Choosing the right curriculum

The International Baccalaureate vs WACE

Scotch has now offered the globally recognised educational qualification, the International Baccalaureate, for just over 10 years. The IB programme often attracts interest from prospective parents, Old Scotch Collegians and our current students who are making the tough decision between which model of education will suit them best. So, what is the IB? How does it compare with the Western Australian Certificate of Education (known as WACE) and what kind of learner would benefit from each programme?

Firstly, the IB Diploma Programme is still relatively new to Western Australia with just five schools offering the choice in Years 11 and 12. Comparatively though, the IB is the fastest growing education model in the world with 1.95 million students aged three to 19 completing one of the four programmes on offer, this year alone. As of February 2022, there were 7,500 programmes offered worldwide, across 5,400 schools in 159 countries. At Scotch, approximately 40 students (roughly 20%) each year choose to study the IBDP in their final two years of school.

Firstly, it is important to recognise that the IBDP is an education qualification separate from WACE. If a student chooses this programme, they no longer need to meet the WACE requirements as the DP has its own standards the students must work towards. However, graduating from this programme will guarantee you entry into several universities since the programme is specifically designed to prepare students for a tertiary pathway. Similarly, WACE Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank, or ATAR, courses also prepare students for university. However, it is possible to graduate from this programme without qualifying for university.

The IB is the fastest growing education model in the world.

Curriculum structure

A key point of difference is curriculum structure. WACE students make up their programme with six courses in Year 11 and may drop to five courses in Year 12. They can choose any subject combination they want, so long as they take one course from English, Humanities or the Arts (List A) and one course from Science, Mathematics or Design and Technology (List B). The only compulsory course is English. If a student wants an ATAR score required to apply for university, they must take at least four courses that are considered university preparation courses (ATAR courses). This offers students the ability to mix and match, creating a breadth of study that is as broad or as narrow as they like. They can also combine the harder ATAR courses with general courses to balance their workload or degree of difficulty. Additionally, TAFE certificate courses can also contribute to WACE graduation or, if a Certificate IV is completed, the student can use this to enter university.

Conversely, in the DP, the student must select one course from six different groups: English, Humanities, Mathematics, Foreign Languages, Arts and Science. The only adjustment that can be made to this rule is that a student may choose two subjects from one group to replace an Arts subject. This is permitted to assist students who need to meet certain prerequisites for university. Once a student has selected six courses to study, they must then choose three to be studied at a Standard Level and three at a Higher Level. Both levels are considered university preparation courses, however, an HL course takes 240 instructional hours to complete over two years while the SL course only takes 150 hours. The SL course gives them additional time away from the classroom that assists them in completing the other components of the course. This includes a subject on the theory of knowledge (TOK) and a written 4,000-word extended essay on a research topic of their choice. Finally, they must participate in creativity, activity and service learning (CAS), similar to the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

[WACE] offers students the ability to mix and match, creating a breadth of study that is as broad or as narrow as they like.


Calculating the final score

Another significant point of difference is the way the final scores for students are calculated. Year 11 WACE results do not count towards the ATAR score. The final score is a fifty-fifty combination of Year 12 school assessments and the external subject exams, where the exam only assesses Year 12 content. The school score is moderated against the external exam to ensure equity between schools and the subject is then scaled to handle the variation in difficulty between courses. Finally, the sum of the top four ATAR subjects for each student is used to rank all students across the state. This makes it hard for schools to accurately predict final ATARs. Some subjects receive harsh scaling and others, favourable, although this varies from one year to the next.

The IBDP results are mainly based on the final examination which includes Year 11 and 12 content, except in the Arts where there is often no examination at all. This means that over the two year period, students' results are only indicative of how they are progressing, allowing students to improve their performance unimpeded. The school score is usually around 20% for most subjects and includes project-based assessments, rather than traditional tests. The content is assessed in the final examination and then sent off for external marking. Each subject results in a grade out of seven, giving a maximum potential score of 42, with up to three bonus points for the additional programme requirements, making the final score out of 45.

This means there are 2,000 possible scores an ATAR student can receive, but only 45 degrees of separation for a DP student. In theory, every student could receive the maximum point score, unlike ATAR where students are ranked. The IB is marked against predetermined criteria and every subject carries the same worth; there are no high or low scaling subjects.

Pedagogical differences

At Scotch, we offer the IBDP because we believe the Diploma's strong focus on critical and creative thinking and conceptual understanding are of greater value to students than content recall. These skills have growing relevance in the workplace and we have found that our IBDP students are well prepared for university.

Having said that, we also recognise that the IBDP is not for every student which is why we offer three pathways. The IB Diploma is deliberately broad, whereas WACE is more flexible. It can be broad or narrow, and also offers students the chance to refine their subject selection by being able to drop a subject they do not enjoy at any time. WACE also offers much better preparation for vocational pathways with a very flexible approach to achieving graduation.

Scotch recognises the differences in students learning styles and, to honour this, we offer the three pathways to promote engagement and a sustained passion for lifelong learning.

Mrs Cara Fugill
Director of Teaching and Learning

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