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To Ebacc, or not to Ebacc

June 19, 2015 Leave a comment

This post was originally published on Labour Teachers, available here, on 25th June 2015.

My Geography teacher; the head of year 9; the head of year ten; the head of geography; two deputy heads; the head of maths and my form tutor. They’re the people I remember “having a conversation” with regarding my GCSE options, and more pertinently the fact I’d chosen wrong.

The school I attended had a two year key stage 4, as was the norm then, so it was the end of year 9 that we needed to pick our options in. The choice itself wasn’t massively wide. We had to do maths, English, double science, RE, A language (mine was Spanish) – and obviously we had to do core PE, although this wasn’t examined. This left room for three choices, one was technology- I’m led to believe technology was a legal requirement. I chose IT and electronics (2 short courses and I was told this was because IT didn’t count as a technology).

Then there were two option blocks. One had a limited number of subjects. History, Geography, IT and maybe a couple more. The other had these and all the other subjects one would expect. I chose history and music. The school encouraged all students (well the vast majority) to take either history or geography. Those deemed bright were supposed to take both. I was deemed bright.

I felt under a but of pressure from a few directions, and if I hadn’t had supportive parents and a supportive music teacher I may have folded. I’m glad I didn’t. I enjoyed my music GCSE, I studied it beyond GCSE and I found it as academically demanding as the others. I also set a precedent, I was the first male for years to take music but that increased quickly.

What’s this got to do with Ebacc?

I’m not sure, I know when reading Nicky Morgan’s comments today I felt a little annoyed, having been in the situation described above. However, I do feel that the Ebac ensures that all learners have access to a good broad grounding. I’m glad I did music, but I’m equally glad I did the others as well.

I worry that the focus shifting as it is will see subjects like music and art shoved a side and that would be a tragedy. I like the curriculum model Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) has shared recently, as it offers a good grounding which includes something creative.

What about Vocational Education?

For too long we’ve got vocational education wrong. The rise of GCSE equivalent qualifications meant that learners could in fact walk away with a bagful of “GCSE equivalents” but arrive in the post school world to discover they are anything but. The Ebac and other recent changes have been positive in that respect, but they seem write off Vocational Education completely. Which is a shame as the idea is sound, we’ve just got it wrong for a long time.

So, what are you saying?

I think the Ebacc is nice in theory, but there are potentially worrying side affects for creative subjects. I also think that all the policy at the moment is patching up holes, instead of sorting out the structural damage.

I like Tristram Hunt’s recent ideas regarding scrapping GCSEs and implementing a baccalaureate system that has two truly equivalent qualifications, one academic and one vocational, or technical. This is an idea that seems to be backed by John Cridland of CBI and could link in to changes on HE too, with technical degrees being introduced to increase the expertise in manufacturing.

An End to GCSEs?

April 24, 2015 2 comments

This article was originally published on Labour Teachers here.

This week Tristram Hunt postulated in the Guardian that a Labour government may look to phase out GCSEs all together. if you didn’t catch the article, have a look here.

It’s an interesting article, and I have to say I like some of the things he’s saying. Firstly, he’s ruling out radical quick reform. This is something that has been playing on my mind, after 4 years of Gove’s fast paced reformation I feel we need time to let it embed. We haven’t assessed the new GCSEs or A Levels yet and won’t for a few years, and I feel it is right to let this take place given the work that is already underway. I happen to think the new maths curricula are in fact better than the old ones so am looking forward to teaching the new content. I am happy, though, that there are plans afoot to restore the AS /A level link.

The second thing I liked about Tristram’s comments was that he feels there is a wider discussion to be had, and that the education agenda needs to be thought through in a long term manner. This is something Gove never really seemed to think. With him it was reform, reform, reform. Some good, some bad, all fast. It felt like consultations were being hidden because they were being done over the six week summer holidays where many involved in education are refreshing themselves ahead of the new academic year. Tristram seems committed to taking views from all stakeholders and working with the sector, rather than imposing on it.

Finally, there is the proposal itself. An end to the current model and a total overhaul of everything we know! It’s a scary prospect, but also an exciting one.

I’ve written before about vocational education and our repeated failure, as a nation, to get it right. Maybe this is how we can. Instead of single subjects the suggestion is that students would leave with a baccalaureate. This could be academic or vocational and both would be equivalent.

The ins and outs aren’t fleshed out in the article, but I would envision a core section (possibly covering the old “three Rs”, basic history, hopefully some political education) and then a wide selection of options. I believe other countries run similar types of programmes. I’d imagine it gives a lot of scope for choice.

I do have reservations though, and I would certainly need more information before I could definitely say I agreed with the proposal. It’s unclear when students would sit it. We’ve seen a requirement introduced for young people to be in education or training up until 18, but if the baccalaureate was assessed at 18 would those choosing apprenticeships and the such from 16 leave school with nothing? Would study towards a baccalaureate be a requirement for said apprenticeships? Or would young people need to stay in school until 18? What exactly would the baccalaureate look like? How would we ensure the technical baccalaureate and the academic one hold the same footing? All in all, an interesting development that opens a much wider conversation.

What do you think about these proposals? Do you think this could be the way forward, or would you prefer to keep the system as is? I’d love to know!

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