IB learner profile

The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who, recognising their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world. IB learners strive to be:

They develop their natural curiosity. They acquire the skills necessary to conduct inquiry and research and show independence in learning. They actively enjoy learning and this love of learning will be sustained throughout their lives.

They explore concepts, ideas and issues that have local and global significance. In so doing, they acquire in-depth knowledge and develop understanding across a broad and balanced range of disciplines.

They exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognise and approach complex problems, and make reasoned, ethical decisions.

They understand and express ideas and information confidently and creatively in more than one language and in a variety of modes of communication. They work effectively and willingly in collaboration with others.

They act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. They take responsibility for their own actions and the consequences that accompany them.

Open minded
They understand and appreciate their own cultures and personal histories, and are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of other individuals and communities. They are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view, and are willing to grow from the experience.

They show empathy, compassion and respect towards the needs and feelings of others. They have a personal commitment to service and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment.

Risk takers
They approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies. They are brave and articulate in defending their beliefs.

They understand the importance of intellectual, physical and emotional balance to achieve personal wellbeing for themselves and others.

They give thoughtful consideration to their learning and experience. They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations to support their development.

IB curriculum

To ensure a broad and balanced curriculum, students study six subjects selected from six subject groups.

Students study two languages (at least one from group 1 and another from group 1 or group 2) and a course selected from individuals and societies (group 3), experimental sciences (group 4) and maths and computer sciences (group 5). They can select a course from the arts subject group (6), but also have the flexibility of being able to choose another course from another group instead. Schools can teach the programme in English, French or Spanish.

Subject groups

Group 1: language A1
Students have to study one language at a high competency level (normally the student’s first language). This course is literature based, including studying selections of world literature. A total of 46 languages are regularly available and others are available on request so that all students can study their preferred language.

Group 2: language A2, B and ab initio
A total of 25 or more modern and classical languages are offered for abilities ranging from complete beginner (ab initio) to highly competent second language learner (A2).

Group 3: individuals and societies
History, geography, economics, philosophy, psychology, social and cultural anthropology, business and management, information technology in a global society.

Group 4: experimental sciences
Biology, physics, chemistry, design technology.

Group 5: mathematics and computer science
Mathematics higher level, mathematics standard level and mathematical studies (standard level), computer science (as an elective).

Group 6: the arts
Visual arts, music, theatre arts (students may choose a second subject from another group as an elective instead of a group 6 subject).

The model allows for a degree of specialisation as students are expected to study three subjects at a higher level and three subjects at standard level (with the possibility, although rarely taken, to study four higher level subjects and two standard). The number of subjects offered by schools varies significantly, with the main determinants being school size and the number of students being entered for the diploma. Even small schools offer students some choice and allow them to specialise, studying subjects appropriate to their desired career path. Higher level courses are more demanding and are designed to be taught over 240 teaching hours, compared to 150 hours for standard level subjects.

In addition, schools that are experienced in offering the programme can apply (subject to conditions and approval by the IBO, detailed in the IB diploma procedures manual) to teach a school-based syllabus as one of the student’s subject choices at standard level. As part of its regular curriculum review, the IB develops new subjects on a pilot basis, which can be followed by schools experienced with the Diploma Programme when they are authorised to do so. If a pilot is successful, it goes mainstream and becomes available to all schools, usually after a period of about five to seven years in pilot. One current example of this is sport, exercise and health science, which is just about to start as a pilot.

Currently, one transdisciplinary standard-level subject, environmental systems and societies, exists. This meets the requirement of groups 3 and 4 through a single subject and allows a student to select another subject to complete the requirement of six, thereby giving more flexibility and choice.

The curriculum offerings, and subject requirements are constantly under review. Pilots are evaluated before being added (or rejected) as mainstream options and well-established courses are also modified over time. This process is completed over a seven-year cycle.

The principle of ‘creative professionalism’ means that IB curriculum development is informed by the experience of teachers and examiners in schools around the world who join curriculum review committees led by IB staff. As an independent organisation, no government or political agenda plays a role in the IB programme. Curriculum development is guided by the mission, learner profile and feedback from schools and examiners.

