As a school, we are committed to providing the best for our students and that shapes our curriculum provision. At the age of 16, we firmly believe that GCSEs provide a solid academic benchmark, inculcating in our students a clear understanding of the demands of coursework and final examinations. It is on that solid foundation that IB effectively builds, but it does more too, and it is that something extra that gives it an edge.
It is the IB core that is at the heart of that extra, providing as it does a set of challenges and experiences that effect fundamental changes in the attitudes and aptitudes of our students. Through the Creativity, Activity and Service elements (CAS), students set themselves development goals in line with stringent criteria that test their resilience and determination, and prompt them to engage empathetically with others in a range of sporting, academic and humanitarian contexts. In short, they learn to make a difference both with and for others, no more so than in the transformative experience that is the annual visit to Nord Anglia’s sustainable development project in Tanzania.
Through the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course and the Extended Essay, students are taken on academic journeys that broaden their minds and, perhaps more crucially, equip them with the skills and aptitudes that shape them as lifelong learners. With a sharp focus on how we construct and challenge claims about knowledge, TOK draws on a variety of areas of knowledge ranging from the natural sciences to mathematics to the arts, incorporating an analysis of how the brain constructs what we know through the ‘plug-ins’ that we use such as our senses, our memory and the imagination.
Then there is the Extended Essay which presents students with their first real test as researchers of evidence, proponents of independent theses and constructors of self-generated theorems and arguments. It is not in the product but in the process that the value of this experience lies, teaching them the benefits of thorough research and evaluation of materials from a range of sources.
But I wouldn’t just take my word for it, there are many better placed than I to testify to the IB advantage: our former students. In the past two years, many of our IB graduates have returned to see us, fired up by their new environments and grateful for their two years at the school and the edge that it has given them.
Harry Maslin-Fawcett left us in June earlier this year to study law in Wellington, New Zealand. On his return last month, he dropped in to see me and spoke about how far ahead the Diploma Programme (DP) had placed him – apparently, the last year of IB was tougher than his first year of university! Harry is not alone in expressing that view, but even those who have not shared that kind of experience still have much to say about what the DP has done for them.
Perhaps the best example of that is Shannon Lienert, a medical student at the University of Debrecen in Hungary, and one of our 2016 graduates. Her course has presented huge academic challenges from day one but the skills she developed with us have stood her in strong stead. Were it not for IB with its emphasis on independent learning and the development of research and collaborative skills, she is convinced that her course might have proven much tougher to cope with. Like Amy Williams, another 2016 graduate, Shannon has been looked to for advice from other students who have not learned research methodologies and who have gone to a university having rote learned much of their way through their last two years in their respective systems of education.
As Head of Senior School, I have taken charge of four year groups who have taken on the DP and I have taken great delight in watching the ways in which it has developed them. There is no doubt that it can be tough at times and at those times we step in to help and guide. It is a grueling academic journey but the rewards at the end of the trail are so worth it.