Standing against the EBacc


Michael Gove's EBacc-focused curriculum is a threat to our culture – and it's down to schools to hold their moral compass, says SecEd's headteacher diarist.

Baroness Estelle Morris flickered all so briefly as the best education secretary the country has ever had – remember after only a year in post, 2002, she resigned because the flawed national literacy and numeracy targets were not met. Compare her honourable behaviour to Michael’s silence on the GCSE debacle.

She writes a fabulous column in The Guardian and as an ex-teacher her opinion matters and holds more credence than the Eton boys; she is rightly worried: “The assessment system sends a powerful message ... of what defines success – no value on art, drama, music or dance.”

She is right. The gold standard is becoming the English Baccalaureate and schools are bowing to the pressure of Ofsted judgements and changing their curriculum and timetables to ensure students who wish to go to university take this mythical “qualification”.

On the Department for Education (DfE) website, I stumbled across the reasons why the English Baccalaureate was introduced. The apparent contradiction shows why our education system is in such a mess: “The English Baccalaureate was introduced as a performance measure ... it is not a qualification.”

It goes on to state that: “Many of these non-academic qualifications ... do not carry weight for entry to higher education or for getting a job.”

I know the debate has been raging since 2010 when the EBacc was slyly introduced as a performance measure. I know it is now one of the major judgements used to measure school performance – but this is madness and as headteachers we have to hold our moral compass and do what is right for our children, and not for the Conservative government.

The EBacc is flawed thinking; a traditional view of schooling and assessment. It goes hand-in-hand with the GCSE reforms that believe only testing via terminal exams can measure learning. But not for us. A lot of our work as a school has been to look at the New Zealander Professor John Hattie’s extensive school-based research on what really makes a difference to students’ learning.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, effective teacher feedback and the accurate diagnosis of the problem and then the student fixing the problem is viewed as the most significant aid to learning. Is this not the devalued coursework? 

Testing and class sizes with 1:1 and small group work are viewed as the least effective form of learning, which is an interesting view as millions of pounds have been spent on 1:1 tuition in a desperate attempt to redress the learning gap, with end-of-module testing seen as the only measure of schools and student performance.

Surely now is the time for a rigorous debate. As the bard states, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” (Henry IV, Part II). I can’t wait for Mr Gove’s departure, as he has become a strong threat to some of the subjects that underpin our culture, our Britishness. Slowly and insidiously the education system is being undermined.

Lifelong learning has to be what schools are about and for some students – RE, art, or construction, for example, could well be the right courses.

Let’s take the government at its stated word and allow the authority to be devolved to the schools to deliver a curriculum, a pathway through education, that is right for our children and our community. Now that could be revolutionary.

As chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw reminded us in his first annual report: “Teaching is the most noble and honourable of professions.” It is time to return to those roots!

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.



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