One of the expectations placed on schools joining the programme is a willingness to encourage experienced teachers to become involved as examiners or participants in curriculum development (this might be as simple as responding to questionnaires or, for some, committee involvement).

Curriculum managers need to consider a number of factors in deciding what Diploma Programme courses to offer. The key issues to consider are the most popular subjects for students and the staffing (and other cost) implications for particular choices. Most schools new to the programme start off with limited choice and then evaluate demand and cost factors over time, often adding subjects as their experience with the programme grows. It is not easy for IB courses to be combined with other curricula offerings since the IB curriculum (aims, objectives, content and assessments) will not be the same and the course is not modular.

In addition to individual subjects, the programme has three curriculum core requirements that are included to broaden the educational experience and challenge students to apply their knowledge and understanding. It is in these core requirements that many of the learner-profile attributes are developed. IB students, reporting back on their experience with the programme when they are at university or in employment, often cite core curriculum experiences as what they remember most about the programme and what prepared them best for life, university and employment.

Curriculum core

  • Theory of knowledge (TOK) is a course designed to encourage each student to reflect on the nature of knowledge by critically examining different ways of knowing (such as: perception, emotion, language and reason) and different types of knowledge (such as: scientific, artistic, mathematical and historical). TOK seeks to develop the ability to distinguish between good and poor reasoning in contexts that the student can relate to through their educational experience. It is the only course that all Diploma Programme candidates are required to take and is supposed to be reinforced by individual subject teachers in academic disciplines.
  • The extended essay is a requirement for each student to engage in independent research through an in-depth study of a specific question relating to one of the subjects they are studying. Students have to develop an academic methodology to answer their research question and are given some (limited) guidance by a teacher who acts as a supervisor. The essay has to be around 4,000 words and students are expected to spend about 40 hours on it.
  • Creativity, action, service requires that students actively learn from the experience of doing real tasks beyond the classroom. It should develop a spirit of open-mindedness, lifelong learning, discovery and self-reliance. Students can combine all three components or do activities related to each one of them separately. Participation in sports teams or events and artistic productions can count towards CAS, but students are also required to become involved in serving the community (broadly defined) and the best CAS programmes get students involved outside the school in meaningful community programmes.

Teaching and learning

The IB recognises that approaches to teaching and learning will vary between schools and within schools between teachers. The IB programmes are premised on a constructivist notion of cognition. This holds that genuine understanding is developed when the learning process engages the student’s current mental models and assumptions, which must be challenged for growth to occur. For this reason the voice of the learner is considered important and teachers, within reason, should be prepared to adapt their teaching to individual student levels of understanding and learning styles. Teachers also have to be willing to teach their subject not just in isolation but to build bridges in student minds to broader programme aims and the TOK course. Teachers are helped in this with guidance in the subject guides, teacher support materials, the online curriculum centre and the availability of workshops run by the IBO and led by experienced teachers and examiners.


Students sit written exams at the end of the programme, which are marked by external examiners appointed by the IBO. Students also complete assessment tasks in the school; these are either initially marked by teachers and then moderated by external moderators or sent directly to external examiners. Assessment is criterion based – student performance is measured against prespecified assessment criteria, based on the aims and objectives of each subject curriculum.

Students can score a maximum of seven points for each of the six subjects they study and up to three bonus points can be gained for the extended essay and TOK. The maximum total is 45 points; 24 points (with a number of qualifying conditions) represents a Diploma Programme pass. CAS is not graded but evidence of participation has to be provided and failure to complete an adequate CAS programme is a failing condition for the Diploma Programme as a whole.


