Guidance Notes on SIS Language Policy


At South Island School, we try to provide students with the maximum opportunity to make personal choices about their learning pathways. We offer a large range of courses and we have structured our curriculum from Year 7 to 13 to include opportunities for students to make choices. Naturally, we cannot offer unlimited choice – we have to run courses that are financially viable and we have to be able to resource choices with specialist teachers and specialist facilities. Choices are also dictated by the requirements of Higher Education (HE) entry and by the rules relating to the structure of the International Baccalaureate Organization’s (IBO) Diploma Programme.

One area in which free choice is not available is in the area of Languages. Both the IGCSE Examination Boards and the IBO make it very clear that candidates for examination must be entered for papers that provide an appropriate level of challenge. We have a number of tests, assessments and policies that help us determine this appropriate level, and there are regulations giving us clear responsibilities from the IBO.

The purpose of this Guidance Document is to make the situation as clear as we possibly can to parents and students. Sometimes parents become unhappy with us when we follow policies that they see as unfair on their children, so it is important that we make the reasons for our actions transparent.

Very importantly, many universities are now telling us openly that they are likely to discount or downgrade high IB language scores where they consider that there is evidence that candidates have been entered for papers that are too easy.  South Island School enjoys a high reputation and strong relationships with universities across the world. All of the HE offers given to our students, which are based upon our forecasts, depend upon our reputation as a reliable institution of integrity. If we lose the trust of universities by failing to uphold our responsibilities in the area of languages, it will damage the HE prospects of all of our learners.

When parents send their children to SIS, we ask them to accept that this is the situation and accept that we will apply the rules fairly and evenly. To do this we cannot create ‘exceptional cases’ or exemptions – our obligations are clear and it is made clear in our Language Policy that the IB Coordinator (on behalf of the School) will make the final decision about an appropriate pathway at IB. This will be done following a review of all available evidence and will not be influenced by petitioning from parents. If the proper process has not been followed, parents may appeal to the Principal for a review of the process but the Principal will not overrule decisions that have been reached by following the proper process.

The Rules We Are Required To Follow

Language option choices in Group 2 can be a contentious issue, given the complex language profiles that many students bring to South Island School. The need to ensure that IBDP candidates are placed at a level that represents an appropriate degree of academic challenge can be one that, on occasion, brings our obligations as an IBO World School into conflict with the wishes of parents. In other Schools, with a different demographic profile, the contentious borderline can be the choice between Language A and Language B Higher. For us, at SIS, the issue is more often in the choice between Language B Higher and Language B Standard Level, and mostly in Chinese.

Group 1 courses are studies in Language and Literature in a student’s strongest (often first) language. Bilingual or near-bilingual students may take both Group 1 English and Group 1 Chinese courses, for example.

Group 2 courses (Language B) are Language Acquisition courses – aimed at helping learners improve their level of language proficiency from an appropriate starting point (to be decided by the School in accordance with our Language Policy and the Regulations cited below).

The following key excerpts from IBO documents outline the obligations that all IBO World Schools must follow.

Article 2: Role and responsibilities of schools

2.1 In addition to articles in these General regulations: Diploma Programme (hereinafter “general regulations”), schools must comply with the Rules for IB World Schools: Diploma Programme, which are detailed in a separate document, and with the administrative requirements detailed in the Handbook of procedures for the Diploma Programme (hereinafter “handbook”), which is the handbook for Diploma Programme coordinators and teachers and is supplied to schools by the IB Organization.General regulations: Diploma Programme

Article 2: Acceptance of IB Organization regulations and procedures

IB World Schools agree to comply with the General regulations: Diploma Programme and with the procedures set out in the current Handbook of procedures for the Diploma Programme (hereinafter “the handbook”), which governs the administration of the Diploma Programme. Rules for IB World Schools: Diploma Programme

Article 5: Responsibilities of schools

5.3 Schools must ensure that they properly fund the Diploma Programme, deliver it effectively and administer it according to the regulations and procedures of the IB Organization. Rules for IB World Schools: Diploma Programme

Article 5: Responsibilities of schools

5.6. Schools must ensure that they develop their programme in conformity with all documents published by the IB for that purpose, including the Programme standards and practices. Rules for IB World Schools: Diploma Programme

Students should be expected to take subjects and levels that provide an appropriate degree of challenge rather than making choices to maximize grade results. It does not always follow that a higher diploma score represents a better level of achievement. One example of this is when a student is entered for a language course that, due to prior experience with the language, he or she finds easy. The student may attain a grade 7 in this course but would have been better served educationally by experiencing a more demanding language level and attaining, for example, a grade 4. (p.24 IBO Publications DP Principles into Practice)

Schools must follow the guidelines presented in the group 2 language subject guides:

It is essential that Diploma Programme coordinators and teachers ensure that students are following the course that is most suited to their present and future needs and that will provide them with an appropriate academic challenge. The degree to which students are already competent in the language, and the degree of proficiency they wish to attain by the end of the period of study, are the most important factors in identifying the appropriate placement point on the spectrum of modern language courses available. Appropriate placement is the responsibility of teachers and coordinators, not the IBO. (p25 IBO Publications DP Principles into Practice)

Prior learning

Many factors determine the Group 2 course that a student should take: the student’s best language, the language(s) spoken at home and at school, and any previous knowledge of the language of study. The most important consideration is that the language B course should be a challenging educational experience for the student, offering not only the opportunity to learn an additional language but also the means of learning, appreciating and effectively interacting in a culture different from the student’s own. All final decisions on the appropriateness of the course for which students are entered are taken by coordinators in liaison with teachers using their experience and professional judgment to guide them. 

Please Work With Us

I hope this explanation is helpful to make it clear why we work as we do. We know that the issues can be challenging and sometimes involve high emotions but we always make our decisions within this framework and we do not have the flexibility to make exceptions.

Carolyn Andrews

Interim Principal

Last Updated: Aug 2022

SIS Language Policy

Language Pathways

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