EBCs: A disaster plan

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How many professions in the 21st century require the skills of working alone, with pen and paper, for hours on end? Dr Mary Bousted leads the fight-back against the EBCs.

We all need to fight to mitigate the worst aspects of the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs). 

The Liberal Democrats are in the last chance saloon when it comes to their reputation as having educational principles for which they are prepared to fight. 

Having allowed through free schools and academies to appoint unqualified teachers and having allowed the most prescriptive and restrictive proposed primary national curriculum, the Liberal Democrats have either to show some backbone or to be blamed for abandoning schools and pupils.

Michael Gove’s proposed EBCs gives Lib Dem ministers the grounds on which they can begin a fight-back against his disastrous education agenda, outlined in the Department for Education (DfE) consultation paper on the EBCs proposals.

The first three questions in the consultation paper are a joke, although not a funny one, and display Mr Gove’s contempt for teachers, lecturers, school and college leaders, and just about anyone who knows anything about education.

The questions are: Do you agree the new qualifications should not be called GCSEs? Do you agree that the new qualification should be called the English Baccalaureate Certificate? If no, what title should be adopted?

Our answer to all three is that the EBC proposals stink whatever they are called. If Mr Gove is allowed to get away with it, England’s pupils, at age 16, will have their futures decided by timed exams, with no coursework element, no practical element, no extended projects and no exams tiered by ability.

It is the latter upon which the Lib Dems argue that they have secured a victory. One exam for all pupils will ensure inclusivity, they argue. In making this claim they ignore the simple truth that if the exam is unsuitable for all but the most academic pupils, it will simply exclude, demotivate and demoralise many pupils whose skills and abilities do not lend themselves to written tests. And how many professions in the 21st century require the skills of working alone, with pen and paper, for hours on end?

The end of tiered exams will not bring more inclusive outcomes. Teachers know that when GCSEs were first introduced there was one exam paper for all. Tiers were introduced because it was found to be impossible for one exam to differentiate appropriately and, most importantly, some pupils were humiliated by an exam in which they could only answer a few questions and then had to sit there for hours on end watching their more academic peers tackle questions they could not answer.

This is not to argue that GCSEs are not in need of reform. There are always ways in which exam systems can improve. Many argue that modular GCSEs have brought about an imbalance in the time used for assessment rather than spent teaching and learning. 

But, apart from Govean rhetoric, there has been no serious consideration of what exam reform is needed to promote better outcomes for pupils and for the nation, or, indeed, whether a national exam at 16 is needed at all when the majority of young people remain in education or training until they are 18.

However, despite the bias and negativity, and despite the outrageous claims, I encourage all secondary school teachers to log on to the DfE website, follow the link to the consultation paper and answer the questions which are not beneath their contempt. 

In particular the questions about whether it would be possible to end tiering and what aspects of the core subjects require internal assessment to fully demonstrate the skills required and why.

A huge volume of responses, redolent of teachers’ knowledge, skills and expertise, is desperately needed if Gove’s disaster plan is to be amended.

  • Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Visit www.atl.org.uk




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