Statistically, the range of scores that students have attained has remained stable and universities value the rigour and consistency of diploma-programme assessment practice. From 2000 to 2006, the percentage of pupils who passed the Diploma Programme worldwide (24 points with no failing condition) has varied between 80.4% (May 2006) and 83.3% (May 2001). The average Diploma Programme score has remained close to 30 points. In May 2006, about 6% of students awarded the diploma attained a score of 40 or more and, of those, 0.28% of students attained the highest score of 45 points. The box at the bottom of the page shows how the diploma is recognised formally.

Who is it aimed at?

One misperception is that the Diploma Programme is only for gifted students. Most IB World Schools do not preselect students. While attaining a score near the top of the range is clearly very demanding and a sign of high ability as well as application, an average student, provided they are motivated, can gain a respectable score and gain from the broad educational experience the programme offers.

Students can also sit individual subjects, instead of completing the full diploma. The assessment requirement per subject is the same and students will receive a certificate reflecting their achievement in individual subjects. Completing individual subject certificates can be done in addition to, or as part of other courses of study the school offers and allows for more flexibility than the full diploma. That said, schools are expected to encourage students, when appropriate, to complete the full programme as the curriculum core and the breadth and balance of the programme are fundamental to its nature.

Is it for my school?

Among the main considerations for schools in the UK considering adopting the Diploma Programme, the first thing to appreciate is that the Diploma Programme is a package, with the whole considered to be greater than the sum of its parts. Schools have to buy into the philosophy and aims of the programme and the learner profile has to be at the heart of school life as it has consequences that go well beyond individual subject teaching.

The IB is not just an exam board but also a community of schools that share a common vision about what matters in education in the 21st century. The box at the top left of page 6 outlines the process of applying to become an IB World School.

Students have to study a breadth of disciplines as a deliberate requirement of the programme to ensure a broad and balanced educational experience. This has consequences for the number and type of courses on offer in schools. However, another misperception is that schools have to be wealthy to offer the programme. Many smaller schools and many schools with significant financial constraints in the developed and the developing world do manage to offer the programme successfully with careful management and planning. Teachers are trained through attendance at subject-specific regional workshops and increasingly through the online curriculum centre, which is managed by the IBO in collaboration with experienced teachers and examiners and which provides a continuous resource for all teachers.

One important distinction compared with A-level is the non-modularity of courses. Resits are only available after final certification and are unusual. All IB grades are awarded by assessment at the end of the two-year programme. The only exception to this is the possibility to sit up to two standard level subjects in the first year of the programme as ‘anticipated’ subjects. IB examiners can draw on all parts of a syllabus for inclusion in any individual question in an exam so that IB exams test students on the whole syllabus.

The Diploma Programme is based on equal opportunity for all students, regardless of gender, culture or background. The programme has provision for special educational needs and believes that all candidates should be allowed to demonstrate their ability under assessment conditions that are as fair as possible. Special arrangements are authorised under specified conditions (the publication Candidates with special assessment needs is available at the IBO online curriculum centre and is soon to be posted on the public website).

Applying to become an IB World School

In order to teach the Diploma Programme, schools must apply to their regional office (based in Geneva in the case of the United Kingdom), undergo an authorisation visit and then, three years later, a programme evaluation.

The main purpose of this process is to ensure that the school’s mission and values are consistent with the IB mission, with particular emphasis on school culture and delivering the curriculum core. The process is designed to be more formative than summative and to help schools develop and implement the programme by providing guidance and feedback.

Further information can be obtained from the IB website (www.ibo.org/diploma) and the website for the UK-based IB Schools and Colleges Association (www.ibsca.org.uk).

Formal recognition of the IB in the UK

Since 2003, the International Baccalaureate diploma has been formally recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) as being accredited to the National Qualifications Framework, allowing any state school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to enter candidates.

From 2008, it will be recognised by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) as follows:

  • 24 IB points = 280 UCAS points (equivalent to two grade Bs and one C at A-level)
  • 30 IB points = 419 UCAS points (equivalent to three grade Bs and one A at A-level)
  • 45 IB points = 768 UCAS points (equivalent to more than six grade As at A-level).

Dr Tristian Stobie, Head of Diploma Programme Development, International Baccalaureate Organization.

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