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Gove’s English Bacc: A Response Pt 3 @JudyFriedberg @brianlightman @SchoolDuggery @schooltruth @RealGeoffBarton @ProEdNet

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Why not use the middle years International Bacc as the model?

Today the press went OTT with regard to the English Bacc and the fact that 85% of students aren’t reaching this target.  Well, it is difficult to achieve a target when it didn’t exist when these students chose their options in 2008 and will be the same picture for those who chose their options in 2009 & 2010.  So be prepared for three years of students failing to achieve a target that didn’t exist when they chose their GCSEs.

My second point on the madness of today is that we could look at three students: who is now a failure and who is now a success?

Student 1:  a keen mathematician could achieve straight A* grades in 10 subjects, such as English Language, English Literature, Maths, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, RE, Music, Economics and Statistics.

Student 2: an arts student who could achieve a mixture of A*s, As and Bs in 8 GCSEs such as English Language, English Literature, Maths, Core Science, History, Music, Art & Graphic Design.

Student 3:  A student who achieves 5 C grades in English Language, Maths, Core Science, Geography and Spanish.

So what is your answer?  Mine is that all of them have been successful.  All have achieved a set of GCSE results that would enable them to progress to Sixth Form and then university.  To Gove, only Student 3 is now capable of the best universities and the best jobs.  Of course this is a narrow example but it is the reality of what Gove and the Daily Mail, The Sun and Telegraph have been saying today.

So what happens next?  Are Students 1 & 2 excluded from some Sixth Form colleges, certain universities and destined to not fulfill their potential?  This is complete madness.

Gove’s current thinking appears to be concerned with four key areas.

1. Rewarding children for getting these EngBacc subjects means that they can boost numbers without making them compulsory.

The right wing press and seemingly the government have now made it clear what will happen if you don’t force students down this narrow route.  Parents will now also think that this set of subjects is the ‘gold standard’, whether this type of curriculum would enable their child to succeed or not.  Ultimately, so will OFSTED.  Therefore, in the end there will be a baseline target, national average etc and therefore schools will be forced to make it compulsory if they are to survive.  We have to make the change to the curriculum in case not doing so would harm students’ progression.

2.  Rewarding those who achieve good passes in the subjects, without making them compulsory, seems like a good way of remedying the problem of students not taking History/Geography and MFL.

By rewarding those who achieve History or Geography and not, say, RE or Music are putting those students at risk of not progressing.  This again forces schools to make the EngBacc compulsory.  No matter how fundamentally opposed I am to this, I will create a curriculum that means all students will take these EngBacc subjects.  This will reduce the amount of students taking other subjects.  Consequently, this reduces the amount of students taking A levels in these other subjects and ultimately degrees in them.

3.  Increase the amount of MFL that is taken at GCSE.

I don’t disagree with the push to make students study a MFL at GCSE, although there are a significant proportion of students who do not have the skills to access these subjects, nor wish to and this includes students at the top end. However, if this initiative is to enable our young people to have a competitive advantage, why list Biblical Hebrew, Classical Greek and Latin as subjects which count under the Languages umbrella?

4.  The children from better-off families (not necessarily more intelligent!) tend to take these EngBacc subjects – whether in private, grammar or leafy comps. This enables them to get all the places at the best universities and therefore the best jobs.   Therefore if we want to tackle the problem of low social mobility, we have to tackle this.

I have heard the figures of 75% of Grammar/Public schools students and 15% of Comprehensives students tend to take this mix of subjects as part of their curriculum.  But, hang on, most of the higher ability students at my school also take these subjects.  Some don’t choose to take History or Geography and MFL.  In fact I have no issue making an MFL subject at GCSE compulsory.

This doesn’t hide that this is a poor comparison to make.  From my experience, students in the top 15% ability range (all of a grammar school, most of a public school and the top sets in a comprehensive) will all take a very similar range of subjects.  So who are they trying to ‘improve’ with this English Bacc?  Many ‘middle ability’ students go on to university to study courses that won’t require an academic set of GCSEs.  In fact, many of them benefit from a vocational approach to studying, both in achieved outcomes, progression and skills for their university courses.

Therefore, the government is talking about a minority of students here.  Students I have taught throughout my career don’t fail to get into Russell Group universities because of grades, they fail because of the preparation Grammar school and Private schools put into UCAS and interview techniques.  As the recent Sutton Group study showed, comprehensive school students with lower grades do better at university than peers with higher grades from selective of private schools.  This says to me that the admissions policies at these ‘top’ universities are flawed.

