Tuesday, 6 October 2015

What exactly is the PYP?

IB, PYP, UOIs – some days it just seems like Selwyn House School is in the middle of some giant alphabet soup.

And then there’s this logo – 

What does it mean? And why does Selwyn House have a right to put it next to our school name? What is the IB PYP anyway? And what does it mean we do at our school?

A little bit of background info. The International Baccalaureate (IB) was founded at the International School of Geneva in 1968 as a non-profit educational foundation. What started life as a single programme for internationally mobile students preparing for university, has today grown into four programmes for students aged 3 to 19, of which the PYP, or Primary Years Programme, is one.

This is no flash in the pan. Currently there are 1, 135 schools worldwide certified to offer the PYP, from Austria to Zimbabwe. 92 PYP schools in Australia, 14 in New Zealand, and 1 in the South Island – a point of difference that we are very proud of!

As a PYP school, we can take advantage of a global network. We belong to an instantly accessible community of schools dedicated to high quality, student-centred education. And no, it doesn’t mean that our girls get to choose whether they do Maths or not on any given day!

The Aim and Mission Statement of the IB is clear – “to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who, recognising their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” The IB works with schools, governments and organisations to develop challenging programmes of international education. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

So what does that look like in Selwyn House girls?
One of the earliest things that you will notice at our school will be the language of the IB Learner Profile. The learner profile is the Mission Statement translated into a set of attributes for the 21st century, to inspire and motivate, uniting schools in a common purpose. At Selwyn House, the Learner Profile is everywhere, from the walls of our classroom, to the Merit Awards we give out in Assembly. We hear the language developing in our 5 years old as they swing down the monkey bars at lunchtime yelling, “Look at me, I’m being a risk-taker!”
The most distinctive feature of the IB PYP may well be the knowledge base - structured around 6 themes. These themes provide IB World Schools with the opportunity to incorporate local and global issues into the curriculum and effectively allow students to “step up” beyond the confines of learning within subject areas. Since these themes relate to the world beyond the school, students see their relevance and connect with them, becoming actively involved with their own education. All students will come to realize that a unit of inquiry at a PYP school will involve them in in-depth exploration of an important idea.                                 

Inquiry is the leading teaching approach in the PYP - and Selwyn House as a PYP school has a commitment to structured, purposeful inquiry that engages students actively in their own learning. In the PYP, it is believed that this is the way in which students learn best—questioning, designing, researching, experimentation, observing and analysing.

At any one time in a PYP classroom, Inquiry can look like:

  • making predictions     
  • collecting data
  • reporting findings                         
  • making and testing theories                                                             
  • seeking information from different perspectives                                 
  • solving problems in a variety of ways
  • choosing the best way to share your findings with an audience                

A requirement of the PYP is that all teachers are responsible for the planning of UOIs (Units of Inquiry). At Selwyn at the moment, this looks a little bit like speed dating, as the classroom and single subject teachers talk through the focus of the coming units, and look for ways they can enrich the learning for all our girls. The results are rich UOIs that are more than just topics as the students explore big ideas through a range of subjects – in any one inquiry they could be unpacking a science concept through experiments and guest speakers, choreographing a dance piece to show what they know, and making a 3D model for a lesson they have created to teach the year 1s.


In the PYP, an explicit expectation is that successful inquiry will lead to responsible and appropriate action, initiated by the student as a result of the learning process. This action will extend the student’s learning, or it may have a wider social impact. The action component of the PYP can involve service to fellow students or the larger community. By taking action, students develop skills such as cooperation, problem solving, conflict resolution, and creative and critical thinking.

Another requirement of a PYP school is to offer a 2nd language, to students from the age of 7 – we do it at Selwyn House from 2 and a half in our Pre School.  Exposing students to languages other than their mother tongue – in our case Spanish - provides an appreciation of other cultures, and perspectives – international mindedness in action!
So there it is – the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme – an extensively researched, globally recognised education system. I could keep going and talk about the attitudes, the concepts, the transdisciplinary skills, the awesome year 6 Exhibition and our phenomenal Year 8s and their Passion Projects.  

Year 6 Exhibition

I am extremely proud of and grateful to our teachers, staff and parents who have dedicated themselves to helping our girls become lifelong learners. By creating an environment where students make connections between what they are learning in the classroom and the world around them, we are creating global citizens who will be well prepared to take on leading roles in our world.

Come and spend the day with us! We would love to show you around!


  1. Cheers for the summary, Bridget. I am teaching IB Literature in the Diploma Programme for the first time this year and really enjoying it. We hear about PYP and it is helpful to read this.

    1. Thanks - I know there are lots of conversations happening in the wider IB world between the sectors - so much we can learn from each other!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing Greg. Really great to get this overview of PYP - something I have been interested in finding out more about for a while now. Awesome that your girls are thriving with PYP at Selwyn House.:-)

    1. Thanks Aimie - we aim to have them head off to secondary school truly believing that they can change the world!

  3. Oops! Sorry, Greg–I didn't read that properly! Insert correct name to my comment above.

  4. This is a great summary, Greg. Thank you for defining and explaining the PYP so clearly.

    1. Thanks Bridge - only just scratching the surface as you well know - it is definitely a multi-faceted beast :-)