21st March 2018
Daily summary of the latest news and opinions from the world of independent education brought to you by Education Advisers...
The sign of a successful school isn't good exam results – it's the confident, well-rounded pupils they produce
Chris Townsend, head of Felsted School writes We want pupils to do their very best in their exams, of course – but a well-earned C is just as valuable as an equally well-earned A*.
At my school, Felsted School, our over-arching aim is to "develop character and make a difference". This is broken down further, to focus on "developing all students academically, making them into life-long learners, who are well rounded, aspirational, globally minded with the skills to flourish beyond school, applying the principles of a growth mindset, to be the best that they can be". None of this is tested solely in the exam room, and many of our most successful former pupils gained their success without boosting any ranking in a league table.
For me, it is the variety of skills developed, whether through music, drama, sport, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, cadets, model united nations, international travel, leadership and much more besides, that makes a school a success. Moreover, it is the encouragement of the individual, the support and the engagement of teachers and parents that is most likely to create the culture in which this success can be nurtured.
None of this should take away from the key understanding that we want every student to do the best that they can in their exams, but we want this because this shows that they understand the value of hard work, know how to learn, analyse and interpret, and that they care about how well they do. This does not equate to an absolute result, so a C might be just as valuable as an A* (or a 4 as hard-earned as a 9).
Schools are successful because of the people that they produce after they have finished at school, not because of how well these people do in the exam room in June.
The International Baccalaureate vs. A levels
The International Baccalaureate (IB), which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has — like its home town of Geneva — a slightly goody-goody reputation. Although not founded until the 1960s, it grew out of efforts to build a liberal infrastructure for postwar Europe.
It was inspired by a pamphlet written in 1948 by the French pedagogue Marie-Thérèse Maurette called ‘Do Education Techniques for Peace Exist?’ We don’t want our schools and universities creating swots who might just turn out like Josef Mengele, the IB seems to be saying, but well-rounded citizens of the world.
Nowadays, the IB is often sold by schools as a kind of academic Duke of Edinburgh scheme, involving a wider range of study than A-levels and including elements of culture and public service — though the latter is not formally assessed. IB pupils specialise less than A-level students do. They must carry on studying maths and science to some degree throughout the sixth form, and must complete a written assignment on a subject of their choice.
It is all very well selling the IB on its claimed character-building properties, but pupils who find themselves in the position of having to choose between the IB and A-levels might be motivated by more hard-headed questions: is it likelier to get me into a good university, earn me a better degree, and win me a higher-paying job at the end of it?
The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) published a study that sought to answer these questions, and the results were flattering to the IB. It analysed the onward educational performance of 1.2 million pupils who sat A-levels and 48,700 pupils who took the IB diploma between 2007 and 2013, and discovered distinctly better results among the latter. Of the IB pupils who went on to university, 40.1 per cent won a place at a top 20 university — compared with 23.7 per cent for A-level students.
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