Breadth with a continental twist

10th November 1995 at 00:00
Some 60 students working in a leafy corner of Oxfordshire are a rare species in the further education sector. Like groups in around another four colleges countrywide, The Henley College students are studying the International Baccalaureate.

The IB diploma, comprising three subjects at higher level, three subsidiaries and a theory of knowledge component, is the qualification to which Sir Ron Dearing's front-running national certificate model has been most closely likened.

In both cases, students are compelled to choose subjects from a range of groups, known as domains in Sir Ron's model, in order to achieve "breadth" which could provide them with wide general knowledge and transferable skills.

The IB, however, concentrates purely on academic subjects, while the Dearing review of post-16 qualifications is specifically charged with consolidating a framework incorporating both academic and vocational routes.

According to Henley principal Graham Phillips, who introduced the IB at the college five years ago, the qualification offers both breadth and depth of study, but is challenging enough to deter many students.

Invariably acting as a stepping stone to higher education, rather than employment, it represents an alternative to A-levels for the brightest and best-motivated pupils, appealing to only a few dozen annually from a student population at Henley of 1,800.

Mr Phillips praises the IB's breadth, which appeals to students anxious to avoid specialising too early. But he acknowledges it does not have a wide appeal. It is also costly - prohibiting many colleges from considering it. As the debate over the proposed British baccalaureate warms up, Sir Ron will have to decide whether the same drawbacks apply to the British version.

Dennis Lavelle of the Sixth Form Colleges Association remains unconvinced after surveying his members. "Practitioners are totally against this spurious model of breadth. Breadth doesn't just mean a bit of arts, a bit of science. The most important things is broadening of real core skills."

Sir Ron insists that he remains open-minded but adds that "employers are definitely interested in breadth".

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