About the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme

The International Baccalaureate programme

International Baccalaureate Organisation (“IBO”). Although the IBO offer four courses for different levels and ages, the focus of this section on the Owl Tutors website is to provide helpful information on the Diploma Programme which is a school leaver’s qualification for 16 to 19 year olds.

The IB Diploma Programme is becoming an increasingly popular choice of school leaver qualifications throughout the world. Despite being set up primarily as an education system for children of the international, diplomatic and ex-pat communities throughout the world, it has now been adopted by thousands of schools throughout the world who are looking for their students to benefit from the depth and breadth of this challenging qualification.

The IB diploma programme is a challenging qualification that allows students to select six subjects from a number of different IB subject classifications and to perform these alongside a central requirement for creativity, action, service and philosophy (Theory of Knowledge). In order to complete the IB diploma programme students are also required to write a dissertation style essay called the Extended Essay.

The International Baccalaureate programme

We have tried to organise information about this qualification in the best way possible. Please find some of the key points and a brief summary of the program on this web page or use the IB menu to find out more about the structure of this program and the subjects that are offered.


The framework for an internationally recognised qualification are thought to have their foundations back in 1948 after the end of the Second World War. It was not until the 1960’s however, when a group of teachers at the International School of Geneva in Switzerland (Ecolint) created the International Schools Examinations Syndicate (an organisation that would become the IB).

The IB programme has gone from strength to strength since these foundations over 50 years ago and the IB now supports c.3,675 world schools in 146 different countries.

University admissions:

The IB Diploma program is one of the most rigorous and difficult school leaver’s qualifications that is available world-wide today. As a result of this, most universities throughout the world recognise the benefits of the qualification and are able to provide specific details on the grades that will be required to obtain entry onto one of their degree courses.

However, despite the IB Diploma programme being widely accepted, the very nature of this program not being affiliated with the specific higher education systems of countries with the most desirable universities, inconsistencies can sometimes result between what different academic institutions look for.

IB Tuition:

We understand that the IB provides a substantial level of rigour, particularly when compared with the UK equivalent A-levels. We look to recruit teachers that have previous experience in teaching this qualification but will also provide specific training courses for our other tutors that are excellent teachers but do not happen to have IB experience.

Structure of the IB Programme

The IB diploma programme is a challenging school leaver’s qualification for 16 to 19 year olds. The programme is characterised by the depth and breadth that it provides for students taking it and the cross-curricular skills that it provides through the Theory of Knowledge (“ToK”), Creativity, Action & Service (“CAS”) and Extended Essay (“EE”) elements of the programme.

Theory of Knowledge (“ToK”):

The ToK course is an inter-disciplinary course designed to bring together subject knowledge and learning techniques across all of the subject areas chosen. The course is a philosophy course of sorts and is designed to encourage critical thinking and helps students to make sense of what they encounter. Two essays must be submitted in relation to this course.

Extended Essay (“EE”):

The EE is a dissertation style piece of written work that is supposed to allow the student to perform independent research on a topic of their own choosing. With a minimum requirement of 4,000 words, the EE will typically be the largest piece of work that is undertaken by an IB student. The EE is usually performed on a topic from one of the six main subjects selected and also usually on one of the HL topics selected.

Creativity, Action and Service (“CAS”):

This is a selection of commitments that every IB student must undertake in order to be awarded the IB Diploma certificate. It typically requires a minimum commitment of time to be spent on a different pursuit in each of the areas of creativity, action and service. Creativity typically refers to an extra-curricular past time to be conducted outside of study that allows a student to develop their creative aspects such as photography, acting or dance. Action involves the pursuit of some kind of sporting activity whilst service relates to voluntary community service.

Pros and Cons of the IB

Many parents are faced with the daunting prospect of deciding which school leaver’s qualification to put their children forward for. Increasingly, schools throughout the world are selecting different systems through which to educate their pupils. The International Baccalaureate is a program that has grown in popularity throughout the world and notably in the UK and USA. Here at Owl Tutors we have summarised what we feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme.


Broad subject focus:

The IB Diploma programme allows students to pick six different subjects from six different groups of subjects which are broadly equivalent to a first language, a second language, maths, sciences, humanities and the arts. In addition to the number of different subjects that are made available, subjects can also either be studied at higher level or the easier standard level. This means that students will finish school with a breadth of subject knowledge including communication abilities in at least two languages.

Difficulty of subject syllabuses:

The syllabuses within the IB are hard. Many IB higher level courses have elements on the syllabus that are typically not taught to individuals until they are at university. We regularly receive feedback from our tutors that the IB teaches topics that are not present in many domestic education qualifications such as the UK based A-levels and the US based Advanced Placements. Not only does this mean that pupils are taught to a very high level but it also means that fewer pupils are able to fulfil all of the requirements making distinguishing between different pupil’s abilities easier.

Not just about the subject knowledge:

The IB Diploma course has a series of additional requirements that help to develop students into more rounded individuals. These additional requirements include mandatory creativity, action and service activities to be completed throughout the programme, a philosophy based course known as Theory of Knowledge (“ToK”) and a dissertation style essay known as the Extended Essay (“EE”).

Differentiation of pupils:

Given the broad range of subjects and different subject requirements, this means that few pupils ever receive the top marks (45 points) that are available to IB students. Unlike domestic equivalent qualifications such as A-levels and Advanced Placements where many pupils regularly get the best marks, the IB allows a greater distinction for pupil performance and theoretically makes it easier for universities to find the pupils that they are looking for.


The IB Diploma programme is not backed by any one government’s teaching agenda. This gives the programme as a whole an advantage over domestic systems as there is little pressure on the IB to continually improve the performance of the pupils that are studying the qualifications. Whereas there has been a trend of grade inflation with systems like A-levels and Advanced Placements as successive governments in the UK and the USA have been under increasing pressure to improve results, this has not happened to the IB. Without this political pressure, the IB Diploma programme has been able to focus on the rigour of the course and to ensure that pupils are learning the most relevant content. This has lead to the IB Diploma programme being one of the most consistent school leaver’s qualifications in terms of syllabus content and structure. One additional benefit of this is that past papers for all of the subjects tend to be useful even from ten years ago.


The IB Diploma programme’s greatest weakness is actually devised from some of its greatest strengths. Although the IB Diploma programme is arguable the most difficult qualification that helps distinguish the abilities of pupils, provides a broad scope whilst also teaching subjects to the highest level, it is still often undervalued by universities the world over.

Universities tend to have a positive bias for the education system that operates in the country in which they are based. As such, the IB Diploma programme is often not given the recognition that it deserves in relation to the domestic equivalents.