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International Bacca-what? Breaking down the A-level alternative

International Bacca-what? We know ‘International Baccalaureate’ is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s call it IB for short.

The IB was created and developed in the late sixties by Wales-based UWC Atlantic College, the International School of Geneva, and the United Nations School of New York, and has become an alternative to national pre-university curriculums, such as A-levels in the UK.

The main difference with the IB is that you’ll study six subjects instead of four, develop your critical thinking skills in university-style seminars, and spend more time working independently. You’ll also get to take co-curricular activities (the fun stuff) as part of the course, including sports, performing arts, or programmes focussing on international relations, sociology, and politics.

Joshua McCarthy is a 16-year-old from Bargoed, Wales, and is taking the IB at UWC Atlantic College – an international residential school set in a castle on the Welsh coast (seriously), with students from more than 90 different nations and a rich blend of cultural backgrounds. “No one wants to be bored at school,” Joshua says, following a morning session of Environmental Systems (biology meets geography).

“The IB is varied, versatile, and focuses on developing your life skills as well as your subject knowledge. We’re in control of how we study, the IB is more independently driven than A-levels, we learn through discussion, debate, and are encouraged to think critically.”

The IB is intended to improve students’ understanding of different cultures and ways of thinking. Joshua’s College builds on this by taking in students from across the globe, and from all types of backgrounds.

Like many of his classmates, Joshua received a full scholarship to attend the UWC Atlantic College.   Most recently, this year the college launched Lord Mountbatten Scholarship Award, which looks specifically for applications from teens across the UK who are making a big difference to their community, whether that’s through volunteer work or raising awareness around local issues, and will provide a fully-funded place for someone that might not have considered private education before.

Joshua’s favourite subjects are English and History, and he’s a passionate writer. The IB allows him to choose and work on extended projects within these subjects, rather than sticking to a rigid curriculum.  At times, it can be a real brain-challenge, and tackling six topics is no easy feat.  But for students like Joshua, who wants to be a teacher, it opens doors in exciting places.  The IB is internationally recognised, and for prospective teachers can mean jobs in the likes of China, Australia, and South America.

Joshua says: “I wasn’t interested in taking the easy road; I wanted to challenge myself. The IB has allowed me to express my thoughts independently and develop new skills that will last a lifetime.  Through co-curricular activities, I’ve been able to play tennis for the first time, and have got involved in debates around socialism – these activities both contribute to my final grade.”

According to Joshua, there’s more to life after GCSEs than A Levels, and the IB has allowed him to study a far broader range of subjects than were available at his local sixth form. At UWC Atlantic College, he’s learning alongside students from around the globe.

“It’s been a challenge adapting to a new way of learning, sure, but I’ve had an amazingly diverse experience since coming here. Discovering the IB and Atlantic College was a real game-changer for me, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Interested? Read more on the College and Lord Mountbatten Scholarship Award here:


About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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