The IB journey which leads to success
After more than four decades of offering the UK’s GCE A-level curriculum, the English Schools Foundation’s (ESF) transition to the International Baccalaureate (IB) system, which began in 2004, was a strategic move designed to provide students with a broader and more internationally focused education.
In early 2000’s, ESF saw the need to offer a more international curriculum in view of changes in their student demographic. Sha Tin College became the pioneer in 2004 and for a year or two an IB Diploma course was run alongside the traditional A-levels. The transition was completed in 2009, when students from all five ESF secondary schools, as well as the private independent school Renaissance College took the IBDP examinations.
For ESF primary schools, they started introducing the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) in 2005. By 2010, all nine ESF primary schools gained PYP authorisation. The opening of the two new all-through schools, Renaissance College in 2006 and Discovery College in 2008, provided a further stimulus to the development of the IB culture in ESF. They were set up from the start as full IB schools offering the Primary Years Programme and the Middle Years Programme as well as the IB Diploma.
To ensure each school was fully prepared to implement IB curricula, Andrea Muller was appointed as Learning and Teaching Adviser across the ESF school network. Meanwhile, each school appointed an experienced teacher as IB coordinator.
"Each school started planning as a team, but we also collaborated across schools to share best practices," says Beacon Hill School Vice Principal Andy Thompson. "The planning sessions were a fantastic opportunity to discuss and design learning experiences that were engaging and relevant for our student population that was rapidly becoming more culturally diverse."
While the old curriculum had students learning about the Vikings and Victorians, the IB focused more on having students acquire and improve important skills to make them life-long learners. "Ever since we started adopting inquiry-based learning, our students have built stronger links with the local community and care more about environmental issues," says Andy.
Describing the transition to the IB system as "one of the finest decisions the ESF has made", Chris Durbin, former ESF Secondary School Development Adviser said the decision to change was not met with universal support from parents and teachers. "At that time, the ESF Ordinance stated that it was ultimately each school governing body's decision to make the change, and both ESF and each school council felt it was important to have feedback and views from everyone in order to implement the change successfully," he says. “The consultations supported ESF in ensuring its communication to be more effective, but also some genuine concerns were embraced into the planning and delivery of the new IBDP and alternative pathways as well as in the provision for university counselling.”
The concerted effort invested in coordinating professional development programmes for teachers and careful curriculum planning enabled the IB system to be rolled out across ESF schools in a timely and efficient manner. Importantly for students, the structure of the IBDP provides a range of pathways to higher education and prepares them for 21st century opportunities and challenges. "The diploma’s academic rigour, international flavour and emphasis on inquiry based learning means that students enter university with a global outlook," says Chris.
The examination results were good from the outset. And within two or three years, ESF students, who accounted for about 1 per cent of IBDP candidates across the world, were responsible for 10 per cent of entrants achieving the top score of 45 points.
Heather Du Quesnay, ESF Chief Executive Officer between 2005 and 2013, says the open-ended enquiry style of teaching promoted by the IB instilled confidence in young students, who were able to improve their presentation and teamwork skills and get a headstart in terms of understanding the importance of research.
“These abilities delight parents,” notes Heather, who says the opening of the two new through-schools ‑ Renaissance College in 2006 and Discovery College in 2008 - provided a further stimulus for the development of the IB culture. “They were set up from the start as full IB schools offering the Primary Years and Middle Years Programmes, as well as the IB Diploma,” she says.
She said that the introduction of IB programmes brought an immediate demand for professional development, as the IB curriculum required teachers to be trained before schools could be accredited. But ESF practice soon far exceeded basic accreditation requirements.
“A thousand or so teachers working in relative geographical proximity, and equipped with cutting-edge learning technology, is the basis of perhaps the perfect learning community,” notes Heather.