The High Mistress of St Paul's School for Girls in London (Elizabeth Diggory) indicated recently that GCSE's were a waste of her girls time and the Government Blue Paper on post 14 education seems to reiterate her view, with a proposal that will eventually see the brighter students missing them all completely in order to go straight to AS and A levels.
Schools such as Sevenoaks in Kent and KCS (Kings College School) Wimbledon, which for a number of years had the IB (International Baccalaureate) working side by side with the A levels have both now abolished A levels completely and their students will in future only take the IB. North London Collegiate the top school in the UK over the last few years is looking at proposals to introduce the IB, as is Winchester where the Headmaster Nick Tate was until taking up his appointment, Chairman of the Government's Examination Council.
Students whose parents are continually moving around the world because of their profession (i.e. the expatriate nomad) will find the IB is clearly the best solution. A child is able to transfer easily into any school, which undertakes the IB, and follow a curriculum, which allows them to continually progress.
What is the problem with the GCSE and A level system in comparison? The worst scenario is for a child coming with their parents at 15 years of age for example. The GCSE programme starts at Year 10 for a 14 year old and is a two-year programme involving considerable course work. That course work is so demanding that no top school in the UK will allow any student to enter their programme after the half-term of the first term of Year 10, for to do so would be educational suicide. Thus for a 15 year old there are two options:
1. To start year 10 again with the 14 year olds and begin the system properly the social implications here are self-evident and can be disastrous.
2. Undertake the IB where no such problems arise and movement into the system is easy and they will have a year pre-IB preparing for the Diploma but do not be fooled the IB is very academic and any school which undertakes the programme will wish to see that the student is capable of achieving a good mark.
Even if you are coming from a British School abroad do not be fooled.
Most British schools abroad start their academic year in February undertaking the IGCSE programme. If a student completes their programme in February and as a 14/15 year old then moves with parents to the UK they will already be six months behind and not able to slot into the system and will have to start again. Likewise the syllabus used by the IGCSE is unlike that of the GCSE and compatibility almost impossible.
Likewise what of a 16 year old arriving with no GCSE's who wants to do A levels - the top schools will require GCSE results unless they do the IB - so be prepared to be told they need to spend a year obtaining GCSE results and then to come back.
Many parents want to give their children the "British experience" but it does not always work especially at 16 years of age - if they are in for example the American High School programme they should be kept there to complete it, so many children suffer when they move over and never recover and more importantly it is not their fault.
The question every parent should ask before they move their children into any educational system is "Where will I be in three to four years time?" The answer is critical and the choice of education for the child should reflect the answer.
The IB with the Primary Years Programme (3-11), Middle Years Programme (12-15), Diploma (16-18) allows flexibility in a demanding academic environment.
At the moment there are numerous schools undertaking the IB Diploma in the UK but only three doing all three programmes and they are in or around London:
Southbank International School - http://www.southbank.org
The American Community School at Egham http://www.acs-england.co.uk (Egham Campus)
International School of London http://www.islondon.org
The IB website can be found at http://www.ibo.org
In short - seek advice! The system is changing and what is right for one child may not be right for yours and British is not necessarily always best!
An Individual Member of the European Council of International Schools, Martin joined the Sterling Education Team as an Education Consultant in 1999, and has since addressed a number of conferences in regard to educational placements in the United Kingdom and abroad.