Unlike some school and education leaders who regularly meet with Ministers or the Department my meeting with Nick Gibb MP today was a unique opportunity to try to influence policy. Conscious that my depth of feeling, about the Ebacc, could all to easily lead to a garbled monologue followed by a polite response from the Minister, a warm hand shake and no impact I have tried to think through what I want to say. This mustn’t be an opportunity missed.
As I’m unsure of the protocols covering a meeting with a Minister, and blogging out the discussions, these are my notes and thoughts going into the meeting. It’s my attempt to ensure I am coherent and constructive.
Two other blogs I wrote in preparation for the meeting are:
In addition to the EBacc I hope we’ll drift into discussions about accountability overload, the impact of too many changes on workload and teacher retention, the lack of services for children with additional needs and funding, including the national fairer funding formula due in 2017/18. Possibly a little ambitious for one hour but here’s hoping.
Will Doing the EBacc (and Failing) Lift You Out of Poverty?
The use of an input measure, the proposed 90% studying the Ebacc, will do little for social justice. The key is not whether a young person studies a set of subjects but whether s/he actually attains high grades, in order to passport her/him to the next phase of their education, training or employment. Input measures are weak performance indicators. The consultation assumes there is a causal link between the EBacc and future life chances. I’ve seen reports of a link between studying Mathematics at A-level and enhanced future earnings, though not everyone measures quality of life based on their salary, but very little else in terms of subjects studied. The attempt to create a causal link between the EBacc and future prosperity is possibly spurious at best and misleading at worst.
Focus On Every Child & Every Grade
The new Progress 8 measure though not perfect is a big step in the right direction. The benefit of the Progress 8 measure is that it promotes a broad curriculum of eight or more subjects through which schools are held accountable for every child and every grade they attain including an academic core of five subjects. It takes into account the starting point of each child thus enabling schools with very different intakes to demonstrate the effectiveness of the education they offer through the progress made by their pupils. It has gone some way to stop the narrowing of the curriculum that went on in schools when 5+ A*-C including English & Maths was the key performance measure.
The EBacc as well as having a narrow view of what constitutes a core academic curriculum is exclusive in nature, that is, unless a pupil attains a grade C (or the new grade 4 or 5, anyone know where the line will be drawn?) in all components: English, Mathematics, Science or Computer Science, a Modern Foreign Language and History or Geography, then the pupil is considered to have not attained the performance measure and is discounted.
The two fold dangers of this measure is that it creates an unhelpful focus on a few students who are at the C/D borderline in all subjects and can lead to a marginalising of the higher or lower attaining pupils. Performance measures can have perverse effects on schools as well as promoting challenge and accountability. Our most disadvantaged pupils are always worse served by exclusive performance measures like the EBacc. Pupils starting from a high level of attainment are statistically more likely to achieve the EBacc as currently constituted and this may create a less just education system for the most disadvantaged. The demands of social justice means we need to focus on raising the attainment of those from the most disadvantaged communities. The addition of an EBacc average point score measure goes some way to mitigating this but three EBacc measures out of six is excessive.
Bring Me Solutions Not Problems: Introducing Progress 5
A potential solution already exists in the performance measures we have. The highly regarded Progress 8 measure could be the basis of a Core Curriculum Progress 5 (CCP5) measure. This would allow a core academic curriculum to be followed with a degree of flexibility for pupils within the predetermined EBacc basket. This may appeal to parents more who can be involved in discussions about which elements of the core academic curriculum most meet the aspirations and aptitudes of their child. I also believe young people would value the option to have some choice and ensure a greater sense of motivation and agency as they study their GCSEs. The additional benefits of establishing a CCP5 measure is that it would occupy 60% of the curriculum time available, with a further 10% for PE & PSHE, leaving three potential options or guided choices for pupils increasing their opportunities to study the Art, Social Sciences, Religious Studies and Technology subjects. I’d be even happier if Religious Studies, suitably amended where necessary to make it sufficiently academically rigorous, was included in the EBacc basket.
The inclusive CCP5 would mean that every child and every grade would matter and is a far better indicator on which to judge the effectiveness of a school’s provision rather than the ability of its intake.
For a government committed to social justice it may be worth considering using the CCP5 performance measure solely for disadvantaged pupils at a school level and monitor whether the gap is being closed at a national level. There is currently no national performance measure focussed solely on the disadvantaged.
Thank you to Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for Schools, for taking the time to meet with me and discuss the concerns I have. Also thanks to Paul Maynard MP for Blackpool North & Cleveleys who met with me last July to discuss the EBacc and following it set about organising the meeting. This isn’t the first time Paul has been a great supporter of the work we are doing at St. Mary’s nor do I doubt the last. He really is a most effective constituency Member of Parliament.
If after a meeting with a Minister you are allowed to blog then another blog will follow, as sure as night follows day.