The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and UK schools

In the UK, the International Baccalaureate Organisation tends to be equated with its Diploma Programme, a broad & challenging course for 16-19 year olds offered in many international schools. The IB Diploma is also available in a number of UK schools and was much discussed a few years ago, when the last government explored possible alternative structures for A Level courses. Although an IB-type model was not adopted, there are still many UK based admirers of the DP’s breadth and philosophy: 6 subjects chosen from different groups (2 of those being languages), Theory of Knowledge, an Extended Essay and an experiential learning module known as Community, Action, Service (CAS).

In fact, the IBO offers four programmes: the Primary Years Programme (PYP, 3-11). the Middle Years Programme (MYP, 11-16) , the vocational Career Related Certificate (CC, 16-19)  as well as the Diploma Programme. However, the profile of the PYP, MYP & CC in the UK is very low.

When I discuss with UK colleagues my own experience of working with and leading the implementation both the MYP &  PYP in various international schools, they are often very attracted by many of the philosophies & approaches inherent in these programmes. The focus on ‘21st century skills’, the emphasis placed on developing ‘international mindedness and the IB’s central plank, The Learner Profile, 10 ‘attributes described as the IB’s ‘mission statement in action’ are all elements of interest to educators disillusioned by the ‘examination defined’ model prevalent in the UK. However there is also often an assumption that IB programmes are inherently incompatible with the National Curriculum and that they are only for international schools.

This assumption is incorrect. There are, in fact, a small number of UK maintained schools, which implement IB programmes, other than the DP, whilst at the same time complying with the statutory requirements of the UK system.

In this blog, I will look at issues related to IB and National Curriculum co-existence through an exploration of data and OFSTED reports emanating from a very small cluster of English state schools, which offer the PYP.

But before doing so, a few explanatory words about content and structure in relation to the PYP. The PYP is not a content driven programme; authorised schools are free to decide on the content of their curriculum as long as they use the framework of the programme to deliver this. This flexibility has meant that the programme has been successfully implemented in various national contexts around the world.

The IB describes the PYP as focusing on:

“the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside. It is defined by six transdisciplinary themes of global significance, explored using knowledge and skills derived from six subject areas, with a powerful emphasis on inquiry-based learning.”

A model representing the PYP can be seen here.

At the moment there are only four state-maintained PYP schools in the UK. Two of these, located in the Bolton area, originally took the decision to implement the PYP under the last government’s Education Action Zone initiative, a scheme designed to drive up achievement in deprived areas. I interviewed the Head Teachers of both these schools in 2012 and each of them described the real commitment to the programme that exists among stakeholders, speaking of the positive impact they felt it had had on both their pupils’ learning and their social & emotional well-being.

Beyond the enthusiasm for the PYP that evidently exists within this small group, what further insights can data give us into the impact of the programme in these schools? A few ‘disclaimers’ are necessary before we start. Firstly, we are dealing with a very small cohort here, and we need to be wary of making judgments based on such a small sample size. Secondly, there are dangers in making direct correlations between assessment data and the PYP accredited status of these schools; clearly, there are many factors which impact on assessment performance and OFSTED ratings and an adopted curriculum model is just one of these. Thirdly, at this stage there is not enough data available to map long-term trends. Fourthly, data should only be regarded as a flashlight onto school performance and quality and one should be wary of reading too much into the statistics listed here.

Having said all this, I hope that the data below will give at least some insight into the following questions:

  1. Is there any evidence that the implementation of the PYP is at odds with the expectations of the English primary education system?
  2. Is there any evidence that the PYP has had a positive or negative impact on teaching & learning in these schools?

Table 1 Latest OFSTED Ratings


School Year of PYP Authoris-ation Date of Inspect-ion Overall effective-ness of school Quality of teaching Selected Comments
Leverhulme Community Primary School, Bolton July ‘10 March ‘11 Good Good “Made great strides since the last inspection”
St Mary Magdalene Academy, Islington June ‘12 May ‘13 Good Good “Teaching good throughout school and, at times, outstanding”
Tonge Moor Primary School, Bolton Dec ‘08 March ‘11 Satisfact-ory Satisfact-ory “The school no longer requires significant improvement.” “Tonge Moor is transforming.”
Broadgreen Primary School, Liverpool May ‘12 April ‘12 Good Good “Pupils achieving well because of good teaching & interesting curriculum.”

Analysis: In all four schools there have been improvements since previous OFSTED inspections (during which time the PYP was implemented). This suggests that PYP implementation has had no negative impact and may have had positive impact on teaching & learning in all 4 schools.

Table 2 KS2 Attainment 2012: Comparisons with similar schools


School English (level 4 & above) Maths (level 4 & above) English Expected Progress Maths

Expected Progress

Leverhulme 3rd quintile 3rd quintile 2nd quintile 2nd quintile
St Mary Magdalene 3rd quintile 4th quintile 3rd quintile 2nd quintile
Tonge Moor 4th quintile Highest 3rd quintile Highest
Broadgreen Highest Highest Highest Highest

Analysis:  It is difficult to draw conclusions from this data as comparative performance varies greatly between all 4 schools. There is no clear evidence that the PYP has a negative or positive impact on KS2 SATS attainment. More data is required here.

Table 3 Progress and the achievement gap: percentage of Free School Meal & non-FSM pupils making expected progress in 2012


School % Free School Meal Pupils % Pupils making expected progress in English FSM/Others % Pupils making expected progress in Maths FSM/Others More or less progress than similar pupils nationwide (value added)
Leverhulme 64 100/89 100/100 More
St Mary Magdalene 67.1 No data available No data available No data available
Tonge Moor 67.4 80/100 96/100 More
Broadgreen 39.2 100/95 100/89 More

Analysis: In 3 out of 4 these schools, pupils made more progress than in similar schools nationwide (no data was available for the other school in the cohort). Given this, we can suggest that PYP implementation may have positively impacted on the progress of pupils in these schools. In 2 of the 4 schools, FSM pupils made more progress than other students (in one school no data was available and in the other non-FSM pupils made less progress than others).

Conclusions: Again, it is important to reassert, for all the reasons outlined earlier, it is very difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from this data! However, at the very least, we can say there is no obvious evidence here of incompatibility between the expectations & requirements of the English system and the PYP. Available data suggests that the PYP has had no overall negative impact on school performance and indeed there is some evidence that it may have impacted positively on OFSTED ratings as well as the progress of pupils. More work is certainly needed but at this stage the indicators suggest that the PYP is a viable option for state maintained schools in the UK.


In my next blog, I will explore in greater detail the distinctive features of the PYP programme and how these may be of interest to UK schools seeking to offer a more well-rounded education to their pupils.


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4 responses to “The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and UK schools

  1. E.Ashley

    Do you have a list of English PYP candidate schools?

    • IB don’t publish lists of candidate schools, just those that have received authorisation, so it is difficult to be precise. I know that Holy Trinity, a school in Kidderminster which has converted from independent to free school status is a candidate school. If there are any other English schools out there which currently have candidate status, I would be interested to hear from you.

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