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Thursday, 2 December 2010

Welcome to the English Baccalaureate

My first reaction on reading the Coalition government's new White Paper on Education was a massive sigh of relief, that some of the most pressing issues in state education today were about to be addressed. This was followed by a sigh of resignation, because my experience in state education suggests that there is a long way to go before most of it can be actually implemented. I'll talk about the quality of teaching and the new rules on exclusion in later articles. But where I really want to doff my cap is to the introduction of the English Baccalaureate.

The problem with setting targets is they then become what is managed. Having seen the 5 A*-C target take over Year 11 to the extent that the bottom 60 and top 60 students barely get noticed for the last 6 months there I am glad there is a new focus that might change the behaviour of some state schools.

There is an academy in Liverpool who 2 years ago achieved 91% of its students getting 5A*-C grades but only 30% of those students got 5 A*-C including english and maths. How did that happen? Students in danger of not getting the 5 good GCSEs were put on GNVQ and BTEC courses which count as four GCSEs. They then have to get a merit to get a C in this 100% coursework course and that's four of their Cs. The Labour government attempted to deal with this by saying they were only going to note the 5 A*-Cs including English and Maths. But the problem was that they allowed non-academic subjects to have equal value in GCSE tables. This encouraged schools to meet their target by entering their students for "easier" vocational qualifications (from 2,300 in 2004 to 550,000 now). This may seem good for pupils and schools but for the long term it is incentivising the de-skilling of an entire generation of our young people.

But this measure still doesn't measure the academic quality of the GCSEs taken. The English Baccalaureate does. To get it - you need to have Cs and above in English, Maths, the sciences, a modern or classical foreign language and a humanity such as Geography or History. Here are some interesting facts on this:

a) Only 15% of all GCSE students attain 5 A*-C grades in the five 'core' subjects of English, Maths, a science, a language and a humanity.

b) Only 4% of pupils on free school meals achieve this.

For the United Kingdom plc this has led to a generation of school pupils with no foreign language at GCSE, without an individual science and without an individual humanity.I'll leave it to Michael Gove - Education secretary, to comment on this:

“That really concerns me, not just because it’s bad for our economic position in the future, it actually is depriving young people of the thing that they should get from education, which is a rounded sense of how to understand this world in all its complexity and richness.”


1 comment:

  1. It's all well and good that the coalition is concerned about these 5 'core' subjects but don't you think that Gove is ignoring the importance of creative courses such as music, drama, and art.
    Surely an understanding of the creative process and encouraging the beauty and the fulfillment entailed by studying an artform is being ignored by Gove. The coalition i believe can be commended in some parts for trying to encourage these 5 'core' subjects to be taught in schools, but they government is being incredibly shortsighted in not realising that some people are less adept to these academic subjects and they would be much more inspired by being part of a creative subject.