To celebrate the upcoming 20th anniversary of the International Baccalaureate at Oakham School, we have decided to take a look back at the how the programme came to Oakham and what it was like for that very first cohort.
What Is IB?
The IBO is a “educational, non profit-making, Swiss foundation” with the aim of developing “a shared academic experience, critical thinking and intercultural understanding amongst young people”. In the year 2000, the programme was already being taught in over 90 countries.
The IB diploma programme has a duration of two years where students study six subjects (three higher and three at standard level). Candidates will also study the Theory of Knowledge, write an extended essay and complete CAS (creativity, action and service).
How did it come about?
In the late 1990s, Oakham School partnered with hundred of companies and industries in the UK in order to see what skills pupils would need in the current workplace and a workplace in 2020. The project aimed to “define a new school curriculum, based around the needs of the workplace”.
It seems that this project may have influenced the school in taking on the teaching of the IB. School publications from the time praise the IB for its ability to add to a national curriculum with an international outlook as the school “recognises that students will be part of this world and need the education that allows them to live and to succeed in it”. The IB wants to help teach pupils “to relate the experience of the classroom to the realities of the world outside. Beyond intellectual rigour and high academic standards, strong emphasis is placed on the ideals of international understanding and responsible citizenship”. So there is a correlation between this examination programme and the skills needed for industry.
The adoption of IB at Oakham was praised by academics such as Dr. Charles Moseley, Fellow of and Director of Studies in English at Wolfson College Cambridge: “I commend with enthusiasm Oakham’s decision to introduce IB”. The decision was also apparently popular with students, staff and parents.
The first IB students began their course in September 2001 and the first director of the programme was Dr. Jill Rutherford.
What were the first subjects?
So what were the first subjects that students could study? The first compulsory section was CAS – creativity, action and service. This was aimed to “develop greater self-awareness and concern for others, and the ability to cooperate with others”. This could be playing an instrument, drama, sport, Duke of Edinburgh, or service to the national community.
The next section (which was compulsory) was the Theory of Knowledge. This challenged pupils to think critically about what is knowledge? How is it gained? How does personal experience influence our knowledge? Can feelings have a rational basis?
This picture from the Tokhamian magazine 2003 (a special magazine produced by IB students for this topic), demonstrates the analytical thinking that students did within this topic.
The extended essay was another compulsory element but students could pick any topic to investigate and write an essay on.
The subjects that pupils could chose were split into six groups. We have been able to draw surface level information from the promotional article in the Oakham Update 38, but a year later, in 2002, the archives has an upper school academic choices booklet which goes into much more depth about each subject.
Group 1- Language
- “Develop powers of expression”
- “Encourage a personal approach to literature and develop an understanding of the techniques involved in literary study and criticism.”
- “Introduce students to literary classics and a range of modern writing of different genres, styles and contexts.”
- “Promote an international perspective through the comparative study of works from your own culture and other cultures.”[10
Group 2 – Languages
- English A2 (absent from 2002 academic studies booklet)
- English B (absent from 2002 academic studies booklet)
- German B (A2 for fluent speakers)
- French B
- Spanish B
- Chinese ab initio (not mentioned in the 2002 academic studies booklet).
- Russian ab initio
- Latin (HL and SL)
Group 3- Individuals and Societies
- History – focus on the 20th century and the causes, practices and effects of war.
- Nationalist and independence movements, decolonisation, and challenges facing new states.
- Rise and rule of single party states.
- Establishment and work of international organisations.
- Cold war.
- State and its relationship with religion and with minorities.
- Resources and markets.
- Business economics .
- Macroeconomics arguments.
- International issues .
- Development economics.
- Business Management
- Understanding of business problems, understand how and why businesses use resources.
- Make sense of the forces and circumstances that drive business in an interdependent and multicultural world.
- Ecosystems and Societies
- Oakham was selected to take part in a IBO pilot for this standard level course.
- Looking at global environmental issues and sustainability.
- Drainage basins and their management.
- Coasts and their management.
- Field course.
- Lithospheric processes and hazards.
- What exists?
- What is it to be a human being?
- What can we know?
- How do I know what is the right thing to do?
Group 4 – Experimental Sciences
Group 5 Mathematics
Group 6 The Arts and Electives
- Group and solo performance.
- Theatre Arts
- Understanding the theatre by making as well as studying it.
- Visual Arts
- Painting, printmaking, sculpture, textiles, and mixed media.
A Level and IB comparison
In the first years, this table from the academic studies booklet 2002 gives a good impression as to the nitty gritty detail of IB such as timetabling, coursework, exams, and importantly for the first cohort, how the IB compared to the traditional A Levels.
How did the first cohort do?
There were 52 students in the first IB cohort. Below is a break down of each subject and the average scores. From the very beginning, it was clear that the teaching of IB at the school was at a high standard.
Many went on to universities such as Leeds, Durham, Cambridge, Nottingham, Warwick, St. Andrews, Chester, Manchester, Oxford, Bath and Sheffield. Some had a gap year and reapplied in 2004.
What did the first cohort think of IB?
In the IB International Baccalaureate at Oakham publication in the early 2000s, we see some of the early responses from IB pupils. The two clear themes that emerge from these responses is the international appeal of the qualification as well as combined academic and practical focus of the course.
Lukasz Horbacz – Oakham Pupil
“letting you choose subjects of your own interest, but more importantly it teaches you how to cope with everyday problems, how to work in a group and other useful skills […] IB gives me possibilities of studying at nearly every university in the world”.
“Due to the additions of CAS, ToK, and EE, it shows that the IB is not solely academically orientated.”
“I think that broad range of subjects is also a fantastic way to make sure you are skilled in every academic area”
“As I am German, the IB gives me a great opportunity to do my final examination in England and still get my application for universities in Germany […] after two years at Oakham I will be fluent in English”
Were you part of the first IB cohort? We would love to hear what you studied, what you though of your course and how it has impacted on your career.
If you are interest in finding out more about how the IB diploma has changed at Oakham School in the past 20 years, please visit our online exhibition here: https://bit.ly/34m75T3.
 Oakham Update 38, Summer 2000.
 Academic Studies Booklet, Oakham School, 2002.
 Oakham Update 38.
 IB International Baccalaureate at Oakham, Oakham School.
 Oakham Update 38.
 Upper School Academic Studies, 2002,