The government seem to be changing the whole focus of the curriculum to ensure that the ‘high academic’ subjects have a stream of students studying them.  Curriculum at the high academic end in schools already does that. Sadly, by taking this new approach, one then devalues all the other pathways, all the other professions, all the non-Russell Group universities.

It is my understanding that the government’s desire for these new initiatives is based on the narrow experience of schooling currently at the DfE.  They feel this mix of subjects is right based on their own experiences and not on actual fact.  The IB is far broader in scope and ambition, just look at the subjects you can study in the middle years’ programme:

English (home language); additional foreign language; Sciences; Mathematics; PE; Technology; personal project; Humanities (which includes Geography, History, Economics, Politics, Civics, Sociology, Anthropology & Psychology); the arts.

The middle years’ programme also recognises that there are five areas of interaction which are:

  • approaches to learning
  • community and service
  • human ingenuity
  • environments
  • health and social education.

This approach is better, in my opinion, than the traditional grammar/private school offering that the government want.  Universities love the IB for its breadth amongst other elements.

Whatever the final decision on the mixture of courses to make up the English Bacc, the retrospective nature of this policy will already damage schools who have made enormous gains with student achievement over the past 10 years and it has already changed many schools options offer to the class of 2012.  In my next OFSTED inspection, I will expect a discussion as to our EBacc position relative to the National Average, remembering 50% of schools will always be deemed to be inadequate.

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Author: kalinski1970

Headteacher at a school in rural East Sussex! Trust me the problems are real and difficult. Married to an amazing woman with two wonderful children (sometimes...)

12 thoughts on “Gove’s English Bacc: A Response Pt 3 @JudyFriedberg @brianlightman @SchoolDuggery @schooltruth @RealGeoffBarton @ProEdNet

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  2. Much of this is absolutely right. As a teacher of MFL, though, I would say that every pupil has the potential to achieve in a language, and learning how languages of other cultures are put together can help with understanding of the mother tongue.

    Every pupil has the potential to achieve higher than a U at GCSE so, if the govt were to drop the ‘anything lower than a D is a fail’ rubbish, this might be improved

  3. “From my experience, students in the top 15% ability range (all of a grammar school, most of a public school and the top sets in a comprehensive) will all take a very similar range of subjects. So who are they trying to ‘improve’ with this English Bacc?”

    Because there are schools out there where this isn’t the case?

    • is that assumption based on the Sun’s article? Because I have experience of a large number of comprehensives and i don’t know one that doesn’t have an academic pathway that is similar to EnglishBacc, albeit with more breadth. What schools are specifically talking about? You may have a point with some Academies…some of those Champions are going to be a shock to the English Bacc league tables. Because, quite rightly they have designed curricula that allows the majority of their students to succeed. The Academy that i worked in had almost 0% students going to university when i started. Last year it achieved an A-E % above the national average at A level. Over 90% of our Yr11s went onto Post sixteen education. That school will be judged a failure next week on one narrow measure. Especially as we are now judged on a target that none of us knew was coming. So that shock will stay for 2010, 2011 and 2012. Then our plans, budgets, staffing have had to be altered in a short time span to ensure that the class of 2013 aren’t disadvantaged in progression of a new ‘gold standard’ that you know will change, because it has too.

      You are still hung up on the top 15% who are well catered for in the education system. It is below that there is a muddle, due to the fact that politicians, universities, Daily Mail keep getting involved. Instead of making more of a academic pathway, we should be looking for parity for different learning styles, skills, aspirations, achievement, assessment and progression. Not everyone wants or needs to go to the Russell Group Universities. We need a wider skills set for our students to succeed, but instead let’s narrow the curriculum. Sadly, back to the 1950s we go.

      • It is based on experience and discussion on teaching forums where people have been complaining that their schools will get English Bacc scores of 2-3%. The top 15% are not well catered for in a lot of schools which have been targetting students on the C/D borderline.

        With regard to your other points, declaring failure to be success is not “allowing the majority to succeed” it is stopping anybody from succeeding. There are no such thing as “learning styles”. You cannot have parity between different levels of achievement or aspiration without both achievement and aspiration becoming meaningless.

