Part 2: Choosing the best school and curriculum for your child(ren).
Choosing an IB School: The International Baccalaureate Diploma
The IB is divided into six groups: language, second language, individuals and societies, Mathematics and Computer Science, experimental sciences and the Arts. Three subjects are taught at Higher Level (240 teaching hours each) and three subjects at Standard Level (150 teaching hours each). Students choose one from each of five subject groups: English, Foreign Languages, Humanities, Sciences, and Mathematics. The sixth subject is either a creative subject or an optional second subject from the Languages, Sciences or Humanities groups. Prospective parents should note
In addition, pupils complete an Extended Essay/thesis, study a Theory of Knowledge course (TOK) and participate in a CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) programme (which variously includes sport, arts and community work and can vary in tone, emphasis and depth widely between schools.) 50 hours in each area is required to achieve this area of the programme.
The IB Diploma is assessed by the submission of coursework and through examinations (only) at the conclusion of the Upper Sixth, Year/Grade 13.
The six core subjects are graded on a scale of 0 – 7 points. Student performance in TOK, CAS and the Extended Essay can contribute up to another 3 points. Thus, the overall IB is graded on a maximum score of 45 points.
The pass mark is 24 as long as a minimum number of marks is achieved across each part, along with a satisfactory level of achievement on creativity, action and service (CAS).
The Diploma has a “success” rate of around 78 per cent of students (ie those securing 24 points or more.) Less than 1 per cent of students achieve 45 marks.
The IB Diploma is positioned as being the best curriculum in the world for offering both breadth of study and development of of the whole child. It is widely recognised globally and is a recognised and valued qualification by leading universities worldwide.
Choosing a British School: A Levels
Historically students generally opted to study three or four subjects at AS level from around 80 available subjects, dropping down in most cases to three A level subjects in the Upper Sixth. Historically AS Levels were studied in progression and automatically transferred to A Level courses, with A-levels divided into two levels: AS at the end of Year 12 and A2 at the end of Year 13.
Following changes to the British system in 2017-18, A Levels are now decoupled. There is no longer a need to study AS Levels at all and AS Levels can no longer be understood as “half” an A Level or the first year of an A Level.
In practice, however, many British schools continue to encourage students to sit 3 or 4 AS Levels in the first year of A Level study and complete 3 (or very exceptionally 4) complete A Levels in the second year. A Levels are two year courses and examined at the end of two years.
A Levels are positioned as the “gold standard” in secondary education and the most widely accepted international pre-qualification for undergraduate study. Proponents argue that they allow students to study subjects in depth, and develop the skills from this to enter university or industry. By enabling students to choose the subjects they are most interested in, they are also able to naturally excel – and strengthen their skills in the subject areas that are going to be most relevant in their future career.
Choosing a US or Canadian School: The High School Diploma and Advanced Placement
The High School Diploma qualification has to be included in this Guide – but it raises complicated questions. Unlike the IB Diploma, A Levels, CBSE or ISCSE Grade XII, or British and IB technical stream alternatives (BTEC, IB CRP/P), the High School Diploma is studied over four years, rather than 2, between Grades 9 -12. Grades K (kindergarten) – 12 correspond with years 1–13 in British schools.
Whilst subject to some argument, the High School Diploma should be compared with the IB MYP and IGCSE – and not A Level or Diploma higher level qualifications.
Advanced Placement qualifications are available in 37 subjects – no school in Dubai currently offers this breadth of choice. Subjects include: Art history; Biology; Calculus AB; Calculus BC; Chemistry; Chinese language and culture; Computer science A; English language and composition; English literature and composition; Environmental science; European history; French language and culture; German language and culture; Government and politics: comparative; Government and politics: United States; Human geography; Italian language and culture; Japanese language and culture; Macroeconomics; Microeconomics; Music theory; Physics 1 and Physics 2; Physics C: electricity and magnetism; Physics C: mechanics; Psychology; Spanish language and culture; Spanish literature and culture; Statistics; Studio art: 2-D design; Studio art: 3-D design; Studio art: drawing; United States history; World history; AP Capstone: Research; AP Capstone: Seminar; Computer Science Principles; and, Latin.
AP tests are administered over the first two weeks in May each year. Scores are reported in early July. All AP courses and exams are properly accredited by the College Board.
We have warned parents consistently on relying on the High School Diploma, in isolation, if the intention is to graduate to universities outside the US.
