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Exclusive with Jane Machell

[On the International Baccalaureate]

We”re in our second year of the International Baccalaureate [IB] now and we have 60 full-time students which is quite massive; we”ve only been running it for fifteen months.

We originally introduced the IB because we are very much in favour of Tomlinson’s proposals for an overarching diploma for courses other than vocational courses. We felt that it would be a very good run-in for us to learn how to manage diploma type situations in the academic side.

It is an excellent course for students who have a very broad academic background and who don”t want to specialise and who actually want to keep the breadth. It is also an excellent course for getting students into selective, competitive universities. And for a significant number of students, it is obviously quite a good course.

It isn”t however, as good as what the Tomlinson diploma was suggesting, because it doesn”t allow for the range of subject areas that the current A-level curriculum allows for that Tomlinson was proposing to include in his different model.

So we will be continuing with the IB; we think that it is an excellent course for a particular group of students, but in its current content and specification, it is not suitable for all our A-level students. It is also a very expensive course: its not funded at anything like the rate of the equivalent of A-level funding that you would get from the Learning and Skills Council [LSC]. It’s very expensive in lots of other ways too; the subscriptions are very expensive, the exam costs are very expensive, and also there is a requirement to have staff on staff development courses which are all over the world.

From the point of view of students who have a relatively broad, good GCSE background, it’s an excellent course.

[On UCU claims that IB is “divisive and elitist”]

I would have preferred the Tomlinson proposals because they were more inclusive; they included students with different sorts of abilities at Level 3. So that would have been more inclusive. However, for a group of students who are of that academic ability and who do not want to specialise, and for whom the A and AS curriculum is not broad enough, I think [the IB] is appropriate.

I would have preferred a Tomlinson model, which would not have distinguished between vocational and academic students, and I think that unless we have a model like that, which is highly unlikely due to the way in which the government is pushing the specialised diplomas, we also have to be able to cater for all abilities in the spectrum of Level 3.

[On the new A* award at A-level]

This has been coming for a long time, even with Tomlinson talking about A+ and A++, so it is no surprise. Within the universities, particularly the selective competitive universities, there is a proliferation of additional entrance examinations. It used to be just “Oxbridge”, but we now have a whole range of different entrance exams for university courses. If the A* were to satisfy those universities, and distinguish between the range that we have with the A grade (because of course, there are more students getting A grades these days), I would welcome it with open arms, so that our students would not have to put up with all these additional entrance exams. They are tested to death.

I hope, were this to be introduced, that they would not continue to introduce these additional entrance exams. I suspect that what it is going to do is “cream” even more students going into selective universities. Interestingly enough, those universities welcome the IB; they feel it is much better preparation for those sorts of courses.

Quite frankly, my college has a duty to prepare students for what is quite a vicious world out there, in higher education. If that means offering different types of Level 3 provision, then while the HE world remains as it is, colleges have a duty to enable those students to progress.

My fear, as felt by many others, is that these specialised diplomas are going to be so watered down that they won”t be vocational.

Jane Machell, Principal, Alton College.

Related FE News articles:

Breaking News ““ Minister Announces IB Introduction ““ 30/11/06

College Leaders Welcome IB; But Caution Urged ““ 01/12/06

“Hype Leads to Climate of Fear” ““ 17/11/06

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