The slaying of dragons

July 6, 2018

‘We love IB.’ Thus spake David Howells, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions for Bath University, at the recent Wellington Festival of Education.  Most, if not all, heads of IB schools and teachers of IB in the UK would agree. However, it is not always that easy to persuade students of this truth. It is as if the road to IB is blocked by a number of mythical dragons. I will try to slay three of them: I can write like this because I was a pupil at and the head of the school that educated JRR Tolkien, the creator of Smaug.

The first dragon on the road breathes the fire that IB is only for all-rounders and is of no interest for those who, at the age of sixteen, already know what they want to do. This dragon could not be more misguided. The world beyond school cries out that scientists and engineers need to be able to communicate in their own – and preferably someone else’s – language and humanities students need some mathematical fluency and the capacity to use and evaluate data. The age of eighteen is plenty soon enough to be making the subject choices that will inform the next 50 years of a student’s life.


The second dragon belches forth that the Diploma is only for the very brightest. That dragon is as wrong as the first. All IB schools in the UK, whether highly selective or more comprehensive in intake, would insist that it is not the 40+ points crew who benefit most. Rather it’s those in the high 20’s and low 30’s who can aspire to much higher university courses than those of similar ability who have passed through the A level system. There are a number of reasons for this, but here are two: first, IB students benefit enormously from the amount of teaching time in IB and the structure of the course; second, universities are specifically recruiting IB students because they know that the course has prepared them better for independent study.


The third dragon turns its fiery breath on Medicine, saying that medical schools don’t like IB as a preparation, as if Biology, Chemistry and Maths were all that a future doctor needed.  This is the most misguided of dragons and it is slain by the cumulative evidence of UK schools. IB students applying for Medicine are better prepared for the multi-faceted entry process and the demands of the course, precisely because they have written essays and thought about ethics in ToK and done presentations and an Extended Essay. In one annus mirabilis, my former school got 7 students into Oxford and Cambridge in one year for Medicine alone, whereas our average in A level years would have been between one and two.


Dragons can seem quite scary and, in most stories, they live a long time. However, they are creatures of fiction and should be treated as such.


John Claughton

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