From education to employment

FE News speaks to Jonathan Prest

“We introduced the International Baccalaureate five months ago at the college. We serve a catchment in Southampton which is in an area in the top quartile of social deprivation. So it is quite an unusual thing to set up a fairly academic and high-level course in an area which has some considerable disadvantage.

“But we use it to raise people’s expectations and to raise achievement. We had 17 students join in the first year and 34 in the next. So the course seems to be getting some notice and attracting people, and the people who are teaching it and the people who are setting the course are really thriving on it, so it has been a great success.

[On the IB’s roll out across the UK]

“My view is that it is certainly a useful part of the offering that schools and colleges need to make available to sixth formers. It forms just one part of it, and it isn”t the right course for everybody, but it is a useful addition; to improve vocational courses at Level 3, A-levels, and now I hope, more common the IB.

“I welcome the news that we are going to see more of the IB, and I hope it won”t lead to a mass exodus from A-level, because I think A-levels suit a lot of people. But I do think that particularly for all-round strong students; people who can deal with a range of quite different subject areas, [the IB] is a very exciting course and a very stimulating one.

“For that cohort, I think it is a fantastic opportunity, and I would be delighted to see it offered more widely.

[On the introduction of A* at A-level]

“I think that is probably the right thing to do. Previous governments, and this one, have experimented with different ways of providing an extension at the top end. For instance, there was the advanced extension award, which still exists, but never really took off, and that replaced the “S” levels. These were quite similar ““ they were designed to differentiate at the top end.

“I think to introduce an A* might well mean that you don”t need a separate qualification, like an “S” level or an advanced extension award. There are obviously things to work out [logistically], but I think it is a sensible way forward, particularly if it doesn”t lead to people taking more exams”.

However, Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Secretary, urged caution on the new proposals.

She said: “Instead of “cutting and pasting” the International Baccalaureate onto the existing exams system the Government should reform the whole curriculum. Students would be better served by replacing GCSEs and A-levels with a diploma as proposed two years ago by the independent Tomlinson Commission. That would give real choice to all pupils to combine academic and vocational courses, including extended essays to stretch the brightest”.

“This new announcement creates a confusing three-tier system with the IB for some, vocational diplomas for others and the status quo of GSCEs and A-levels for the rest”.

And on the issue of the new grade at A-level: “Adding an A* grade to A-levels is only temporarily extending the shelf life of an exam system that is in need of wholesale change”.

And Paul Mackney, Joint General Secretary with the University and College Union (UCU), echoed Ms Teathers concerns: “These proposals are divisive and elitist. The International Baccalaureate (IB) is very different from the Welsh baccalaureate which is available at different levels and can be taken by a wide section of young people. The IB is another qualification aimed at those who are going to be high achievers anyway”.

“The Tomlinson report offered a better framework which was inclusive of all talents. The governments proposals will merely add to confusion and the fragmentation of available qualifications”.

Vijay Pattni.

Related FE News articles:

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

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