‘Big bang’ switch to the bacc pays off with high exam marks, school says

In an article in The Times, 31/07/12,  Greg Hurst talks to HMC Head John Claughton of King Edward's School, Birmingham about the school's success in switching to the International Baccalaureate.

Britain’s first school to ditch A levels by switching its entire sixth form to a broader baccalaureate says that its gamble has paid off after more pupils won places at top universities.

King Edward’s School, Birmingham, received its first results this month, two years after making history with its “big bang” introduction of the International Baccalaureate diploma.

John Claughton, the chief master of the school for boys, admitted that he had underestimated the scale of the task faced by his staff in switching to a new syllabus. But his fears turned to relief when the IB results were released.

Three boys achieved the maximum score of 45 points, achieved by only 109 IB candidates worldwide; 16 won places at Cambridge and Oxford and another 16 at medical schools. Overall, slightly more boys in the group of 113 won university places than did so in the final A-level cohort last year.

Mr Claughton said that the results vindicated the switch but the benefits had been wider: it had reinvigorated the intellectual life of the school.

A growing number of schools offer a choice of the IB or A levels. Several dropped A levels but did so in stages, allowing parents and staff to adjust by running the two together for a period./

Mr Claughton told The Times that his “big bang” approach had been absolutely terrifying. King Edward’s is an independent day school with a conservative parent body that has high expectations. “We were one of the great day schools, making a single mammoth leap of either faith or lunacy,” he said. But it meant that the whole school had to focus on making the IB a success. Since the IB requires students to study six subjects, rather than four, including English, mathematics, a science, a language and a humanity, there was no escape for students who were not confident mathematicians, linguists or essay-writers.

Mr Claughton’s anxiety grew amid signs of a backlash against the IB in schools elsewhere, caused partly by fears that some universities were making tougher offers to IB candidates than to A-level students. For Mr Claughton, it was not just the school’s reputation that was at stake; his own son was part of its first IB cohort.

“I don’t think we realised how radical that big bang really was. But the vast majority of staff think it is a good thing,” Mr Claughton said.

By Greg Hurst, The Times. Click here to read the article © The Times