Abu Dhabi: Debate is raging in the UK about whether the International Baccalaureate diploma programme is academically superior to the A-Level programme.

In the UAE, schools, parents and pupils have a preference for the current A-Level system and don't find a change necessary.

As schools in the UK seek to prepare pupils to work in a global economy and keep up with diverse societies, more are looking for the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme versus A-Levels as a valuable addition to their curriculum.

The IB programme is a challenging two-year curriculum, primarily aimed at pupils aged 16 to 19 years. It leads to a qualification that is widely recognised by the world's leading universities.

A recent survey carried out among 71 institutions of higher learning in Britain shows that universities rate the IB diploma highly.

A strong majority, 57 per cent, felt that the diploma programme conferred an advantage compared to the national alternative.

There are curriculum models, including IB programme, that are well designed and offer a great deal, but Gulf News learnt that for British schools across the UAE to consider a major curriculum change from A-Levels to IB or any other curriculum model would require a fundamental cultural and academic shift.

Paul Coackley, Principal of The British School, Al Khubairat (BSAK), one of the oldest British schools in Abu Dhabi, disagrees with the notion that universities have a slight preference for the IB programme.

"Our school still has a lot of confidence in the A-Level system and I never heard of any university that doesn't accept A-Levels, and the majority of our pupils end up in universities such as Cambridge and Oxford," said Coackley.

He said the difference between IB programme and A-Levels is in the number of subjects. Six subjects are studied in the IB system as opposed to three or four broader subjects in the A-Levels.


The Dubai College, one of the oldest British schools in Dubai, also has confidence in GCSE and A-Level system and focus on maintaining the highest level of success.

"We do look at what is going on in terms of curriculum initiatives and educational change and where we feel it is necessary we respond.

"IB like A-Levels offers a strong post-16 education. It is good that there is now a choice and we choose A-Levels," he said.

Education: First choice

Jocelyn Christodoulides' 14-year-old daughter, Natalie, studies in the British School, Al Khubairat and told Gulf News she prefers the current GCSE A-Levels which she says has a wider range of subjects that children can study.

"The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme is more suited to those children who are academically focused. Natalie is currently studying for GCSE and has a very basic understanding of the IB programme but believes it is harder than the current A-Level system. She prefers to continue studying in this system because of the greater choice of subjects," said Christodoulides.

Dominique Chatfield, 15, who goes to the same school, said: "I don't know anything about IB as in my school they follow the standard English A-Levels and I intend to complete my studies in university in the UK, and will probably study pure and further mathematics."

Theresa Doherty, Dominique's mother, is happy with the current A-Levels system and doesn't have enough information about the IB system either, and therefore cannot make an educated comparison.