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Back to school: Everything you need to know about the International Baccalaureate


They say your school days are the best days of your life, but today there are more options than ever before for students.

What school should you enrol in, what subjects should you study and how should you complete your education?

One programme that all parents and students should consider is the International Baccalaureate. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma?

The IB Diploma is an internationally recognised two-year programme that is open to any student aged 16 to 19. The programme is recognised and respected by many of the world’s leading universities.

Under the programme, students will study disciplines from six subject groups: Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics and The Arts.

Why is it becoming more popular?

In recent years, the International Baccalaureate Diploma has become increasingly popular in Ireland. This can be attributed to the growing number of international professionals coming to the country, and the desire of parents to offer their children an alternative to the Leaving Certificate.

SEK International School in Bray, Co Wicklow, offers the IB Diploma and is home to 68 pupils and 12 teaching staff. SEK’s Director General, Christopher Charleson, predicts the school’s population is set to multiply.

“We’re investing in Ireland, in the people of Ireland and in bringing people to Ireland,” Charleson, who’s been working in international education since 1983, explains. “We’re enabling international companies in Ireland to bring people to the country because they know their children will be assured an international education.”

Focus on the individual

One of the main draws of the IB is that it focuses on the individual student, nurturing their talents and interests.

“The students are guaranteed a family atmosphere in Wicklow,” Charleson states. “There’s a caring, natural learning environment, where the student experience includes being based on a 214,000 square metre campus on a picturesque hill, just outside town.”

Charleson, who works across nine SEK schools catering for 5,500 students, based in Dublin, Madrid, Barcelona, Almeria, Pontevedra, Les Alpes and Doha, believes that the IB takes a more holistic approach to education.

“This is a school for our future global citizens, a preparation for the next stage of the students’ lives,” he explains.

An eye to the future

Many potential students are impressed by the ethos behind the International Baccalaureate.

The IB “is not just a curriculum and examination,” explains Charleson. “There’s a whole philosophical basis to it, it’s been going since the ‘60s.

“It works on the basis that if you bring people of different nationalities together and they learn together, then they’ll understand each other better.”

The programme promotes tolerance and sustainability.

“The overall aim is to create a more peaceful and equitable world and the driving force is on languages and developing an understanding of world history and geography, and looking at the global impact of science,” states Charleson.

“All IB students have to be exposed to the arts too, it provides them a great way of understanding other cultures from across the world.”

Importance of languages

Given the global focus of the programme, it’s not surprising that languages play an important part in the IB.

“The children learn at least two languages from the age of three,” explains Charleson. “So they are also learning from an early age the skills to communicate with people as they travel the world.”

From September, Irish will be on offer at the Wicklow school, making the institution an even more attractive prospect for parents who want their child to speak the native language.

“Children who are bilingual and those who can speak Irish and English, have huge benefits,” he explains. “A lot of research shows people who are truly bilingual are able to reach a higher cognitive level. By offering Irish, we will also allow international students to really experience the Irish culture.”

Internationally recognised qualification

An interesting curriculum and focus on sustainability is great, but can the IB really replace the Leaving Certificate?

Well, the good news is the International Baccalaureate is a globally recognised qualification that can be used to gain entry to colleges and universities around the world, including Ireland. SEK Dublin International School is the first and only school in Ireland to offer both the IB Middle Years and Diploma Programmes.

“We provide an approach to assessment based on the most modern research, students are well-prepared for the IB Diploma and for the final examinations they sit in their final year,” explains Charleson. “It’s a high stakes exam but they have already the knowledge, skills and understanding to sit that exam.”

Smaller class sizes

IB students at SEK can benefit from the school’s state of the art facilities and small class sizes. This means that there is more 1 on 1 time with educators.

“We have very small classes, that’s another huge attraction to the school,” explains Charleson. “The students experience real individualised learning and care. The relationship between staff and students is the most special thing about our Wicklow school.”

“There’s a very close bond between teachers and students which encompasses learning and teaching. Absolutely no one is left out, they couldn’t be. The teachers know all the pupils so well and in many ways it’s like a family.”

Find out more information about SEK on their website.

Online Editors