State schools in Britain are making the "heartbreaking" decision to drop the International Baccalaureate Diploma just as those in some of the world's fastest-growing economies are embracing the qualification, TES has been told.
A fall in the number of UK state schools offering the programme has been described as a "travesty" by David Barrs, a leading champion of the diploma. Jeffrey Beard, director general of the International Baccalaureate (IB), recently went so far as to claim that the qualification was in a "death spiral" in the country's state schools.
Successive UK governments have promoted the diploma. In May, education minister Elizabeth Truss claimed that the IB Diploma Programme was a "roaring triumph" that provided a "genuinely world-class education".
Despite this, the number of state schools offering the IB Diploma has fallen from 137 in 2010 to 86 in 2013. The number of private schools running the programme has risen by two to 80 in the same time frame, leading to fears that it will become the preserve of the wealthy few.
Uncertainty over changes to funding for 16-19 education in England has been partly blamed for the drop - the IB Diploma Programme is more expensive to run than traditional A-level courses.
Meanwhile, the governments of countries experiencing economic booms, such as Malaysia and Ecuador, have started to embrace the IB Diploma. Ecuador recently announced plans to launch the programme in 500 schools over the next five years.
And the qualification is still going strong in the US, despite government cuts, with 90 per cent of its 800 diploma programmes running in state schools.
British fans of the IB Diploma Programme are waiting to hear if it will qualify for extra government funding in the autumn. Principals say that it costs #163;4,500 to fund a student to take three A levels and one "half" A level, compared with #163;5,500 for a full International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.
Sandra Morton, chair of the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association in the UK and Ireland, said: "It's deeply disappointing for us to have worked so hard with schools and colleges who set this up and sent their staff for training. Many heads and coordinators have said just how heartbreaking it is because they believe absolutely in the quality of the International Baccalaureate. That is devastating."
"I can't afford to let the International Baccalaureate go," said Mr Barrs, co-headteacher of the Anglo European School in Essex, which was the first state school in Britain to launch the International Baccalaureate, in 1977.
"We have a very small catchment area and students come here from a long way away because our school is different," he added. "We have to offer the International Baccalaureate and A levels and the rest of the school has to subsidise it. However, other schools have had to let it go, and it is a travesty for the UK, really."
Siva Kumari, chief operating officer of the IB schools division, said: "We all know that the economy is booming eastwards and we know the world has lots of doctors and engineers from China and India.
"But these countries are looking for a curriculum that's globally trusted and will develop all sides of the student. They are opening up new channels for their students as the economy grows."
Dr Kumari added that it would be "a tragedy" for UK state schools to throw away the IB and for it to be restricted to private schools.
The results of this year's IB Diploma were published this week.