The IB: why so popular?

The phenomenal rise of the International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is the fastest growing educational system in the world. In just five years, between December 2009 and December 2014, the number of IB programmes offered worldwide grew by over 45%.

Who is it for?

Many people are aware of the post-16 alternative to A levels, the IB Diploma Programme. Not so many know about the other 3 individual IB programmes for students aged 3 and over. The programmes are designed to fit together to provide a continuous system of education:

  • PYP - Primary Years Programme (age range 3-12)
  • MYP - Middle Years Programme (age range 11-16)
  • DP - Diploma Programme (age range 16 -19)
  • CP - Career-related Programme (age range 16 - 19)


Why is it so popular?

  • the programme is considered more rigorous than other systems with greater grading consistency
  • students are encouraged to think critically and to challenge what they’re told
  • because it’s independent of governments and national systems, the IB is able to draw from the best of international frameworks and curricula
  • students are encouraged to think beyond local boundaries and consider international factors - something that's increasingly valued in today’s globalised world
  • learning outside the traditional classroom environment is encouraged
  • the programme promotes ‘intercultural understanding and respect’ and encourages the development of well-rounded individuals - ‘active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right’

Why are students choosing to study the IB Diploma Programme (DP) instead of A levels?

‘A passport to the finest universities in the world’

The post-16 IB Diploma Programme (DP) is considered by many to be a passport to the finest universities in the world. It is a qualification that challenges and inspires students to become caring, meticulous and highly organised thinkers.


Breadth of study

One of the most attractive reasons students opt for the DP is the breadth of study the qualification offers. Like A levels, the diploma programme takes 2 years to complete. Yet, while A level students typically choose 3 or 4 subjects, the IB diploma requires them to take 6, with core components across all disciplines. Students take their strongest 3 subjects on to higher level and study the remaining 3 at standard level.

In addition to studying their 6 subjects, students complete an independently researched 4,000 word extended essay, a Theory of Knowledge project grounded in philosophy and 150 hours of CAS (creativity, action, service) - arts, sports and voluntary work.


As well as studying a more balanced and comprehensive curriculum than some of their peers, IB students have far greater flexibility. Whereas A level students are often committed to either a science or arts route, the range of subjects taken by IB students includes English, mathematics, a science, a language and a humanities subject. The diploma provides students with the choice and flexibility to accommodate varying interests, needs and abilities, making it easier to change direction later if required.

A competitive edge

Top IB students seem to perform better at university. A 2012 study by Professor Vignoles and Professor Green for the UCL Institute of Education found IB diploma students with top grades were over 5% more likely to achieve an upper second class degree or above at university than similar students holding A levels.


Is the IB Diploma Programme a viable alternative to A levels?

In a word, yes. The DP is recognised by thousands of higher education institutions worldwide including Oxbridge and Ivy League colleges; IB diploma students are more frequently admitted to selective institutions than their peers and tend to perform better in their post-secondary studies (including completion rates).

In the United Kingdom, the programme is now so well-respected that universities such as King’s College London (one of the top 30 universities in the world) and Leeds (like King’s, a member of the prestigious Russell Group) have changed their requirements for IB students in line with perceptions of greater grading consistency; a score of 35 points (out of a possible 45) is now considered the equivalent of 3 A grades at A level (and A*AA at KCL) instead of the previous 39.

About GEMS IB students

GEMS IB students have enjoyed outstanding success. Our 2015 pass rate (89.9%) and average points score (32.7) were both considerably higher than their worldwide equivalents.

GEMS Diploma Programme students have been accepted into hundreds of universities across the world including many of the best. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Yale, Columbia, University College London (UCL), University of Chicago, King’s College London, University of Edinburgh, Cornell and University of Pennsylvania are just some of the destinations of our former IB DP students.


The IB at GEMS International School, Al Khail

GEMS International School in Al Khail is one of only a handful of schools in the UAE where students are able to study continuous IB programmes, meaning they can learn under the same system from grade KG1 (aged 3) to grade 10 (aged 16). The programmes have proved so popular that the school is introducing the 16-19 Diploma Programme from 2016.

Jeffrey Beard, Group Director of Innovation at GEMS Education, served as Director General for the International Baccalaureate Organization from 2006 to 2013. “By providing the IB system from the very beginning of a child’s education,” he says, “GEMS International School is able to deliver a consistent and holistic educational approach, developing future leaders for the workplace of tomorrow."

To find out more about enrolling your child at GEMS International School, Al Khail, see the admissions page.

See the GEMS International School, Al Khail curriculum page for information about what children learn at each grade stage.

To find out more about the kind of opportunities enjoyed by GEMS International Baccalaureate MYP students click here

Published: 2nd December 2015