the Harvard admissions team don't want only to see a list of predicted grades. As admissions staff they know that the academic quality of UWC students makes them more than capable of studying at Harvard; it's the personal qualities of commitment to service, critical thinking and a sense of responsibility that makes them attractive Ivy League applicants. These attributes are central to the UWC experience, and the IB provides the curriculum framework for that experience.
If the challenge we face is to make A levels fit for purpose so that students don't just gain grades on a piece of paper but are equipped to face the next steps in their lives, then we must not only look at what will help them to study at university, but what will help them to become responsible and successful citizens. The structure of the IB, allowing students to focus on six academic subjects, encourages diversity in learning and provides the space to prepare for the next step. The IB's other requirements ensure that students are empowered to explore pursuits like arts, service, sports and volunteering in a way that benefits, not hinders, their academic progress.
It seems logical that in our attempts to make our education systems the best they can be, we should look to existing institutions and established practices rather than attempting to reinvent ourselves, especially when universities have already admitted they would be hard-pressed to find the time and resources to reform A levels. The IB has proven success in preparing students for university and beyond; the Education Secretary would do well to take a closer look.
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