Exclusive: Crisis talks on future of IB in state sector

Cutting funding for state pupils to do International Baccalaureate would be 'deeply unfair and divisive', DfE is told

Mark Smulian and Will Hazell

The future of the International Baccalaureate

A headteacher today warned the Department for Education that its proposals for post-16 qualifications could be "deeply unfair and divisive" if they prevented state school pupils from studying the International Baccalaureate. 

John Oakes, headteacher of Dartford Grammar School – among the largest schools to teach the qualification – said changes proposed in the consultation Review of post-16 Qualifications at Level 3 and Below in England could make it uneconomic for state schools to teach the IB, although he did not think that was the government’s intention.

Mr Oakes met with DfE officials to raise his concerns, and was joined by the IB's global accreditation manager.

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The consultation paper states: “We want T levels and A levels to become the qualifications of choice for 16- to 19-year-olds taking level 3 classroom-based qualifications.

“In applying our principles, we propose that qualifications that overlap with T levels or A levels should not be approved for public funding for 16- to 19-year-olds.”

International Baccalaureate 'is valued'

Asked by Tes whether this would stop state schools from taking the IB, Mr Oakes said "that would be the obvious interpretation", but he added: "I can't believe for one minute that would be the outcome.

“I made the case – and again I think they understood this – that they don’t want to create a system whereby what’s possible for the independent sector is not possible for the state sector. They understand that that’s deeply unfair and divisive.”

"It's such madness, it can't possibly be the driving force."

He said that DfE officials "were listening" in the meeting, and "the mood music today was that the IB programme is valued".

About 126 schools offer the IB, split roughly half each between state and independent schools.

Mr Oakes told Tes: “This has not been done to target IB and remove it from the state sector; it is probably the law of unintended consequences.”

He said the IB attracted £800 more funding per pupil than A levels, but this reflected the longer teaching hours required at five days a week against 3.5.

The IB has an academic diploma version and a "career-related programme" that includes vocational subjects using the BTEC qualification.

Without its extra funding, the diploma “would wither on the vine”, Mr Oakes said, while the career option would be at risk if BTEC were replaced with T levels, as the latter lacked the rigour required by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO).

John Claughton ,former chief master of the independent King Edward's School Birmingham, which uses the IB rather than A levels, said: “The problem is in the state sector where it has always been a wrestle to keep IB going. If you have an IB sixth form but it is funded like A levels, it kills it off.”

He said the IB would typically require 32 teaching periods a week compared with 24 for A levels, and this could not be reduced as the IBO, which runs the qualification, would object.

The IB requires pupils to take at least three subjects at higher level, and normally three at standard level, plus an extended essay and a course in theory of knowledge.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The aim of the post-16 qualifications review is to ensure that every single qualification approved for public funding is high quality, has a clear and defined purpose, and offers progression into higher education or skilled employment.

“At this stage, other than those listed in our consultation, we have made no decisions on the future of any of the qualifications in the scope of the review. As part of the first stage consultation, we are seeking views and evidence on which qualifications are needed given changes, including the introduction of T levels, now underway.”

The IBO has been contacted for comment.



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Mark Smulian and Will Hazell

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