Since the 1970s, acclaimed Sevenoaks School has adopted the International Baccalaureate. Here, Headteacher Katy Ricks explains why the school phased out A-levels and how the global outlook followed by their students will stand them in good stead

Sevenoaks School is a co-educational day and boarding school for pupils aged 11-18. Founded in 1432, Sevenoaks provides academic excellence with a strong pastoral and co-curricular emphasis and a global dimension inspired by the International Baccalaureate (IB). Here Headteacher Katy Ricks explains their philosophy to Mark Kebble.

International Baccalaureate success at Sevenoaks School

Katy Ricks, Headteacher of Sevenoaks School

Before we turn our attentions to Sevenoaks School Katy, can you give me a brief overview of your career to date?

I started teaching in 1985 at St Paul’s Girls as an English teacher. I then moved to King Edward’s in Birmingham, which is a boys’ independent school, before I worked at Latymer for two years. From 1992-97 I was Head of English at St Edmund’s in Oxford, before becoming Deputy Head at Highgate School – and then coming to Sevenoaks. It’s been a real variety of schools – boys, girls, co-eds, in London and not in London.

Why were you initially attracted to work at Sevenoaks School?

I knew I wanted to work in a school that believed in academic success. The co-educational and independent spirit was appealing to me. I didn’t see myself in an old fashioned public school environment. Sevenoaks has a very unassuming, non-snobby feel to it.

You’ve been here for 12 years now – has it changed in any way in that time?

We have worked hard to maintain the school’s independent spirit and qualities, but there are some ways that the school has changed. We became the first large all IB school of its kind. There was the phasing out of A-levels in the early part of my Headship to concentrate on an IB only curriculum in the Sixth Form.

The other thing we have visibly done is the on-going development of the facilities. We didn’t have the state of the art sports centre, we didn’t have our performing arts centre, and we didn’t have a plan for our continued development.

You have an exceptional reputation for the IB. Why have you embraced it?

The school adopted the IB in the very early years, in the late 1970s. To that point it was only taken by a handful of international students, but a lot more in the school thought it was an interesting choice. When I arrived in 2002, the governors had decided only to do it. They felt A-levels were dumbing down, or a bit restrictive. We believe in the IB as a fantastic education vision, truly balanced between the academic work and co-curricular. We just thought it was better. We have never looked back.

How does the IB benefit your students?

There are a number of things. One is it requires them to maintain continued learning in all the core elements of the curriculum. IB students have to do maths, their native language, one or two sciences, one or two languages, humanities, so all parts of the brain is kept busy. I think the biggest thing is this gives students a flexibility when it comes to their working life.

It’s also because of the style of thinking and learning that goes with the IB that really develops so called ‘soft skills’. You have to learn to collaborate and work together, again with an international outlook to what they are doing. They are working with students from all over the world, so learning about other cultures. The core of the IB, the Theory of Knowledge, is a creative thinking course. There’s CAS – creativity, action, service – which means that the students really have to learn to think for themselves. It challenges their own assumptions about the world. It requires them to get out of school, apply what they know and what they have learnt.

International Baccalaureate success at Sevenoaks School

Sevenoaks School boasts a real international feel

Are your boarders a mix of UK-based and international students? If so, does that give the school a real international feel?

In the 1960s the school introduced an international boarding house, so we have had international students for more than 50 years – now we have students from 40 different countries. All the students who come here are fluent in English, so it’s impressive for our native English speaking students to see you can study Shakespeare in a third language!

Generally, what kind of teaching methods will we find in the classrooms at Sevenoaks School?

It’s a really interesting question. There’s a very strong team ethos across the staff here, but everybody has an individual style and we embrace that. It’s vital that the teachers are themselves. But I think you will find a spirit of questioning and spirit of discussion and creativity. The result is the students and teachers really enjoy themselves. A part of that comes from the way the IB works – it’s all about asking questions and having a genuine curiosity about the world around you.

If someone was visiting Sevenoaks School for the first time, what kind of atmosphere will they find?

People do really like it when they come in. When I show a prospective student or parent around, they are really struck by the warmth of the place. There’s a great warmth here and generosity of spirit. There’s a serious attitude, but with a light-hearted feeling – people don’t take themselves too seriously.

Out of the classroom, how do you keep boarders busy?

They are so busy that our main challenge is to give them a bit of a rest! This is through the co-curriculum and a core ethos it the IB – creativity, action and service. So with the arts and music, we have a huge program here – there are 40 different ensembles from jazz and rock to chamber concerts – and we have around four productions a term. In sport we have 40 fixtures every Saturday. We try to offer a real variety and a real balance – there’s something for everyone.

International Baccalaureate success at Sevenoaks School

Sevenoaks School offers a host of extra-curricular activities

Over the past few years Sevenoaks School has been recognised by everyone from the Independent Schools Inspectorate to The Sunday Times. What does this mean to you?

It’s always nice to feel that people consider Sevenoaks to be a good school. It’s very encouraging for teachers and students to see that. In the end it’s more important to me that the students in the school, the staff, all the parents and the local community appreciate what’s going on and contribute to it.

Sevenoaks School, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 1HU; 01732 455133; sevenoaksschool.org