ESF refining curriculum changes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 June, 2010, 12:00am

About 900 final-year students will leave English Schools Foundation schools this summer and some 90 per cent of them will have studied for an International Baccalaureate Diploma. They are the second batch of students to complete the IB curriculum.

Each year, about 95 per cent of ESF school-leavers go on to universities and colleges. Nearly half are admitted to universities in Britain. Others head to Australia, the US, Canada and elsewhere.

The ESF was established in 1967 and manages five secondary schools, nine primary schools and a school for children with special education needs, while its affiliate ESF Educational Services oversees two 'all-through' private independent schools and four kindergartens. Any child who applies to an ESF school may also apply to the private independents Discovery College and Renaissance College.

The ESF has traditionally offered a modern, liberal education based on the national curriculum of England and Wales, and still does so in terms of the GCSE and IGCSE programmes offered in Years 10 and 11. It was decided, however, that a more international focus was needed for its education system, one that afforded more opportunities for students planning to go to university in countries other than Britain.

About 65 per cent of ESF students are permanent residents of various nationalities, including local and overseas Chinese. Others are from Britain, Australia and East Asian countries. The ESF is becoming increasingly attractive to the Chinese middle class and is also chosen by many Indian families.

Students of all academic ability levels are admitted to ESF schools, provided they pass a test designed to assess whether they are able to learn in English. Students can only apply to the designated school for the zone they live in and priority is given to students who speak English as a first or alternative language, but do not speak Chinese and/or read and write Chinese.

The International Baccalaureate Organisation's programmes for primary and secondary students are recognised worldwide. However, the IB Diploma is very demanding and does not suit every student. The programme requires students to take six subjects, three at higher and three at standard level, follow a theory of knowledge course, complete an extended essay and take part in a course called 'creativity, action and service'. The six mandatory subjects include maths, a science subject, an arts subject and a second language.

ESF secondary schools are also in the process of developing three vocationally oriented alternative programmes for students who are not suited to the IB curriculum: an Advanced Diploma, an Intermediate Diploma and a Foundation Diploma.

The Advanced Diploma courses that are already available include a BTEC National Certificate at West Island School, and media and business courses at King George V School. The BTEC is also offered by Island School and South Island School.

The Foundation Diploma allows students to study IB subjects, but rather than the six required for the IB Diploma, they can choose five and still gain entry to some tertiary institutions. They can also mix their subjects - for example, taking more humanities subjects rather than maths or science. All ESF primary schools offer the IB Primary Years Programme.

While he was pleased with the first batch of IB graduates across ESF schools last year, Chris Durbin, the ESF's secondary adviser, said there were still improvements to be made.

'As educators, you're never satisfied. You're always looking for things to improve. As a first attempt we are very pleased with it. But we always look to improve and refine things as we go.

'Different schools have different things they can improve. For example, we need to make sure that students are in the right level in mathematics for the IB Diploma. We didn't get that right the first time round. Every student does maths,' Durbin said.

'That's the big difference from A-levels. When it comes to options, students choose which level they will study. So if you're off to study English literature, then you're best off choosing maths studies, but if you're doing economics or maths, then you have to do higher-level maths, which is way above A-level standard. So we're working on that now.'