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Curriculum, Redesigning Schools

Move Over the Elbow Bacc is Here

The strength of feeling I have against the EBacc interests me.  As mentioned before it is my line in the sand, the issue that would cause me to walk away from education after thirty years.  It’s certainly not about the subjects included within it, they are all great, and it’s not simply the subjects excluded from it, they’re great as well.

Photo Credit: Ryan Hyde via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Ryan Hyde via Flickr cc

If you’ve grown up in a large family you soon learn the benefit of your elbows for muscling your way into the limelight.  The soon to be renamed EBacc, from now on known as the Elbow Bacc, is essentially going to move many subjects out of the curriculum and will become the predominant measure in the secondary performance tables – % of pupils gaining the EBacc, % of pupils entered for the Ebacc and the EBacc average point score – giving it a disproportionate three out of the six performance measures.  The consultation suggests, almost promises, that if only all children were entered for the EBacc then social justice would prevail and all will be well in the World.  It’s dangerously wrong, there is no causal link evidenced because it simply doesn’t exist.  Moving out of poverty and creating a a more just society will require many more policy changes across a range of government departments.

Narrowed and More Limited

If a school decides to insist all its pupils study the E-Bacc, or the 90% proposed, alongside the increased curriculum time required to study the new GCSE Mathematics and English, their curriculum will look something very like this:

Standard E-Bacc Curriculum

This will occupy 70% of a young person’s curriculum time and with a further 10% taken in most schools for required subjects like core Physical Education and Personal, Social and Health Education there is only 20% of curriculum time available.  This is enough time for two options or choices.  In faith schools were Religious Education tends to be compulsory this will be reduced to one.  Some students may choose to study the three Separate Sciences or a second Modern Foreign Language or both History and Geography leaving only one further option available.  Aside from the very real concerns that there may well not be enough teachers to teach these E-Bacc subjects the impact on the Art, Social Sciences, Religious Education and Technology subjects will be cumulative and devastating.

Limited damage has been seen so far to the Arts subjects for a number of reasons.  One is many schools have focussed on implementing Progress 8, rather than the E-Bacc, and the new larger curriculum time hungry syllabi in English & Mathematics were only introduced in September 2015.  The biggest reason is possibly the culling of so many vocational subjects early in the last Parliament which means that pupils have far fewer options to choose from.  Some of this was needed and the process is continuing with GCSE ICT about to disappear.  The Arts are being saved but at a cost to many other subjects.

The Schools Week Article 12th November 2015 on the E-Bacc not affecting the Arts stated the number of entries “at the end of key stage 4 has only dropped from 618,437 in 2013/14 to 612,348 in 2014/15.”  This is in stark contrast to Design Technology where entries at GCSE have dropped from 287,701 in 2010 to 204,788 in 2015.  My guess is that this may fall even further.  The survival of Design Technology and the Arts may well depend on how many more subjects are centrally removed from the examination system.  When taken as a whole the options available and curriculum studied has substantially narrowed since 2010.  I mean this as a neutral statement.  Depending on your educational philosophy this could be viewed as long overdue or curriculum vandalism or somewhere in between.

A Core Academic Curriculum

There debate about what constitutes an academic core curriculum has dangerous conflated the term with the E-Bacc, one particularly narrow and idiosyncratic view of a core academic curriculum, with other possibilities ignored.  There are many other equally valid and beneficial options that young people could study including the kind of combinations offered by the E-Bacc basket type of approach found in Progress 8.  Oxford University have stated that they don’t require an applicant to have the E-Bacc and will give five years notice of a change in their decision with Cambridge University’s view that they are just not interested.  The E-Bacc has proved to be one of the least well regarded of recent changes to secondary education and to extend it further seems incomprehensible.  The quality and appropriateness of a performance measure could be viewed through the lens of “will it still be used when the current incumbent of Sanctuary House has gone?”  Progress 8 probably will but the E-Bacc is far less likely.

Options for current Y10 at St. Mary's

Options for current Y10 at St. Mary’s

Schools have always varied over the level of choice given to individual pupils in Key Stage 4.  I believe outside a reasonable and flexible core academic curriculum this is best determined at a local level by school leaders and governors knowledgeable about their intake, the aspirations and aptitudes of their young people.  It has also been known in advance by parents when choosing a school for their child.  Some schools have provided significant choice to pupils with three or four options but this is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  Alongside the local choice offered to parents and their children is the ongoing need for all subjects to be taught well.  This is less likely as staff shortages appear in key EBacc subjects and across schools or people teach outside of their core knowledge base.  Percentage pass rates at GCSE will be maintained by simply lowering grade boundaries

One possible response to the EBacc consultation is to write to your Member of Parliament, contact details can be found here, and encouraging as many teachers and parents who feel as strongly to do the same.  It is a particularly effective way to lobby.  A MP’s post bag full of letters opposing the EBacc tends to be quite persuasive.  It’s what I did with a rather unexpected outcome but more of that next week.



6 thoughts on “Move Over the Elbow Bacc is Here

  1. Left on the knife edge like a good episode of Corrie! For me it also calls in to question my belief that talent should be nurtured and promoted at school, whatever that talent may be. I don’t dispute the need to raise academic performance in PISA based subjects, but I do question what the expense of this is. Are we educating to create generic employment qualification; or are we educating the individual who will contribute to society in many ways?

    Posted by Glynpotts | November 17, 2015, 8:45 pm
  2. How long are your lessons?

    Posted by michaelserridge | November 17, 2015, 9:17 pm


  1. Pingback: My #EBacc Meeting with Nick Gibb MP | @LeadingLearner - November 24, 2015

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