My EBacc consultation response

Submitted last minute – at 10:45am on Friday 29 January 2016!

Here is the government page with details of the consultation:

(In a large part paraphrasing Tom Sherrington – thanks Tom!)

  1. What factors do you consider should be taken into account in making decisions about which pupils should not be entered for the EBacc?
    1. Students who need more time to reach Grade 4 in Maths or English should do this instead of taking a modern language. Students with an interest in Sociology or Psychology should be able to study this instead of History or Geography. This question (and this consultation) is inadequate, as the bigger question should be “how will children, young people and communities benefit from an obligation being placed upon children to study the Ebacc selection of subjects, which exclude the arts, sport, technology, media and ICT.”
  2. Is there any other information that should be made available about schools’ performance in the EBacc?
    1. Arts subjects are of equal value, by any measure, to Humanities and Languages. A Baccalaureate should include participation in Arts. The Arts are, and have been for centuries, one of this countries greatest strenghts. If we are to continue to lead the way in all areas of the Arts, the must be fully valued in schools. To exclude them from the Ebacc is absolutely sending the wrong message, and it would be naive and dishonest to suggest that schools will still value arts if performance table measures to not. (N.B. I am Head of Biology.) The structure of the National Baccalaureate for England as promoted by the National Baccalaureate Trust, shows a more viable alternative. It more closely reflects the highly successful International Baccalaureate which is studied by large numbers of students in the UK and abroad, particularly in many of the world’s most successful international schools. Ignoring Design Technology subjects also makes it difficult to see how future engineers can learn the practical skills they need, not to mention the general population becoming less and less skilled with their hands. Ignoring PE will impact on staffing for this subject, which will lead to long term health damage to the UK population. Ignoring ICT will reduce the chances of young people progressing into the IT sector.
  3. How should this policy apply to UTCs, studio schools and further education colleges teaching key stage 4 pupils?
    1. If a policy does not apply equally to students in all settings it suggests that the policy doesn’t stem from a secure educational principle. The fact that the question is asked gives weight to the argument that the policy is flawed. Staff availability is an real issue in some settings; some FE colleges are unlikely to have the staff to offer all of the Ebacc subjects. This pretty much undermines the principle of the Ebacc as a “universal right”. There are many other combinations of subjects that would give students a rigorous, academically challenging and broad curriculum, but which would not fit the Ebacc model. So, it’s not just whether certain settings should be exempt; shouldn’t all schools and colleges being free to determine appropriate curriculum balance for their students?
  4. What challenges have schools experienced in teacher recruitment to EBacc subjects?
    1. There is a bigger challenge, which is the strain on the mental health of talented, committed, inspiring teachers of those subjects excluded from the Ebacc. To lose such a large number of teachers of Art, Music, Drama, Dance, ICT and other non-Ebacc subjects will be a tragedy, and will further demean the profession and lead to a deepening of the general teacher recruitment crisis. After 10 years teaching Science in the State sector, I often consider moving to the Private sector in the UK or abroad, to escape the destructive performance measures which blight the day-to-day experience of students in schools.
  5. What strategies have schools found useful in attracting and retaining staff in these subjects?
    1. It helps to give a good amount of time for Languages and Humanities at KS3. Good teachers of these subjects are less likely to value Humanities carousels or limited teaching time for Languages at KS3, as it is poor preparation for study at KS4. Engaging in trips and visits relating to the subjects also helps recruitment and retention. When these opportunities are limited because of funding, it will be harder to recruit. More widely, teachers also value an intelligent school culture which doesn’t put a lot of weight on performance related pay, grading lessons and other accountability processes that diminish teachers’ professionalism. Workload is another factor. It may be that addressing the wider recruitment and retention issues is more significant to our system than putting pressure on it to recruit to Ebacc subject.
  6. What approaches do schools intend to take to manage challenges relating to the teaching of EBacc subjects?
    1. (I am not a school leader, so do not feel in a position to respond to this question)
  7. Other than teacher recruitment, what other issues will schools need to consider when planning for increasing the number of pupils taking the EBacc?
    1. (I refer to my responses above relating to the general flaws in the Ebacc model)
      If I was a school leader, I would ignore the government’s aim and continue to plan a curriculum that my staff and I consider to be of the most benefit to the students and the community.
  8. What additional central strategies would schools like to see in place for recruiting and training teachers in EBacc subjects?
    1. Recruiting teachers in general is the bigger issue at stake. Review teacher training. It’s no good promoting History and then introducing a policy that leads to the potential demise of excellent PGCE programmes. Knowledge-rich subjects require training that gives weight to the knowledge component of teaching, and teachers do not get this on a lot of teacher training programmes to much depth.
  9. Do you think that any of the proposals have the potential to have an impact, positive or negative, on specific pupils, in particular those with ‘relevant protected characteristics’? (The relevant protected characteristics are disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.) Please provide evidence to support your response.
    1. In theory, it is a good thing for students to study Humanities, Languages and Arts. However, the biggest challenge is that DFE doesn’t recognise the inherent bell-curve driven grade-setting process and has already labelled grades 1-4 as below their ‘benchmark’ and therefore will essentially be considered a ‘fail’ (like grades D to G now). With students embarking on a more challenging curriculum (Ebacc plus Arts), some cohorts of students might gain lower sets of grades in the contest for positions on the bell-curve. This would be more acceptable if those grades were recognised as achievements. However, for large numbers of students to be doomed to receive ‘bad GCSEs’ by the nature of the grade-setting process, is unacceptable. There is no point in promoting Ebacc as a challenging academic curriculum model without recognising the simple truth that not everyone can be above average, giving some value to all grades within that framework.
  10. How could any adverse impact be reduced to better advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it? Please provide evidence to support your response
    1. The National Bacc, as an alternative to the Ebacc, is an inclusive framework that secures breadth and challenge for all learners, taking account of personal development alongside academic and/or technical learning. It’s a much better answer answer to this question and would apply in every setting with all learners. Ebacc could easily be wrapped up within a more inspiring 14-19 framework. On its own, Ebacc is a very thin piece of curriculum manipulation with very little chance of making our population better educated overall, not least because of the absence of Arts. In fact, Ebacc is nothing more than a performance table measure. It does nothing to address issues of any depth in education today.

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