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!