Thursday, 7 February 2013

A narrow road - English Baccalaureate

This piece, taken from this week's Big Issue in the North magazine, shows why it was right that Michael Gove has abandoned one of his pet projects......

A head teacher fears government plans to narrow the education examination system by ignoring creative and vocational subjects will result in falling attendance levels in schools. 

Tony Gavin has been in charge for ten years at Laurence Jackson, a specialist sports school of over 1,300 pupils in Guisborough, North Yorkshire.

Gavin has raised GCSE pass levels at the school and from 286 pupils who left last summer just three are not in education, employment or training.  He is now worried that reforms announced by education secretary Michael Gove will pressurise pupils to do subjects they are not interested in and will lead to some of them abandoning their studies.

Gove told Parliament last year that: “Record increases in GCSE performance have failed to prevent UK schools falling down international education league tables…as a result, employers fear students lack the skills for the modern workplace and the knowledge for advanced study.  We believe it is time for the race to the bottom to end.”

Higher levels 

A new system of English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBC) will replace GCSE’s in six subjects – maths, English, sciences, a language and history or geography.

The new qualifications in English, sciences and maths will start in two years time and will exclude coursework assessment in favour of a single three-hour examination. Pupils will need to achieve higher levels beyond those currently required to achieve a grade c pass level at GCSE. GCSE’s in other subjects would remain, at least in the short term. Gove anticipates many pupils will need to re-sit EBC examinations when they are aged 17 or 18.

A consultation period on the changes ended last December. Requests for an extended, improved consultation have been made by many organisations, including the Musicians Union and the Writers’ Guild. They feel EBCs ‘ignore creative and vocational subjects……and fail to recognise that culture, the arts and education do in fact contribute greatly to the economy. 

Creative industries

They point out that creative industries provide 6% of Britain’s GDP, £16 billion in exports, and employ at least 2 million people.

Gavin shares these concerns. “ Schools will inevitably narrow their subject focus towards the EBCs,” he said. “Fifteen years ago in primary schools the focus was switched to literacy and numeracy and this considerably narrowed the curriculum.

“Schools like ours that provide a balanced curriculum will be teaching subjects that are going to be devalued. Yet I would estimate over a third of pupils at an average school cannot contend with simply an academic curriculum.

“We have worked hard in raising attendance levels amongst young people who have the greatest difficulties with academic qualifications. 

“We try and achieve a balance between academic, creative and vocational studies. Because we do sports courses then many youngsters have gone into decent leisure industry jobs. 

“I would like to do more art, music and IT - especially as the computer games industry is so big - but that may prove impossible. You cannot force children to attend school and I fear the numbers not doing so will increase under these proposals.”

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