The International Baccalaureate at Varndean College


The International Baccalaureate Diploma is an exciting and rigorous alternative to A levels, which is taught and recognised world-wide. It meets the needs of highly motivated and well-organised 16-19 year olds who wish to progress to university. Students wishing to study at university abroad should check country-specific requirements and the entry requirements of individual universities on the IBO website.

Link to Independent article on 'Why schools love the International Baccalaureate'

The IB Diploma offers at least the depth of A levels whilst encouraging students to continue with a broad range of studies and activities post 16. Wherever possible, the subject matter of each course is approached with an international perspective. You choose six subjects, studying three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level. All courses are two years duration.

IB students

You choose one course from each of six subject areas, three at Higher Level and the rest at Standard Level.The content of Standard Level courses is smaller than that of Higher Level courses. Generally, Higher Level is more academically challenging.

What Subjects are on Offer at Varndean College?
Group Subject Standard Higher
1. Language A1 Literature
2. Second Language French
Spanish for beginners ('ab initio')  

3. Individuals and Societies History
Global Politics
4. Experimental Sciences Biology

5. Mathematics Mathematical Studies  
Mathematics ✓*

6. The Arts or a further subject Visual Arts

*SL Students who want to study Maths, Physics, Engineering or Economics at university, or have an interest, can also be entered for A Level Maths.

What my timetable might look like

IB Timetable example

The Diploma also offers special features in addition to your chosen subjects. Everyone also follows the Core Programme. This is made up of:

The Extended Essay

You will write an extended essay of 4000 words which researches a topic of particular interest to you in any subject. A teacher will work with you individually to help you prepare, write and present your project. The essay is externally assessed and counts towards your final mark.

Theory of Knowledge

This is a course in which you study the foundations of knowledge in your subject areas and beyond.

Creativity, Activity, Service

This is a central, worthwhile and exciting part of the IB programme. You will complete about 150 hours of extra-curricular activity, made up of a mixture of components: creative activities (drama, music, dance, art, writing, etc); sport, very broadly defined; and service in the community (working with small children, the disabled, on environmental projects, etc.). The balance of the activities – and exactly what you do –will be down to you, but we will make available a wide range of opportunities inside and outside of college. You will complete a log recording and reflecting on your experiences.


All the written exams take place in May of Year Two and the results are published in July. In many subjects there is a substantial amount of coursework and assessed oral presentation. Theory of Knowledge is assessed by an externally marked coursework essay. The maximum possible score is 45. In order to pass the diploma, you need a minimum of 24 points and must meet certain other conditions.


The IB is graded very differently from A levels. With number grades for each subject (1 - 7), and further points awarded for the extended essay and TOK, you finish with a total point score. A grade 3 is broadly comparable with a pass grade at A level and grade 6 is comparable to a good A grade. To earn the Diploma you need a minimum of 24 points over all and only a very small number of students world-wide ever achieve the maximum of 45.

University Places

Holders of the IB Diploma are favoured by many universities world-wide or in Britain, including applicants for subjects such as Medicine, Law or Engineering. Universities welcome the additional breadth as well as depth of study provided by the IB programme. British universities typically look for a points score of 28-37, whereas Oxford or Cambridge may generally require 38-41.

offer rate

IB group

Entrance Requirements

The International Baccalaureate Diploma requires at least six GCSEs at grades 9-6 (or A* to B) including English, Maths and Science. In addition, certain subjects at Higher Level have particular subject requirements. For these, see the specific subject sections in the booklet.

Varndean College also welcomes an increasingly large number of students from all over the world. International students should provide evidence of qualifications gained over the last two years and will then be interviewed by the College. They should have an IELTS score of 6.5 in all components if English is not their first language.

Some very good reasons why the IBD might be the right choice for you

  • You keep all your options open for another two years.
  • No future career path will be closed down for you at the age of 16.
  • You have free choice about which subjects you take at Higher Level.
  • All degree courses and employment opportunities remain open to you.
  • You gain an internationally recognised qualification known and understood by universities and employers all over the world. Who knows where in the world you will want to work or study in the future?
  • Universities are enthusiastic about the rounded education which the IBD provides. Students who have studied the IBD have a wide knowledge, a capacity to think for themselves and a proven ability to carry out independent research. Taking a subject at Higher Level prepares you just as well for degree level study as an A Level in that subject would do.
  • The Varndean IBD is a coherent, focused course which encourages you to see the links between subjects.
  • Last, but certainly not least, the stated aim of the International Baccalaureate Organisation, it is worth repeating, is ‘to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect' .


Isn’t it like doing six A Levels?

No. You do three subjects at Higher Level, and three at Standard Level, where the subject content is less than A Level. It is more work than A-level, but we think it's more fulfilling educationally.

Do IB students have more or less full timetables?

No. IB students have a slightly larger timetable than A Level students, but it should be borne in mind that they have a lighter tutorial programme.

If I do the IB won’t I have to do one or two subjects I’m not interested in?

Not everyone is equally keen on every course in the Diploma, but that’s because we all have strengths in particular subjects. IB students feel that the benefits of the whole diploma outweigh that factor.

If I fail one or more of the courses will I end up with nothing at the end of the two years?

No. It is quite hard to ‘fail’ individual subjects, but students who do not pass the whole Diploma can still be awarded ‘IB Subject Courses’. This means that the International Baccalaureate Organisation award certificates for the subjects passed. These certificates can be recognised for university entrance. But failures are very rare indeed at Varndean College.

So what are the benefits?

They include:

  • An internationally recognised qualification which universities really like.
  • A course which is principally focused on student learning rather than assessment.
  • The chance to pursue topics and ideas which interest you in the Extended Essay and elsewhere.
  • The chance to develop yourself in a range of creative, physical and community activities.

Are the IB students a bit cut off from the rest of the college?

No. The Creativity, Activity and Service part of the programme integrates students into Varndean’s extension activities and NUS in a very successful way.

What if I gave up Languages at Key Stage 3?

You can start afresh with Spanish ab initio (as a Standard level course) and find that language learning can be fun after all!

What if I'm not great at Maths?

Maths Studies is designed for students who don' t want to take Maths further. It' s designed to be ‘user-friendly' and bring your Maths up to a good standard.

What if I' m not really a science person?

An understanding of the scientific method is essential for the Diploma but you only need to do one science subject and this can be at Standard Level.

What if I want a wider choice of subjects?

If there are subjects that you really want to do and are not offered within the IB then the traditional A level route may be better for you.

What if I can' t decide between the IB and A levels?

We would prefer you to make a decision before you submit your application. However if you need to talk it through with us further, you may list both the IB Diploma and a proposed A level programme on your application form. When you come for an interview we will help you choose the programme that best suits your needs, interests and aspirations.

University Places.

For a link to the university places won by Varndean IB students in October 2016 click here.

Varndean is the only state-funded college or school offering the IB Diploma in Sussex.

For further information about the IBO and the Diploma Programme, visit

Youtube version

IB World School logo

““I love everything about the College. The campus is amazing and when I spoke to the staff they were so supportive and made me feel welcome.”

“I like how Varndean College gives off a university feel on campus but still provides lots of support to make a stable and successful transition from school to college”

““I loved the friendly atmosphere and the feeling that it would be a positive, encouraging environment with lots of extra-curricular opportunities.”

“I loved the campus and the atmosphere, the teachers are all so friendly and the College itself makes you feel at home. I have had a fabulous two years.”