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‘It’s difficult to imagine going back’: Victoria leads International Baccalaureate surge

“The learning in our school is rich, deep and real, often transformative for both learners and teachers,” she said.

“Once you’ve experienced the primary years program come to life, it’s difficult to imagine going back to traditional models of school.”

The IB is 51 years old and operates four educational programs across 157 countries: the primary years program (for children aged three to 12), the middle years program (for students aged 11-16), the diploma program that serves as a VCE alternative in Victoria (for students aged 16-19) and a career-related program (for students aged 16-19), which is uncommon here.

A second language is compulsory across the programs. The primary and middle years programs still address the Victorian and Australian Curriculum but the diploma program has its own syllabus. It requires students to study six subjects, write a 4000-word research essay and perform community service.

Hannah Newton, assistant principal of Point Cook mega-school Alamanda College, said the IB framework was different because it “emphasises the whole child and puts the learner at the centre.”

“Students are involved in contributing to planning conversations and decisions shaping the direction of their learning,” she said. “But the frameworks ensure that there is rigour and high expectations, with an explicit link to the Victorian Curriculum.”

Australia is one of the biggest markets for the IB, and the number of schools offering it has surged 25 per cent to 193 over the past six years. This is despite some states and territories – including NSW – not allowing it in government schools.

In Victoria, the IB has traditionally been offered to year 11 and 12 students by private schools as a VCE alternative, providing a point of difference in marketing. School marketing expert Stephen Holmes said for Australian schools it was “almost a form of unofficial certification of being global in perspective.”

The internationally recognised IB diploma is attractive for students who want to study overseas. There have been complaints that IB students have an edge over their VCE counterparts when their results are converted into ATARs and they apply for university.

But the diploma program now accounts for just one-third of IB programs in Australia.

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The primary years program has become the most common – and Victorian state schools have been the most enthusiastic adopters of IB across the country,  said University of Wollongong researcher Paul Kidson.

Dr Kidson said government schools were investing serious time and money to introduce the programs, including annual fees, professional learning costs and hiring a second-language teacher.

“The people who value an IB education generally are more affluent and more widely educated,” he said. “The challenge of IB in Australia is getting into communities that have less socio-economic advantage.”

Inner-eastern state school Auburn High School plans to introduce the IB in 2023, giving families the option “without the fees associated with the independent schools around us.” Selective-entry Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School also plans to introduce the IB diploma, becoming the first Victorian state girls’ secondary school to do so.

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Some principals privately complain the IB has become something of an expensive fad and makes little difference to student achievement. Schools including Moorabbin Primary School are believed to have investigated and then passed on the program.

Laura Perry, an associate professor at Murdoch University, said studies were mixed on the impact of the IB in standardised assessments.

But she said the IB was “almost never a negative thing and can be a positive thing” and she would like to see more of it.

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