My son is in Year 12 in an international school and is in the first year to be studying for the International Baccalaureate. We both have some major concerns about it and he is becoming very unhappy. He has changed from being content and energetic to being moody and frustrated, and whenever I try to talk with him he gets angry. What advice can you give me on how best to help him? Teacher Jake Burnett replies: There's no easy, immediate fix on this and there will be many students going through the same sort of anxieties. If your son won't talk with you, it might be worth contacting his school and asking a teacher or counsellor there who he knows or trusts to approach him directly. Another option is to try to gauge some of the opinions of his friends and/or their parents. There might be specific reasons why your son is unhappy or there may be more general, wider issues which are affecting many students. I don't have to tell you that teenagers, especially in situations of great anxiety or change, can be very unpredictable and can react in a variety of ways. If your son has been in his current school for a while, then both he, you and to some extent his teachers, will have been working towards a post-16 qualification system like the British-based AS and A-level system, that will have been long established and well supported. If it is the case that your son's school has changed this in favour of the International Baccalaureate (IB), it is very likely that he is both frustrated with something he perceives as 'new' and 'different' while also having to change his own mindset in studying effectively for this system. On the one hand, it is worth remembering that when many schools opted to teach the IB, they did it after serious consideration, careful planning and preparation, and an in-depth accreditation schedule which will have taken several years to put in place. It is easy to empathise with students who have been prepared for one system and then are presented with another. Initially it also seems that the IB gives less choice to students in that they all have to take a mathematics subject, a science, two languages and a humanity. One can understand a student being especially good in science-based disciplines being somewhat perplexed at having to study a language at a challenging level; equally a very creative student may baulk at having to study mathematics or a science. This is probably the crux of the matter for your son and I think there are several ways to approach his angst. The first is for you both to consider the pragmatics of the situation. If he wishes to stay at the school - which is almost certainly the case - he will have to study the IB. Remind him he will still be with his friends and they are all in the same situation. I have known students to leave schools at 16 to study for their final years in another country, often at boarding schools. In most instances, the individuals in question have found it a very challenging time to move and I have known many who have returned to Hong Kong frustrated and upset. Realistically it may be a 'better the devil you know' situation. You should also know that when any school makes a far-reaching decision about huge curriculum change there is always one group that is the main focal point: the students. Schools exist to give students the best sort of educational opportunities they possibly can and this is another way of rationalising the selection of the IB. The perceived limitations to choice mentioned before are actually many of its strengths and it is underpinned by a variety of well-planned and extremely valuable other teaching areas, such as the courses in place for the Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay, as well as the focus on students being active outside of the curriculum through the Community, Action and Service programme. By its very nature it has an international focus and it is widely accepted by universities across the world. In short - and in comparison with other post-16 systems across the world - it is somewhat worrying that a student might not study subjects such as mathematics, a science, their first language and another language, as without them it is hard to say whether a real balance, breadth and depth are justifiably in place. There are still obvious challenges for schools like the one your son attends. One of these is ensuring that the whole curriculum is well matched and well balanced and that it naturally complements itself as students progress through it. My experience of this change so far is that the concerns your son has are understandable. But with an open mind and a positive approach on his part, he will succeed in just the areas that the IB itself is trying to promote.