Pioneering Hampstead school one of handful in UK teaching International Baccalaureate to primary children

Spanish Day at Southbank International School. Anabel, Ana Higuera, Ava Laden and Freya Webley tuck

Spanish Day at Southbank International School. Anabel, Ana Higuera, Ava Laden and Freya Webley tuck into paella. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The headteacher of a pioneering primary school has praised the International Baccalaureate (IB) for allowing children to “learn for learning’s sake” rather than valuing test results above all else.

Shirley Harwood, principal of the Hampstead branch of Southbank International School, expressed doubts about coaching primary schoolchildren to pass exams and said achieving high test scores should not be the main focus of lessons.

She said her school’s “enquiry-based” IB curriculum, which emphasises inquisitiveness and independent thinking above remembering facts, helps to create well-rounded youngsters who are “confident and assured communicators” with skills that are highly-prized by universities.

Mrs Harwood’s school, which teaches children aged three to 11, was the first school in the country to offer the IB at primary level and it remains one of only a handful to do so.

She said pupils at the independent school, in Netherhall Gardens, benefit from the less “results driven” approach of the IB programme.

“We’re not at all test driven,” she said.

“We don’t do Sats or the 11-plus and we don’t have that focus on tutoring and coaching to pass exams.

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“That’s not the purpose of education. We’re educating children for their lives, not just to pass exams.”

She said that a recent school inspection had found pupils to be “incredibly confident, assured communicators and very good at asking questions”.

She added: “One of the things coming back from universities is that they really want not just good academic results, but fully-rounded people who can work as team players.

“The IB education is very good at that.”

The school, founded in 1979, also has branches in Kensington and Westminster, the latter taking pupils up to 18.

While emphasising the focus away from test scores, she added: “Having said that, the IB diploma taken at 18 is more than equivalent to very good A-levels. It is about academic excellence.”

She continued: “There are different educations systems around that suit different children for different purposes.

“Our rationale is that it should be more enquiry driven. Knowledge and information are important but they should not be the main drivers.”

Mrs Harwood says another advantage of the IB is that international pupils can transfer to other countries to continue their studies. Pupils across the three campuses hail from more than 70 countries.

She said: “With London being the heart of the financial world increasingly, it’s a very international capital city and therefore having a system that creates global mobility makes sense.”

One of the requirements of the IB is an emphasis on languages and all Southbank children learn Spanish from the age of five.

The school hosted its annual Spanish day last week, which saw pupils dressing up in the flag colours of Spanish-speaking nations, singing Spanish songs and tucking into paella.

“It was enormous fun,” the headteacher added.