Awaiting word from Geneva

4th March 2005 at 00:00
As more attention is paid to preparing children to be effective citizens, one school hopes to offer senior students a broader education through the international baccalaureate, Lorn Macintyre reports

Robert Tims, the headteacher of St Leonard's in St Andrews, is waiting, confidently, for word from Geneva that his school's application to teach the international baccalaureate diploma has been successful.

If so, St Leonard's will become only the second independent school in Scotland to offer the IB, the International School of Aberdeen being the other.

The once all-girls school saw its roll fall in the 1980s and 1990s, like many independent schools, and a drop in demand for boarding places. Now Mr Tims, who became head in 2003, boasts that as a result of vigorous overseas recruitment he presides over "a global village of scholars", with Chinese, Germans, Nigerians, Russians and other nationalities studying beside Scots.

He hopes to recruit more day and boarding students attracted to the IB, which he taught in his previous post as senior master at Malvern College.

At present St Leonard's offers its senior students A levels. Mr Tims believes the IB will give a broader education and better perspective on life.

"The International Baccalaureate Organisation aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect," he quotes from the mission statement.

"The fundamental idea behind the IB is that every student studies within the two great learning traditions, the sciences and the humanities," he says. In practice these two strings are divided into six strands, with students taking one subject from each.

At St Leonard's, the subjects likely to be offered are: l English, German, Chinese l French, German, Spanish, English l history, geography, economics

* biology, chemistry, physics l mathematical studies, maths, further maths

* music, visual arts, theatre arts.

Not every subject is studied at the same level. "In fact, there are two levels, higher and standard, and you study three (or possibly four) subjects at higher level and three (or two) at standard. This allows you to play to your strengths," Mr Tims explains.

"Higher level students will be taught in the same class as standard level students for some of their lesson time, although they will cover more material over the two years.

"There is a vast amount of educational research which shows that when those to whom a subject comes naturally study alongside those to whom it is more of a struggle, both sides benefit."

All students also take a two-year course called Theory of Knowledge, giving them the opportunity to discuss topics such as whether there are different types of knowledge in the humanities and sciences.

In the second year, students are required to write a 4,000 words essay on a topic of their own choice, which is designed to help them develop the independence and the research, presentation and other skills which they will need at university and at work.

"To make sure that they are not academically blinkered, there are 150 hours of creative or aesthetic activities, when they'll be on the sports field and doing activities like music and community service," Mr Tims adds.

For those worried about acceptance of the IB, John McCabe, of St Andrews University, the liaison officer handling applications from IB graduates for UK universities, says: "Applications from students with, or studying for, the IB diploma are welcomed by all universities in the UK.

"A recent study commissioned by the IBO revealed that universities favoured the breadth, depth and rigour of the diploma programme and were satisfied that students were well prepared for undergraduate study."

For St Leonard's students who choose not to do the IB, Mr Tims plans to reintroduce a limited range of Scottish Highers, studied over a two-year period. English, French, history, mathematics, chemistry and biology are likely to be on offer.

"The Highers give us the opportunity to offer the same breadth of education because we'll be offering essentially the same subject categories as the IB," he argues.

Reintroducing Highers will also help to ensure the school still welcomes a broad range of abilities.

If the affirmation from Geneva comes, which looks likely given Mr Tims's experience and enthusiasm, St Leonard's will offer the IB as a "passport to international study," as the headteacher calls it, from September 2006.

"As far as I'm concerned the A levels go without much regret, particularly because I really don't know where they're going to go," Mr Tims says. "I think there's going to be a good deal of flux in the 14 to 19 age range of education for some time to come."

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