This year’s Provisional GCSE and A-level examination entries from Ofqual are both interesting and depressing; the same subjects, possibly even more, have faced a similar fate in many primary schools over the years. If you want to wag the curriculum dog then just grab the accountability tail; Progress 8 seems to be driving the change.
The massive increase in English Language is likely to be due to the removal of Level 1/2 certificates in English from the league tables. English Literature entries are most likely to be driven by the potential to boost students’ point score. The best grade from English Language and English Literature counts; the grade is doubled if both are sat by a pupil. It remains to be seen whether there are schools entering students for English Literature without it being taught properly or afforded the time it deserves. Maybe a “big fat English” GCSE is needed containing both elements; akin to the new GCSE Mathematics. The percentage of higher grades in English Literature is likely to drop (rather than the actual number of pupils getting higher grades) as previously un-entered prior lower attainers now sit the subject.
The drop in GCSE Science is potentially misleading as itis due to fewer entries in Year 10; Year 11 entries are actually up. More noteworthy is the reduction in the number and percentage of students sitting Modern Foreign Languages; French, German and Spanish are all down. Insufficient language teachers, tactical entry decisions by schools or students voting with their feet? Progress 8, any three of the EBacc subjects, seems to be trumping the EBacc. The latter’s demand one from each EBacc subject basket at grade C+/5+.
The change for non-EBacc subjects is clear, depressing and substantial. Whilst some ministers have been in denial about the impact of the EBacc the old, gnarled ex-Deputy Heads with responsibility for the curriculum, options or timetables, of which I am one, knew this data was coming.
The non-EBacc subjects had been saved in previous years by the dramatic removal of hundreds of vocational subjects from the performance tables. However, the impact of big fat Maths and increased time for English partially to enable the teaching of English Literature have taken their toll on the number of options available to schools, from four to three or three to two.
The impact of Progress 8 and the EBacc, plus increasing financial pressures on schools, mean that the diversity of subjects offered to students is decreasing. There will be increasing curriculum convergence across schools at GCSE; whether this is a good or a bad thing is much more subjective. It just saddens me to see so many valuable subjects in decline. We’ve never really valued vocational subjects as a nation nor as a system; it looks like many other subjects are being consigned to the periphery.
We continue to offer a wide choice of options in the general pathway (or vocational options in the specialised pathway) alongside a core curriculum of English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Science, RE, PE & PSHE but there is one less choice and a few less subjects compared to years gone by.
Are we moving towards a World Class curriculum for our young people or an Arctic Winter? Whatever your thoughts it will be interesting to find out whether we have the subject specialist teachers to teach it.