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
- 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.