IN A WORLD OF TRUMP AND BREXIT, IS THE INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER?

With the world waking up to President Trump and Brexit, is the International Baccalaureate more important than ever before?

Two years ago I interviewed Dr Katy Ricks, Head of Sevenoaks School, about the ever-growing swing British education was seeing towards the International Baccalaureate (IB). We were living very much in a global world, so the theory behind the IB just seemed to make sense. Then 2016 came along.

‘With current political issues, putting a mixture of nationalities together, all studying a course that demands a world view, has got to be a positive way to educate the next generation,’ asserts Chris Townsend, Head of Felsted School.

It’s just over a decade since Felsted – a co-educational, independent boarding school for four to 18-year-olds – first offered the IB, which came to a head recently when they were named as one of the UK’s top IB schools.

Developing a generation of world citizens could not be more important

‘That is a validation for the hard work put in by pupils and teachers,’ Townsend says proudly. ‘The IB is an outstanding course, based upon a strong philosophy of educating the whole person.’

Has what happened last year added an extra degree of relevance to the IB at Felsted? ‘Developing a generation of world citizens could not be more important,’ Townsend considers.

‘As a school, we seek to educate all of our young people in global values, whether they study the IB or A levels, to appreciate diversity, and to embrace an ethos of international problem solving through greater co-operation. Despite political decisions, the world continues to shrink as well, and there is a global marketplace that will see young people working in different countries, with diverse people from various national backgrounds – and the IB really encourages them to embrace that as an opportunity, rather than see it as a threat.’

Currently Felsted accommodates 60 sixth formers who study the IB, out of 240 in all. Townsend says it’s their aim to raise this number to a third of all sixth formers, but at Sevenoaks School – a co-educational day and boarding school for students aged 11 to 18 – that figure is already a princely 100%. In 2006, the school made the decision to offer sixth formers only the IB and not A levels, but their roots in the course go much further back.

‘We were one of the first schools to pioneer it back in the 1970s, when the IB was only 10-years-old,’ explains Tim Jones, Academic Deputy Head at the school. ‘We are almost unique in the country in being exclusively a Diploma Programme school for so many students at such a high level – at any given time we have approximately 500 students in the first or second year of the Diploma, and our IB average is in the range of 39.3-39.9 [45 is the maximum score].’

An international education has been a key component at Sevenoaks School ever since the 1960s. ‘We saw then what we see now,’ Jones says, ‘that the IB is the best way to maintain and continually develop an environment with a cosmopolitan ethic, which inspires curiosity in our students, and a confidence with the unfamiliar, and engenders that vital duty of public service.’

The IB is the best way to maintain and continually develop an environment with a cosmopolitan ethic, which inspires curiosity in our students and a confidence with the unfamiliar

But why scrap A levels completely? ‘Narrow specialisation post-16 is unique to the UK. This specialisation acts against the values of a broad education and encourages misunderstanding and miscommunication later in life,’ Jones states.

‘The breadth of the Diploma Programme encourages an interdisciplinary style of learning, but are also encouraged to look beyond the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines, think critically across the curriculum and to appreciate and analyse multiple perspectives. The IB is genuinely independent: from political interference, from received wisdom, from economic and technological restraint or influence.’

Life in 2017 has, in Jones’s eyes, made the IB even more important. ‘We are convinced the best way forward is to do away with borders – between race, gender, nationality, subjects – and not to introduce more borders,’ he says.

‘In our long experience much of the most exciting innovation and education comes from taking on another’s point of view, and from teachers and pupils with different backgrounds and interests finding common ground upon which to collaborate.’

And what’s happening around the world offers up fresh inspiration for their teaching: ‘In our History and Critical Thinking courses, pupils are taught the difference between fake news and real news.’ President Trump should sit in on that one.

Felsted School, Felsted, Dunmow CM6 3LL; 01371 822600; felsted.org

Sevenoaks School, High Street, Sevenoaks TN13 1HU; 01732 455133; sevenoaksschool.org