Heraclitus wrote in seventh century BC Greece, ‘All things are in flux’. He may not have had the 21st-century British education in mind, but all things are in flux. A-levels, after 17 glorious years of AS levels and modules and retakes, have marched back down the hill to three-subject narrowness and terminal exams. GCSEs are changing their design and grading – again. The vocational route is being reconstructed with the creation of T-levels. However, there are also fundamental questions being asked about what schools provide: is it really what universities and the world beyond want?
The 2013 PISA survey noted that England is the only country where pensioners have a higher proficiency in literacy and numeracy than the most recent school-leavers. That’s not exactly cheering, but it’s hardly a surprise when English and Maths is voluntary post-16. At the same time, the CBI, the Royal Society, the Institute of Engineering and Technology, are calling for skills and qualities that form no explicit part of what schools offer. As the Pearson Group says about 21st-century skills: “Success in any sector is dependent upon more than core academic knowledge or technical and occupational skills. Effective employability strategies are those that develop the whole learner and include personal and social capabilities; critical thinking and problem-solving skills; and academic and occupational knowledge.”
In this world of flux, some state schools and independent schools have introduced a curriculum that is providing what the world actually wants through the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (CP). In September 2017, 27 state schools in Kent will be offering the course and, in the independent sector Rydal Penrhos, Warminster and Windermere have introduced it alongside the IB Diploma programme.
So, dear reader, you may ask what it’s like and why it is any good. Well, the CP course has two key features. The first is that it brings together qualifications which, in the past, have been separate: a CP student studies at least two IB Diploma subjects and combines those with a BTEC qualification. The second is that those courses are tied together by a core which is critical to all International Baccalaureate courses. There are four elements to that core: work in the community; the development of personal and professional skills through real-life projects and vocational training; an extensive piece of independent research; and, finally, the study of a language.
As for its value, those who have introduced the programme say that it has three key advantages. The first is that the programme does provide for students who have ability and aspirations but may not be suited by A-levels. Dr Saima Rana, the Head of an established CP school, said at a recent conference, “The programme is a beautifully created curriculum to bring together the academic and the vocational in a way that is perfect for our students with their many different abilities and aspirations.”
The second is that it allows great flexibility as diploma subjects and the other elements can be combined in different ways so that each student can create a course that is right for him/her. That flexibility also means that students can make changes during their courses.
The third advantage is that the course really does deliver the knowledge, the skills, and the practical experience which the world wants. It has already raised the aspirations and the level of success of its students. Those who, in the past, would not have considered university are now going and thriving.
Gail Alana, from Southampton University, the first Russell Group university to accept the CP, said, “Students who arrive only with BTECs do not find the transition to university easy. However, students who combine qualifications in a coherent programme are much better prepared and that is why we very much welcome CP students.”
For 50 years the IB Diploma has addressed the Great Schism between the arts and the sciences in our academic system. The CP programme is starting to do the same for the Great Schism between the academic and the vocational and provides real opportunities for thousands of able and ambitious students.