Funding 'constraints' thwart academy chain's IB offering

Harris Federation drops qualification lauded by education secretary

Stephen Exley

Education Secretary Michael Gove has long lauded the International Baccalaureate as a high-calibre qualification that more students should have the opportunity to study. Just weeks before the 2010 general election, he insisted that he wanted to give "students in poorer areas the chance to do the sorts of prestige exams that currently only rich kids can do".

But TES has learned that the IB has been ditched by one of the education secretary's favourite academy chains, the Harris Federation. Embarrassingly for Mr Gove, the federation has blamed the government's funding changes for its decision.

Last year Sandra Morton, chair of the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association, warned that if budgetary issues were not resolved, "able and committed students in the state sector would be denied equality of access to this highly regarded programme". It would appear that her warning has come to pass.

The two-year IB is a relatively expensive alternative to A levels, as it comprises six subjects, community work and an extended essay.

The Harris Federation is the most high-profile organisation yet to "suspend" teaching of the IB. It has also cited a lack of demand among students at its 12 schools with sixth forms as a factor.

"Regrettably, the Harris Federation will be suspending delivery of the IB diploma programme for post-16 students for one year from September 2012," a statement on the federation's website said. "This decision has been made largely as a result of forecast financial constraints likely as a result of changes in the level of government funding, coupled with a low uptake for the programme."

Insisting that it still has "great confidence in the enormous educational value of the IB", Harris says it will reassess the situation in 2013, adding: "We will hopefully be in a position to resume delivery of the IB programme."

John Bangs, a senior research associate at the University of Cambridge, has his doubts. "The Harris Federation is really up against it with the IB. It helps if you have pupils with shedloads of cultural capital. You really do need the ability to study at home and have back-up. Harris schools take on lots of children from tough, working-class areas. They are probably worried about their position in league tables," he said.

While the Department for Education has insisted it is not cutting "core academic funding" - and is paying for more teaching hours than recommended for the IB - schools appear to be struggling to find the necessary money to pay for it.

Funding for the IB is capped at the equivalent of four and a half A levels. Schools that offer the qualification say this is not enough; the IB is regarded by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service as the equivalent of six A levels.

The scenario for schools has been made even more difficult by the slashing of enrichment funding, which has been put towards the supervision of the community activities element of the IB. In September, this was cut from 114 hours of annual teaching per pupil to just 30 hours.

The Department for Education was not available to comment.

Gove on the IB

"I am a great admirer of the existing International Baccalaureate and am determined to support a wider take-up of that qualification." September 2010

"What I want to do is to give schools the freedom in the state sector that schools in the private sector have at the moment. Fee-paying schools have all sorts of exams like the International GCSE or the Pre-U or the International Baccalaureate, which are either banned or restricted in state schools." February 2010

"It is a pity that the commitment of the previous prime minister, Tony Blair, to have a school offering the International Baccalaureate in every neighbourhood was one that (his successor Gordon Brown) decided to abandon." July 2010.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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