Points Mean Prizes: A University Place; A-Levels Are the Most Popular Form of Post- 16 Education but the Points-Led IB Diploma Is Catching Up Fast, Says Sarah Richardson

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Byline: Sarah Richardson

GOVERNMENT tinkering with the A-level system and a burgeoning school culture of chasing league table success are affecting the quality of post-16 education, according to a recent survey of university admissions officers. the volume of Government initiatives is cited by 82 per cent of officers as putting pressure on pupils and teachers and forcing out independent thinking and creativity, the qualities most prized by universities as school and colleges.

The inflexibility of curricula and restrictions on teachers' creativity is also mentioned by 67 per cent as a factor threatening teaching quality: 78 per cent of officers feel that schools are simply "teaching to the test".

The research, conducted annually on behalf of ACS International Schools, shows that the new diplomas receive good support among university admissions officers who feel that the new qualification develops independent thinking and creativity more effectively than traditional A-levels; 45 per cent citing that independent thinking is a core value of the new diploma, while just 21 per cent say this of A-levels.

Overall support for A-levels has hardened, however, with the majority of admissions officers, 76 per cent this year compared to 63 per cent last year, saying they don't want to see A-levels phased out.

It is the international baccalaureate (IB) Diploma, however, which remains the most highly-regarded post-16-qualification among university admissions officers. the combination of qualities developed by the IB diploma, including self-management and creativity, are some of the factors which explain why the IB diploma is considered an excellent preparation for university-style learning.

Almost three-quarters, 73 per cent, of admissions officers want to see the IB on offer in more state schools, almost two years after state funding for this independent qualification was withdrawn.

University admissions officers recognise the academic rigour of the IB diploma, with just one per cent of IB students awarded the top score of 45 points each year: 78 per cent of admissions officers say it is harder to achieve the top IB diploma score than it is to achieve top scores in A-levels.

The international baccalaureate diploma is a two-year programme, based on a 45-point system. Students must achieve a minimum score of 24 to earn an IB diploma, and the most common score hovers near 30 each year, which attracts 419 Ucas tariff points; equivalent to 3.5 AS/A2 levels at grade A.

IB diploma students study six subjects -- three at higher level, three at standard level. All six subjects have exams, which are awarded a numerical grade between one and seven. At least 12 points must be earned from higher level subjects.

there are other requirements: that you finish 150 hours of CAS (Creativity -- Action -- Service), complete a 4,000-word extended essay and complete a theory of knowledge course.

Students who achieve 7s on all their exams will receive an outstanding score of 42. to be one of the 0.1 per cent of students worldwide to achieve a perfect IB score, students must score a perfect seven on each of their exams as well as be awarded with all three available points for their combined performance on the extended essay and the theory of Knowledge course. …