This much I know about…an alternative to the English Baccalaureate Certificate

I have been a Headteacher for over nine years now and, at the age of 48, this much I know about an alternative to the English Baccalaureate Certificate.

If Jeremy Hunt announced a backward-looking reform to appendix operations which would be hugely invasive and leave patients in hospital for a fortnight (such as I experienced in 1977), the medical profession would deride him. Why aren’t we deriding Gove over his EBC proposals, which are the educational equivalent?

In some ways I am baffled by the lack of a coordinated, urgent response to Gove’s EBC proposals. What he has proposed is so clearly misguided, so reeking in ideology, so obviously wrong for our children; but, as far as I can tell, no group of highly regarded education professionals is offering an alternative discourse which will be ready to challenge him in time. The SSAT’s work is hugely promising (ow.ly/eDTgK), but does not begin until January. The consultation on the EBC ends in December. When he announced it, Gove didn’t sound very open to changing his plans. It will take a group of clear-thinking educationalists five minutes to shape something infintely better than the EBC.

On the other hand, the lack of opposition is explicable. There seem to me to be three reasons why there is no concerted opposition to Gove’s proposals. Firstly, he has the profession fighting on so many fronts, including the hugely important GCSE fiasco, that the EBC is down the list of issues currently troubling Headteachers; secondly, the climate of fear in schools has, to some extent, paralysed us; lastly, anyone who opposes Gove’s reforms is ridiculed for being against rigour and labelled an enemy of promise. It will take courageous, values-driven leadership to publicly propose an alternative to the EBC.

Don’t accuse me of rejecting rigour, ever. I assume when people use the term rigour in this debate they mean something like academically challenging content, coupled with strictly adhered to, demanding assessment criteria which place an emphasis upon high standards of basic literacy and numeracy. If that’s the case, I believe in rigour. Developing their literacy and numeracy skills and encouraging our students to think rigorously are fundamental aims of all the teachers I know. Perhaps that’s why Gove wants a return to learning by rote. As Orwell said, If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.

Don’t accuse me of being an enemy of promise, ever. I have dedicated my life, at some personal cost, to helping young people from all socio-economic backgrounds realise their promise and live lives beyond their youthful imaginations.

Gove’s plans were so easy to see coming and the GCSE fiasco has been his smokescreen. On 1 September I wrote this: I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but doesn’t this mess play into Gove’s hands? He can reappear in October, when Glenys Stacey has taken the rap and resigned, and restore order with norm-referenced O levels. It was only the date I got wrong – Stacey’s resignation is just a matter of time (obviously!).

So far the Labour Party has been ineffectual in opposing Gove’s reforms; the Technical Baccalaureate is very poorly thought through and irrelevant – adding Baccalaureate to a proposal does not instantly confer credibility. I think this is an opportunity for them to offer something far more radical. As Fiona Millar tweeted today, Labour needs a policy to address situation we will inherit in 2015 not re-live old arguments from the past.

I’m not the only one who has little time for Gove’s proposals. I’ve heard that The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses Conference (HMC) don’t like the EBC either, much to Gove’s chagrin; the private sector prefers the i-GCSE apparently.

I know ASCL encourage us all to respond to the EBC consultation, but if you’ve read the consultation, it’s about tweaking the name of the qualification, not about what’s right for our students now and for the future. Of course we must respond to the consultation, but we need to do so much more.

I have concerns about the EBC as both a parent and a Headteacher. I have a Year 7 son. I have written before about Ollie’s complexities. His ability to day-dream is a delight. I asked him this morning what he was doing and he replied, Playing with my toys in my bedroom. He has the equivalent of the European Butter Mountain of Transformers action figures and creates incredible narratives with them for hours on end. But ask him where his school bag is and he won’t have a clue! Project Based Learning and blended assessment strategies will help ensure he flourishes and that his talents are recognised. Synoptic, one chance only, three hour examinations when he reaches 16 will crush his vulnerable spirit. Such assessments will be terminal in many ways.

I think parents might be the key to opposing Gove’s regressive EBC. If parents are vocal in their rejection of the EBC, especially parents from Tory heartlands, then I think we have a chance of averting an educational disaster for our children; if the Tories won’t listen to people like us who know about these things, they might listen to people who vote for them. As Malcolm Tucker (Armando Iannucci) said last night they are a political class which has given up on morality and simply pursues popularity at all costs.

There is little time to lose. The Tories need to pass legislation by 2014, in time for the next election, so the EBC consultation ends on 10 December. We have six working weeks before Gove stops listening completely; we must begin our campaign for an alternative to the EBC now!

About johntomsett

Headteacher in York. All views are my own.
This entry was posted in General educational issues. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to This much I know about…an alternative to the English Baccalaureate Certificate

  1. David brazier says:

    An excellent post. Getting my thinking hat on….The Tories are so removed from realIty!