      • “It is based on experience and discussion on teaching forums where people have been complaining that their schools will get English Bacc scores of 2-3%. The top 15% are not well catered for in a lot of schools which have been targeting students on the C/D borderline.”
        Firstly, 2-3% of a target that we didn’t know we were being judged on when those students started their KS4 curriculum. I know that is how this Government works, as we have been given the task of setting a budget without actually knowing our budget.
        Secondly, the FFT data that came out today show that only just over 20% of all students in the country were entered for all 5 EngBacc subjects. Which is exactly what i would expect based on the top academic students being able to complete such as course. If you take that the Grammar schools in fully selective Boroughs (Bexley) take the top 20% it means that across the country in selective and comprehensives alike they are, as i stated, taking a similar curriculum. So where is the proof now that Comprehensives are letting down the top end?
        Thirdly, your assumption is that the following range of subjects is not academic enough to be counted: RE, Music, Economics, Music, Art, Statistics, Sociology, Psychology, Business Studies etc etc. However, for the highly respected International Bacc middle years programme, these are?
        “With regard to your other points, declaring failure to be success is not “allowing the majority to succeed” it is stopping anybody from succeeding. There are no such thing as “learning styles”. You cannot have parity between different levels of achievement or aspiration without both achievement and aspiration becoming meaningless.”
        Firstly, there is no such thing as a person having one learning style, but we all have a preferred learning style and more importantly a preferred assessment style.
        Declaring these examples of students is a success and is not a failure as you state:
        Student 1: a keen mathematician could achieve straight A* grades in 10 subjects, such as English Language, English Literature, Maths, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, RE, Music, Economics and Statistics.
        Student 2: an arts student who could achieve a mixture of A*s, As and Bs in 8 GCSEs such as English Language, English Literature, Maths, Core Science, History, Music, Art & Graphic Design.
        Student 3: A low ability student who achieves a Level 2 in functional Maths, Level 1 in functional English, Pass BTEC in Business Studies, E grade in Resistant materials, Pass in COPE and progresses to a Level 2 curriculum at a local FE.
        None have achieved the prescriptive and narrow English Bacc and yet you think that I am celebrating failure? I am celebrating the successes of ALL students no matter what their starting point. Each will have a different pathway in life and each can be successful. There seem to be a raft of Oxbridge graduates currently at the DofE that can’t undertake basic research properly (“International Bacc is for post-16”). Possibily that is like the Chinese students that can’t tackle problems because it is outside their narrow curriculum and rote learnt examinations.

        On your final point the majority of students are failed by selective education. I know of Grammar Headteachers that, because of snobbery, cannot offer relevant curricula to their lower ability. Many inflated into the school via pushy middle class parents and tutors. If the Grammar schools were successful at enabling social mobility why are their FSM figures so low.
        I find it insulting that you could possibly think that our thinking in the comprehensive sector was all about C/D borderlines. The curricula I have designed allow free guided choice across a number of pathways. My top end is of vital importance and we ensure that their broad academic curriculum allows them progression to A levels that they want to do and to the Russell Group of universities. I was extremely proud when, in my last school (a non selective Academy in an area of high deprivation), when we had our first applications to Oxbridge. I have a vibrant Gifted and Talented programme in my school, with visits to top Universities. We ensure that with guidance all of our top end chooses a wholly appropriate academic curriculum. However, if a bright student is desperate to follow his father into his plumbing firm, I ensure that he can take the BTEC in Construction, whilst missing none of his core and if set, remain in the higher sets. If a parent of a low ability student, misguided as they are to the potential outcomes, want their son or daughter to follow the academic GCSE pathway then that’s what their child can do. . We are extremely proud of the fact that we push all students to achieve the highest grades, no matter what their starting point. These are based on a personalised curriculum that selectives can only dream about.
        My curricula allow all to move onto the next stage of their lives, successfully. Yes, people like you will only see a narrow set of GCSE examination results as the only measure of ‘success’, but we will continue on the process of allowing all our students to achieve.
        Your perspective is based on hearsay, conjecture, snobbery and not real experience of what has happened in the comprehensive sector over the past 10 years. If it were you would have a more rounded opinion. Luckily, like most of the announcements since Gove’s arrival, the u-turn is only round the corner on the subject list in the EngBacc. Especially, now that his advisors have discovered that the International Bacc has a middle years programme…which they didn’t when they started this process. Proving if any proof were necessary of the clueless nature of the current policy thinking of the DoE.

  4. I have to say your last reply to me is close to unreadable in the way different ideas are all jumbled together and it is unclear what each point is referring to but I’ll try my best.

    The fact that the proportion taken by grammar schools under selection is about the same as the number passing the English Bacc by the whole system is irrelevant and I’m not sure by what logic you think it is.

    With regard to success and failure, the point is that if “success” is simply hitting any target at all, no matter how worthless, then success becomes meaningless. If we know somebody is weak academically, then we might think they’ve done well despite their lack of ability, but let’s not pretend that this is the only meaning of academic success and use it as an excuse to ignore those who have achieved something we can all admire.

