Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed with the choice between the IB and British Curriculum for your child? Don’t worry, our go-to expert, Simon Herbert, Head of School/CEO of GEMS International School – Al Khail, is here to take you through the nitty-gritty details and answer all those burning questions.

What’s the biggest difference between the British Curriculum and the IB?

“Let’s break it down in simple terms, shall we? When we talk about the British Curriculum in the UAE, we’re mainly referring to the National Curriculum for England. But the UK itself has some variations, like the Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers, which can impact the length of university courses and even English A-levels.

What sets the IB apart from the British Curriculum?

“Well, the IB is all subjects being intentionally linked to one another, creating a holistic learning experience. Plus, there’s a whole philosophy behind the IB, which focuses on service to others. And unlike the British system, the IB doesn’t have those big public exams like GCSEs at the age of 16.

The IB also has this thing called the Learner Profile, which spans from pre-K to Grade 12 (Year 13). It helps develop ten key areas in students, for example like being open-minded, principled, and balanced. Sounds like a recipe for success? The IB also covers Approaches to Learning, which teaches important research and social skills to prepare your kids for higher education and future employment!

The IB offers a broader education compared to A-levels in the UK; students don’t get to pick and choose. They study Arts and Humanities, First and Second Languages, Maths and Science up until the age of 18. In contrast, the British system often asks students to narrow down their choices and specialise in around three A-level subjects after the age of 16. That’s a big decision for young minds, and it might require parents’ help too.”

The strengths and Popularity of a British Education vs the IB

“The British Curriculum shines when it comes to assessment processes, while the IB places the emphasis on collaborative work and assessed presentations. The IB is also the fastest-growing curriculum in the world! It’s gaining popularity among international families in the UAE because it’s recognised as a gold standard by universities and employers, and now some parents are starting to fall out of love with national curriculums.”

The Limitations of Both Curriculums

“Let’s keep it real, GCSEs in the UK have faced criticism for being outdated and some feel that the IB’s prescribed breadth might be a tad restricting. However, there is something called the IB Career-related Programme (CP), which goes above and beyond any vocational alternatives in the UK.

We know that every child is unique and their learning styles vary. In the world of education, there’s a place for everyone, whether they follow the English National Curriculum or the IB. But the IB generally suits those young people who enjoy grasping concepts, making connections between subjects are more creative. If your child isn’t a fan of rote learning just to pass tests, then IB might be the perfect fit!”

When is the Best Time to Make the Switch?

“It’s a simple answer, the earlier, the better but saying that, a switch is possible at any stage, and it can actually be quite smooth, especially when transitioning from the English National Curriculum to the IB. Just make sure to chat with the school’s headteacher to get the best advice for your child.

What About Moving Back to the UK?

Will your child struggle to continue with the IB?  Many schools in the UK now offer the IB, and there are even blended programmes available. So, rest assured it will be a smooth landing if you decide to move back home.

Which Curriculum Opens the Most Doors in Terms of Universities and Employment? 

“Both A-levels and the IB DP and CP can open up opportunities at top-notch universities. But the IB is highly regarded because it hasn’t suffered from the same grade inflation as A-levels. Plus, universities love those extra components of the IB, like Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay, and the Reflective Project.

When it comes to employment, the skills gained from the IB align perfectly with what employers are looking for in the 21st century. So, your little graduates will be well-prepared to conquer the professional world.”

About Simon Herbert

Simon is a dynamic, culturally astute school leader with more than 30 years’ experience in education. He joined GEMS International School – Al Khail as Head of School/CEO in 2020 having previously served as Headmaster of Dulwich College,Beijing during his eight years in China. Before that, Simon spent 12 years with the prestigious Fettes College in Edinburgh, Scotland, first as Head of Modern Languages and then as Housemaster of Glencorse House.

Simon holds an MA in Educational Leadership and Management, a PGCE: Modern Languages and a joint honours BA in French and Latin. He is also a Fellow of the Royal

Society of Arts, a member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, and a member of the Council of International Schools Inspector.