The consultation on the implementation of the English Baccalaureate consists of a set of predetermined questions. I won’t be limiting my response by the narrow frame of these questions. Firstly, I don’t actually want to implement the EBacc and secondly there are some important things that need saying which don’t fit anywhere in the rubric; I’m going off piste.
The questions in essence ask about which pupils (assume 10%) should not to be entered for the EBacc, what information should be made available about schools’ performance, how the policy should apply to different types of schools, how to assist teacher recruitment & retention and the teaching of the EBacc and any potential impact positive or negative particularly for those with relevant protected characteristics.
My response to the consultation is below. Please feel free to download a copy of the letter I have sent (Word document available at the end of the post) and respond to the consultation using as much or as little as you want. It’s important we respond as a profession with the best interests of our pupils at heart.
Dear Mrs Morgan MP, Secretary of State for Education,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Department for Education’s consultation on the implementation of the English Baccalaureate.
Sitting at the centre of this consultation is a fundamental and far reaching policy confusion. Question 3, about whether “UTCs, studio schools and FE Colleges with key stage 4 pupils” should be included in the implementation, critically fails to include academies in recognition of the curriculum freedoms promised to academies, by numerous ministers both past and present, as part of their establishment.
An academy’s funding agreement requires the provision of a broad, balanced curriculum thus supporting the introduction and retention of Progress 8, Attainment 8 and EM performance measures. The EBacc, one particular example of a core academic curriculum, lacks breadth and balance so cannot reasonably be included as a performance measure for academies using current funding agreements. Any attempt to force the introduction of the EBacc or analyse/publish performance data on an academy would totally undermine the promised freedoms which form the basis of the academy programme. This potentially compromises the integrity of ministers who have made the freedoms a fundamental part of the current government’s and previous coalition’s policy. Consequently it would be wholly inappropriate for EBacc performance measures to be reported for any academy; holding an organisation to account for measures that do not apply to it lacks legitimacy.
The use of an input measure, the proposed 90% studying the EBacc, as a way to assess a school’s performance is educational dangerous. The key is not whether a young person studies a set of subjects but whether s/he actually attains high enough grades in order to passport her/him to the next phase of their education, training or employment. The exclusive nature of the EBacc as a performance measure is unhelpful; unless a pupil attains a grade C (or the new grade 5) in all components – English, Mathematics, Science or Computer Science, a Modern Foreign Language and History or Geography – then the pupil is considered to have failed the performance measure and is discounted. The two fold dangers of this type of exclusive 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. As ever, performance measures can have perverse effects on schools as well as promoting challenge and accountability. Students starting from a high level of attainment are statistically more likely to achieve the EBacc and this may create a less just education system for the most disadvantaged. Our most disadvantaged pupils are always worse served by exclusive performance measures like the EBacc.
In contrast, the highly regarded Progress 8 measure could be the basis of a Core Curriculum Progress 5 (CCP5) measure. It 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 and crucially opens up the possibility of studying high quality vocational qualifications around a complementary academic core. Establishing a CCP5 measure that occupies 60% of the curriculum time available, with a further 10% for PE & PSHE, leaves three potential options or guided choices for pupils increasing their opportunities to study the Art, Social Sciences, Religious Studies and Technology subjects.
The impact on the Art, Social Sciences, Religious Education and Technology subjects will be cumulative and devastating if the current proposals to force the EBacc onto schools and academies persist. Limited damage has been seen so far to the Arts subjects for a number of reasons. Many schools have focussed on implementing Progress 8, rather than the EBacc, whilst 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. This process is continuing with GCSE ICT about to disappear. The Arts are being saved but at a cost to many other subjects, for example, in Design Technology entries at GCSE have dropped from 287,701 in 2010 to 204,788 in 2015. The future 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 by students has substantially narrowed in many schools since 2010.
Aside from the damage to the curriculum offered to students and the impact on their life chances there are very real concerns that there may well not be enough teachers to teach these EBacc subjects. Retraining teachers to teach EBacc shortage subjects – Mathematics, Computer Sciences, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography and Modern Foreign Languages – will require full time year long subject enhancement courses. These do not currently exist and even if they did it may well be very few teachers from other subjects who would wish to develop the required depth of knowledge in an EBacc shortage subjects. However, if the Department for Education wishes to pursue this implementation, in order to support those schools which decide or are feel forced to ensure 90% of pupils follow the EBacc, the Department should be willing to fully finance the training including paying the salary costs for the year or more long subject enhancement sabbatical required plus the advertising and appointment costs incurred by the school in replacing teachers.
An alternative to retraining teachers would be to support schools in workforce restructuring through the department bearing the full costs of enhanced redundancy or early retirement programmes for teachers whose subjects are being removed from or reduced in the curriculum. In very real terms possibly the most helpful approach would be for the Secretary of State to resume responsibility and be held fully accountable for ensuring there are sufficient high quality teachers, with the required balance in terms of phase and subject expertise, to enable all schools to be fully staffed. Whilst both the retraining and restructuring options are possibilities they would merely serve to emphasise the unnecessary wasteful and inappropriate focus of time, workload and limited funding on implementing the unnecessary EBacc. These resources could be put to better effect and to actually benefit pupils and their education.
Schools have always varied over the level of choice given to individual pupils in Key Stage 4. Outside of 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 subject pedagogical knowledge base.
Whilst the EBacc should remain an option for students, it always has been, there is a need to establish a wider more inclusive baccalaureate framework. I would recommend the National Baccalaureate Framework, developed by the HeadsRoundTable Group which brings together core learning, an individual project, a personal development programme and additional qualifications and achievement.
“There appears to be a very broad consensus that we should pull the various existing fragments together to create a truly inclusive qualification structure that can unite the English education system across the key stages. In doing so we would be creating a powerful framework allowing academic and technical qualifications to sit alongside other elements that make up a broad and balanced education. The umbrella structure could provide a coherent path for students from the foundation stage to the end of secondary.”
HeadsRoundTable Policy Paper on the National Baccalaureate (2015)
With respect to relevant protected characteristics I would draw your attention to the negative impact on people of faith and those attending a faith school. The current composition of the EBacc which fails to recognise GCSE RE as a humanities subject will have an adverse impact on the curriculum is exacerbated by the limited number of options if a school or academy implemented the EBacc.
The current proposals to implement the EBacc need to be substantially rethought. The undesirability and negative impact of imposing from Whitehall a narrow idiosyncratic curriculum on 90% of students nationwide is a significant and serious distraction from other far more important issues in education. There has been a failure to establish a coherent rationale for the imposition of the EBacc and its clash with the freedoms promised to academies riskd undermining the Academy programme and questions previous statements made by Ministers. Aside from the very real practical difficulties of enough suitably qualified teachers there has been a failure from the outset to engage with the profession, many of whom have significant curriculum knowledge, expertise and experience in this matter, to determine the best way forward; serving the interests of our diverse student populations.
Please feel free to download a copy of the letter (below) and respond to the consultation using as much or as little as you want:
Please note the deadline for submitting your response is the 29th January 2016 at 5:00 p.m. TeacherToolkit will be publishing his response to the consultation on the 23rd January 2016 so please keep an eye out for that.