  2. tonyparkin says:

    John .. I personally think it is fine to be ‘An Enemy of Promise’ when it is Gove’s false promises that are under consideration. But as ever you have nailed the issue superbly. Intend to ‘borrow’ ideas (with full credit) for event next Wednesday. http://www.meetup.com/TechHeads-Network/events/83267882

  3. Sophy says:

    My son is in Year 7. What should I do to protect him from Gove’s nonsense? Here’s my thoughts – I’d welcome any other suggestions:
    – contact his head teacher and form tutor to ask for the school’s thoughts on EBC in the first instance (if they support it I’ll have to reconsider my son’s presence at that school)
    – ask the headteacher to present the proposal to the parents of current pupils for our chance to respond (since it will affect our children)
    – spread the word around the PTA to support a coherent and co-ordinated response from parents
    – get local media to report on the issue and reach out to other school communities
    – invite our local MP to attend follow up meetings to ensure our view can be represented further
    – write a co-ordinated response to Gove and the HMC
    What have I missed?

  4. John
    We may be a small awarding organisation, but we have a cunning plan! I would like to email you.
    Best wishes Marius Frank CEO ASDAN Education
    mariusfrank@asdan.org.uk

  5. Dave Peck says:

    Agreed – powerfully expressed. We need all the nation’s developers of promise to follow your example and refuse to accept Gove’s derogatory labels.

    It’s a very clever strategy: rubbish the education system, label critics of reform as enemies of promise, justify ill-informed ideological proposals with the label ‘rigour’ and, it seems, Gove can get away with anything.

    The absence of unified opposition is both alarming and staggering. A colleague suggested the trouble is Gove is two thirds wrong & one third right. We might argue with the fractions but it is true that he laces his doctrine with some threads of sense which are used to justify the rest.

    Rather like the E.D.Hirsch knowledge dogma, we seem to have to operate in a simplistic world of absolutes. It’s all about knowledge so forget about skills and personal development. Gove claims to be for rigour & against enemies of promise so everything he says must be right.

    We need the failing system / enemies of promise assertions refuted every time they are used. The press never question them any more.

    Beyond that though, there is much to be said for ignoring all the nonsense and simply doing the right thing by our young people. The right curriculum for every child is not synonymous with the EBC curriculum.

  6. Sarah says:

    A fantastic post. As a teacher and a parent of young children – one of whom may or may not be dyslexic – we are all worried about the future for all children and our own. I read the article in the guardian education today about your group and felt some optimism for the first time in a while. Thanks. We will be reading your posts from now on.

  7. Toby Young says:

    Talk about a straw man! Here’s what it says on the DfE’s website:

    “English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs)

    On 17 September 2012 the Secretary of State announced proposals for Key Stage 4 qualifications from 2015. He proposes moving away from the competition between Awarding Organisations (AO) in the EBacc subjects – English, mathematics, sciences, history, geography, and languages – (appointing a single AO to deliver qualifications in each subject) and launched a consultation on the characteristics and implementation of English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs).

    Currently the EBacc measure is made up of English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language. Once introduced, only EBCs will count towards the EBacc measure. Until EBCs are introduced in each subject, the qualifications that currently count towards the EBacc will continue to count. This may mean that a combination of EBCs in English, mathematics and sciences, and existing qualifications in history, geography and languages will count toward the EBacc measure during the phased transition to the new qualifications.”

    The way you’ve presented Michael Gove’s proposals, it’s as if from 2015 children will have no choice but to take EBCs, when, in fact, all he’s proposing is that *some* subjects should be examined by a single examining board. What’s to stop your son taking exams at the end of KS4 in a combination of EBC subjects and non-EBC subjects or just non-EBC subjects?

    • johntomsett says:

      Why would I want my son to be examined by terminal 3 hour examinations? Why would I want my son to be taking subjects which did not give him access to attaining the qualification which had national currency?

  8. Pingback: Best of the frontline bloggers (week ending 26th October 2012) « Guerilla Policy

  9. Nikijewett says:

    I want to put a form into the DFE saying that I am against the proposals, which I truely am, but I do not work in education and do not know how to say what I think in a way that will be considered valid. How does one simply put what our children will be losing by his proposals? This is why parents don’t know how to respond, the report is difficult to respond to unless you are academically involved in education. The way one has to respond is difficult, has not been made easy and therefore is exclusive. What happened to the arts by the way? do they suddenly not exist? What do we export from this country these days, music, design, creativity, amazing comedy writing, tv and film of unprecedented quality. Where is the place for any of this in Gove’s future for education?

  10. Teach your children Latin and Greek root words. So much of the English language is rooted in these two. Your children will gain a greater comprehension of the words they see and hear. It will also help them on college testing. Understanding how language works is beneficial in a number of every day applications.

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