Bacc for the future. Some words on a flawed consultation.

A few weeks ago I was trying to enthuse some trainee teachers and NQTs about the value of blogging for educators. One of them not unreasonably asked me what my own blog was about. I explained that I had tried to write a dedicated education blog once but that a multitude of factors conspired against it gaining much momentum. Besides, I argued, my life doesn’t feel that compartmentalised so why should my blog(s)? Perhaps if I was really concerned about building an audience it ought to be. Perhaps not.

All of which is by way of prefacing what follows: a sidestep from Unpopular songs of the year to a lengthy post about the state of education in the UK in the 21st Century written by a former colleague of mine. Ivan Godfrey MBE was a Deputy Head in my current school when he interviewed me for my first teaching post (he wasn’t yet an MBE then!). A few years after that he told me how good it was to hear a song by The Jam played in a school assembly (I think he missed the one where I played Richard Hell & The Voidoids). He would normally shy away from mentioning his MBE, but since it was awarded for service to education over a 40 year period I believe it adds some gravitas to his voice.

Needless to say, I agree wholeheartedly with what Ivan says: 

Reforming KS4 qualifications – Ebacc, a flawed
consultation, a flawed philosophy

The education of our
nation's children is central to Britain's future prosperity and
wellbeing.  Its complex organisation does not need simplistic solutions
but a whole gamut of subtle and imaginative approaches aimed at bringing out
the best of all our children's abilities wherever they might lie. Employers now
require people who can communicate well, work with others, use modern
technology, be creative and imaginative and show initiative.  
This consultation document, (and the thinking behind it), is fundamentally flawed
and hugely regressive because

  • It elevates a
    ‘final’ testing procedure for 16-year olds to the ultimate goal of our
    education system
  • It proposes an
    end-of-course exam that would in no way reflect the totality of students’
    learning processes
  • It omits essential
    elements of the curriculum, in particular, creative and design skills
  • It is likely to
    result in the dual calamity of failing to challenge and test the real
    needs of the most able and, at the same time, being totally irrelevant and
    demotivating for the rest of the school population. 

To reduce the assessment process to ‘final’ exams as outlined wastes
time and is not cost effective when all students will be continuing their
studies beyond 16.  The theory seems to
be that, to remedy our perceived educational ills and to improve the
educational performance of our children, all we need to do is change the final
goalposts in the educational process by introducing a more rigorous
examinations' system based around traditional subjects and remembered factual
knowledge.  These proposals inhabit a fantasy world where students achieve higher
levels just because they are faced with a new ‘more rigorous’ exam structure –
akin to telling our Olympic high-jumpers we will ensure they get a gold medal
by raising the bar an extra 10 centimetres.

Compared with many of our competitor nations our education system
‘over-tests’. Yet international comparisons are used to bolster the theory that our system
is failing. This is a gross and wilfully political misconception based on shaky
evidence (even a YouGov poll!).  Those with an understanding of education
know that it is the learning process that matters, not the
examination.  Fiddling with exams is not
the answer.  Giving emphasis and funding
to improving standards through the Sure Start framework and Early Years’
education and then building upon that through the primary and secondary sectors
(as has been done in recent years) will see standards rise.

The consultation further suggests that our education system fails to
meet the needs of the most able, so an exam (and
teaching) structure is proposed to benefit those students likely to be
successful at a certain type of exam with a high pass mark requirement.  Skills are not compartmentalised into single
subject area blocks of 120 minute exams … and will the most able pupils be sufficiently
challenged to demonstrate their potential if the emphasis is on end of course
recall rather than application of knowledge?

Employers complain
about literacy and numeracy amongst students today … but
they now look for standards from students in the 60th percentile of
ability and below that would have only been required of students in the
top 10 per cent in the past. 
These changes in the necessary knowledge and skills required have
presented the educational world with the huge challenge of keeping pace and
addressing the needs of average and below average students within
schools.  To believe that a single non-tiered exam on the
lines proposed would be accessible to all is wishful thinking.  It fails to address the needs of average and
less able students, many of whom, sadly, have to be convinced of the
inherent value and worth of learning in the first place.  Introducing harder
exams will only de-motivate the majority of students and will offer nothing
other than a sense of failure.  The
resultant disenchantment with the education process presents our nation with an
extremely serious danger that cannot be ignored. 

The International Baccalaureate is a qualification for students aged 18+
recognised worldwide and based on a broad and inclusive curriculum.  I have no objection to the concept of a
baccalaureate system modelled on the international framework but such a
model would need to reflect the requirements of the world of the
2020s and well beyond. It would incorporate skills such as teamwork, ability to
use educational aids
appropriately, interpersonal skills, creativity and lateral thinking.  To use the name
‘baccalaureate’, however, for the sterile examination system proposed is
confusing and misleading.   

The consultation proposals mark a sea change from the consensus
development of improved performance that has worked its way up through pre-school
education, the primary sector and beyond in recent years.  I fear they will create disillusionment and
confusion for students, parents and teachers. 
I would love to think that the government would

  • abandon
    the current proposals and return to the drawing board to work with
    professionals across the education world to address the issues of real
    importance for education in the 21st century.
  • move
    the focus away from the final examination process to concentrate resources
    and efforts on addressing all learning issues by embedding progress
    already made in the primary and early secondary curriculum.

Ivan Godfrey MBE (awarded for services to education in 2011)
11th December 2012

Formerly – secondary teacher of French and German : Head of 6th
Form : Deputy Head Curriculum (secondary) : Chair of Governors (primary) :
Executive Officer and subsequently President of Devon Association of Governors
: Chair of Devon Schools’ Forum and member of numerous other Devon county-wide
bodies : member of board of Governorline : member of board of NAGM and active
member of NGC and NGA : SW Governor of the Year (2007)

You can download Ivan's complete response to the 'Reforming KS4 Qualifications' consultation here.

You can download Andrew Lovett's response to the 'Reforming KS4 Qualifications' consultation here.

One thought on “Bacc for the future. Some words on a flawed consultation.

  1. Hats off to Ivan! This is a trenchant and measured response to yet another ‘change ‘ by the odious and destructive Gove. Gove has set about trashing local accountability and the structure of school provision in an unprincipled manner. Funding has been siphoned off to academies and (even more so ) free schools. The salary structure of the teaching profession has now been removed. And the curriculum review – with no basis in research or data- threatens to compound the damage, as Ivan points out. Incidentally, the ‘debate’ regarding the proposals for the History curriculum is a metaphor for the ideologically driven actions of Gove. He is a dangerous menace and it must be demoralising and depressing for teachers building their careers wihthin such a culture. AS ever they will do the best for their students but…
    The one thing which stops me tipping over into a blue funk is the mental image of your assembly! I’m wondering which track you played. ‘Love comes in spurts’? or – for theological reasons – ‘ Walking on the water’? As for Gove, ‘Liars beware’ would have been apt.


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