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In July, when the IB diploma results were released, Nord Anglia International School (NAS) Dubai’s students achieved higher-than-average scores. “We got outstanding IB diploma results with an average score of 39 and a top score of 45, which is extremely good,” says Principal, Matthew Farthing. “It was the best result in the Nord Anglia education group globally.

“This year, once again students have achieved places at their universities of choice. NAS Dubai graduates have gained entry to schools such as Cambridge, Cornell, LSE, Imperial, Duke and St. Andrews.”

With the coronavirus preventing students from sitting their final exams this year, the approach to grading pupils was unprecedented. “The final decisions were mediated by the exam boards based on the evidence that the school could put forward, rather than the examinations,” he says. “It was a different process this year.”

I think the IB is better suited to a type of education where students need a very flexible mind that can adapt and change.

- Matthew Farthing, Principal, Nord Anglia International School (NAS) Dubai

While NAS Dubai was mostly satisfied with its students’ IB results, its Principal believes it has highlighted some distinct differences between international curricula. “What’s interesting is that if pupils continue not taking a final exam, it’s asking us as a school if we have robust, rigorous and thorough enough standards in place. We have to ensure the students’ whole portfolio of achievement is recognised in addition to the structure of the academic progress.

“I think the IB is better suited to a type of education where students need a very flexible mind that can adapt and change.”

Farthing has taught the British curriculum at top schools both in the UK and internationally and for longer than the IB curriculum, allowing him to see the contrasts. “I think the IB is a different approach to the British curriculum. It requires students to see how their learning is integrated and how it gets recycled. It moves away from the more linear, subject-based traditions, which are upheld in the A-Level tradition.”

IB diplomas cover a wider range of subjects than the British curriculum, with compulsory subjects such as languages and sciences included in the syllabus. A-Levels and Advanced Placement allow students to study less subjects and develop a more comprehensive understanding of their chosen areas of study, but Farthing points out that IB students often perform better at university. “To a degree, there is truth in that but when you look at the success rates of students in top universities coming out of an IB programme and the retention rates, it seems to validate the proposal that they are actually very well prepared. The top universities find high-scoring IB students a very attractive proposition because they understand the slightly different mental skills training that goes into an IB.”

One component of the IB curriculum is the Theory of Knowledge. It is designed to ask students to consider how conclusions are drawn and allows them to see different ways of thinking from alternative perspectives. Farthing says that this critical and objective approach is an advantage for students who continue higher education. “I think it prepares pupils far better for the future than any other curricula structures because it encourages a way of thinking that looks at learning being integrated rather than separate. It also enables much more learner independence, where students can self-direct their learning in a range of different project areas.”

A nuanced approach to personalised learning

While NAS Dubai’s sixth-form pupils follow the IB curriculum, the school also believes that each student must be treated individually if they are to achieve their potential. The school’s mission statement is: There’s no limit to what your child can achieve. And words such as innovation, creativity, resilience and courage appear in NAS Dubai’s philosophy statement. “We build on each student’s individual strengths and passions,” it says. Yet in the case of sixth-form students, Farthing says that it’s important to take a nuanced approach to nurturing individual talent.

“You have to be careful because teenagers don’t necessarily want to be spotlighted but we also do our best to find out what the students are doing outside of the school because the school is only a part of their upbringing and education,” he says.

“We have students who are national standard swimmers and some top musical performers. That hasn’t necessarily come from the school experience. They’ve actually gone with their own coaches, way beyond anything that the school can provide. Then, it’s for the school to absorb that back in without embarrassing the student but recognising that talent and further fostering it. It may involve mediating with parents about their expectations if the student doesn’t want to take a particular talent any further. It’s all about learning what’s best for the students’ futures.”

To learn more about IB courses at NAS Dubai, visit here.