The best US or Canadian schools offer students either:
Advanced Placement which are, broadly, the equivalent of 0.5 A Levels and the Diploma. The core difference between the A Level and the AP is that all Advanced Placement courses are designed to be studied over a single year.
The option to study for the International Baccalaureate Diploma or Career-related Programme
The easiest way to compare the value of AP examinations is to map them onto UK UCAS point scoring for university entrance.
A Grade A* at A Level is worth 56 Points
A Grade A at A Level is worth 48 Points
A Grade B at A Level is worth 40 Points
A Grade C at A Level is worth 32 Points
A Grade D at A Level is worth 24 Points
A Grade E at A Level is worth 16 points
An Advanced Placement Grade 5 is worth 28 points
An Advanced Placement Grade 4 is worth 24 Points
An Advanced Placement Grade 3 is worth 20 Points
An Advanced Placement Grade 2 is worth 16 points
An Advanced Placement Grade 1 is worth 12 Points
Theoretically 6 Advanced Placements scoring a maximum Grade 5 in each are required for equivalence to 3 A Levels at Grade A*. Further, many universities require the High School Diploma to be have achieved – and Grades achieved in individual papers will be looked at as part of any application. Advanced Placements, in isolation, are not enough.
This is why top US schools generally offer the alternative of either IB Diploma study or Advanced Placements. Parents and students must be wary of graduating without one of these in place.
We are often asked whether it is possible for US or Canadian students in schools without the IB Diploma or Advanced Placement to transfer to British or IB schools. Whilst it adds an extra year of schooling, we recommend that students do explore this option. Both British and IB schools will consider applicants, but will require equivalence of study, and at high scores, particularly at A Level. The alternative is to secure 4-year US university placements wither in the UAE or US.
Because the High School Diploma operates at the level of IGCSE, it is very unlikely that students from UK or IB schools would transfer into the US system for post-16 education, so we have not explored this option. Equally, because both A Levels and the IB Diploma (and their related technical counterparts) have widespread global recognition, there is no logical incentive for students to transfer into the US system to study for Advanced Placement.
Choosing an Indian School: Grade XII National State Board Examinations
In the UAE, there are only two Indian school options: CBSE and ISC and ISC options are very limited. It is extremely unlikely that non-national students will transfer into either Board Indian schools for 16 – 18 study. However, we are asked whether it is viable to transfer out of the Indian system after
Year 10, or Year 12, to study for the IB Diploma or A Levels.
Our view is that the option only becomes viable after Year 12 examinations, and with the qualification that students have a very high level of written, reading and spoken English. They will also need to have scored 90%+ scores in the subjects they wish to study at A Level.
However, whilst there is no strict equivalence, our view is that subjects studied at Grade XII in both Board exams are broadly comparable to AS/A1 Level study in the British system, and students would effectively be adding two years to their study and potentially repeating work.
This said, for students set on UK university admissions, this may resolve some difficulties.
This is because, as a general outline, to enter top tier UK universities, students would need to score 90%+ in all five core subjects studied for Grade 12 in conjunction with Indian Institutes of Technology Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) examinations for admission to Science subjects (including Economics) and STEP examinations for entrance to study Mathematics (and Economics). Because there are no alternative additional qualifications (outside the IB and A Level) available to Indian students, the majority of UK universities preclude application for many courses including Law and Medicine.
Transfer into UK or IB schools, particularly for these students can, with some hesitancy, be recommended.
Choosing an MOE school: the Tawjihiyya Secondary School Certificate
We have included brief advice for students within the MOE system because we have had a number of enquiries about the viability of transferring to UK Sixth Forms or IB schools to study for A Levels or the Diploma.
We face similar challenges here to those presented by US, Canadian and Indian students wishing to transfer.
Whilst it is difficult gauge absolute parity, our view is that the Tawjihiyya Secondary School Certificate broadly aligns with IGCSE/MYP study on a subject by subject basis where scores exceed 80%. Again, students would face the challenge of adding two years to their schooling and would require significant proficiency in English (absolute minimum IELTS Band 5), something that may challenge some students given the Arabic language primary instruction within government schools.
This option is only likely to be of value to students set on a university education in the UK or Europe. Otherwise, the standard route is to proceed to 4-year university programmes in the UAE (and potentially the US).
For very high calibre students, with high proficiency in the English language, set on Tier 1 graduate study, transferring out of the MOE system into UK or IB schools for 16 – 18 education can, with some hesitation, be recommended.
Next: Curricula compared!