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Malcolm Nicolson

Malcolm Nicolson is the director of Erimus Education, a consultancy offering bespoke educational services. After teaching in the UK, Bahamas and Thailand, he became Head of MYP Development for the IB (International Baccalaureate) from 2007 till 2013 and Head of Diploma Programme (DP) Development from 2013 to 2015. He initiated and directed MYP: the next chapter, the first whole programme review conducted by the IB, and introduced ATL in the DP. Malcolm authored several key IB guides, including: History of the MYP (2010); MYP: From principles into practice (2008 and pilot 2012); and DP: From principles into practice (2015).

It seems funny to think back to my first three years working for the IB. I was Head of MYP based in Cardiff. Everything I did around programme development was connected to gaps – real or perceived. Everyone in the IB and outside kept telling me that the MYP was the weakest of the IB programmes and that the gap from MYP to DP was massive. I was even told again and again that the MYP was being kept afloat by the DP. As a result, we ran a number of projects that tried to make sense of these gaps in finance, assessment, curriculum and perception. We loved the programme, but why didn’t anyone else?

An environment for change and starting over
In 2008 and 2009 we conducted projects called MYP: Mind the Gap, MYP: Avoiding the Gap, and MYP Assessment. At the same time, I was spending time in airport lounges, trains and over weekends researching and writing History of the MYP (2010). As if this wasn’t enough, the IB started a large re-structuring process that involved relocating the MYP team from Cardiff to The Hague. In losing so much institutional knowledge at that time, and great people, it felt like the writing of the History was even more valuable. If you put all of this activity into a melting pot, it created the environment for change and a feeling of starting over.
In September 2010 we published History of the MYP and in that month I was chatting with my line manager, Judith Fabian, the Chief Academic Officer. We were discussing everything that needed to change in the MYP, incorporating what we had learned from the gap and assessment projects. The MYP had been designed with ‘learning to learn’ at the centre, it felt like that had disappeared amongst the five Areas of Interaction. We kept describing the MYP as conceptual, but without ever describing a concept or helping schools with an official planning structure. We talked about high quality assessment, but schools reported that they needed something that would help with recognition. We reflected upon the feedback that schools wanted textbooks that would help teachers to reach the conceptual learning and in meaningful and authentic contexts. This was the birth of the first ever review of an IB programme, MYP: the next chapter!

MYP by Concept
The excellent MYP team worked hard over the next year developing a new curriculum framework and re-writing guides in record time, with hundreds of teachers, ready for piloting in 2011-12. It was an amazing achievement in such a short time, but this period of 2010-2012 saw an incredible burst of innovation, collaboration and sheer hard work from a very small team. As we developed the shape of the curriculum it became clear that we could now ensure that subject-based textbooks could be written with the advent of prescribed key and related concepts, as well as global contexts. This had always been one of the aims, and now we knew how it could be achieved. We remained faithful to the MYP ideals of flexibility and teacher creativity, whilst enabling the potential development of high-quality texts based around concepts and contexts that didn’t prescribe content, something we were adamant we would avoid.
I am proud of the development work carried out by our wonderful team. It has improved teaching and learning for hundreds of thousands of students and it has enabled the development of a superb set of texts. The Hodder Education MYP by Concept series is just what we had envisaged. Teachers can follow faithfully or dip in and out. There is so much rich material there, exactly what teachers had been asking for in 2008 and 2009. If there is a gap, teachers can plug it, and the texts are there to help!
When I started at the IB, the MYP was a teenager. It attracted some admiring glances, but mainly critical scowls. I believe now as it matures into an enterprising young adult, that the attention we paid it in those troubled teenage years stand it in good stead for the future. It certainly needs further innovation, we can never stand still, but the foundation is there, and I am delighted to see the difference it makes in the lives of so many. Happy 25th Birthday to the MYP!