    My judgements about courses are based on current qualifications not whole disciplines so whether there are academically rigorous qualification in a given subject is irrelevant if it is not part of our school system.

    No, we don’t all have preferred learning styles.

    I find it hard to believe you have ever taught a Chinese student if you think they can’t solve problems.

    • I have proposed a middle ground, which you seem to ignore and Gove’s advisors didn’t even know about, which was the International Bacc Middle Years. I have clearly stated that i believe wholeheartedly in a comprehensive education system, which you do not. So apart from trading insults what is the point of this?

      “I have to say your last reply to me is close to unreadable in the way different ideas are all jumbled together and it is unclear what each point is referring to but I’ll try my best.”

      That’s because clarity was difficult when your assumptions are based on your view of the comprehensive system. Your experience has been a poor one especially for your brighter students. But as i stated what did you do about it? I have been lucky in my experience to to be in schools where i have worked for inspirational Headteachers where we have designed creative curricula which have enabled ALL students to make better than expected progress. Not by forcing every student down one narrow route as you propose. But, by tailoring the curriculum to allow all to progress. Be it sixthform and university or level two courses and employment.

      “The fact that the proportion taken by grammar schools under selection is about the same as the number passing the English Bacc by the whole system is irrelevant and I’m not sure by what logic you think it is.

      Gosh, i will attempt to explain this again. The amount of students taking the English Bacc is just over 20% of the whole. Approx 20% of the whole are high ability students. This is bourne out in truly selective boroughs as the Grammars select the top 20%. Therefore, the top 20% in the country as a whole already do the English Bacc and it is the cohort that are best suited to study it. EngBacc data shows which pupils study one arbitrary list of subjects and nothing about the overall performance of those schools.

      With regard to success and failure, the point is that if “success” is simply hitting any target at all, no matter how worthless, then success becomes meaningless. If we know somebody is weak academically, then we might think they’ve done well despite their lack of ability, but let’s not pretend that this is the only meaning of academic success and use it as an excuse to ignore those who have achieved something we can all admire.

      Good god you are in the dark ages. My point is that we should celebrate students successes in schools no matter what they are. Whether it is a student that gets 10 A*s, goes onto A Levels and is successful at university or one that picks up a variety of L1 & L2 courses and is able to progress onto apprenticeships or FE courses. I can admire a master craftsmen, as well as a University Lecturer for what they have achieved. Obviously you don’t.

      My judgements about courses are based on current qualifications not whole disciplines so whether there are academically rigorous qualification in a given subject is irrelevant if it is not part of our school system.

      So History is “better” than RE, Geography is “better” than Business Studies. I don’t get how you can’t admire the International Bacc Middle Years in terms of its Academic rigour and its breadth or subjects. For goodness sake, can you really rate Geography over Economics. It is total rot and all you EngBacc supporters know it, but now can’t back away from the mess.

      “No, we don’t all have preferred learning styles”. Nice misquote again. “There is no such thing as a person having ONE learning style.” I like to learn in variety of ways. But, in the main i like to get on with it rather than be instructed. I ensure that the activities in my lessons have variety to ensure that students don’t get bored.

      I find it hard to believe you have ever taught a Chinese student if you think they can’t solve problems.

      I have taught many in England who are brilliant academically and can solve problems. My point was from the this comment on the Chinese system http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/01/06/michael-gove-an-idiot-abroad/

      In the main i think we are done on the argument as I can’t see any movement from either side. I would be interested to know as to why supporters of the English Bacc never comment on the International Bacc proposal?

      • I am at a loss as to why you are claiming that I don’t believe in a comprehensive system.

        The EB is obviously not for all students, only for those acadmeically able enough to have a chance of passing it.

        Your logic with the 20% is still beyond me. The point is that more than 20% could do it, if people weren’t looking to encourage easier options.

        We seem to be getting somewhere on the “success” discussion in that it would appear that you appear to acknowledge that you want to “celebrate” it rather than actually help kids achieve it.

        <emcomment deleted

      • Still no comment on International Bacc i see.

        Because you don’t want to label anything but the EngBacc a success

        Yes agreed, if there is a wider definition of subjects so that student can pick from a variety of ACADEMIC subjects that they have an interest in. International Bacc anyone?

        I have always believed in helping students achieve success, then celebrate that success no matter what their personal success is. You clearly don’t.

        your comment about my treatment of Chinese students, as i have clarified it was a comment on the Chinese educational system, as expressed by Sonny Leong in his article in the independent .

  5. Pingback: Consultation on Implementing the English Baccalaureate – HTRT Response | Headteachers' Roundtable

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