The All New Variety Bac

Now you’re probably not aware that, separately from the current national curriculum review, on February 11th the Commons Education Select Committee quietly announced “a new inquiry and call for evidence into the English Baccalaureate”.

The submissions, which need to be returned by the 8th March, must:

  • be no more than 3,000 words in length;
  • have numbered paragraphs; and
  • (if in electronic form) be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.

I knew those essay writing and number skills I learned at school would come in useful one day…

One of the problems with the e-bac is that it only promotes a rounded (though in reality extremely narrow) academic education that is seen as having any value. So, assuming the e-bac is here to stay, then let’s at least suggest some alternative e-bacs to run alongside the current academic e-bac. This way everyone gets the opportunity to succeed in their chosen e-bac specialism. These are not ‘dumbed down’ courses, but, within their own context, highly challenging. For example:

  • a technology e-bac which consists of English, maths, science, IT eco-systems* and design and innovation*
  • a science e-bac covering English, maths, and 3 sciences
  • a creative arts and media e-bac covering English, art and design, music, drama and media studies
  • an itech e-bac consisting of English, maths, information systems and design*, enterprise and innovation*, IT eco-systems*
  • a sports e-bac that includes English, PE, science, management studies and the history of sport and leisure*
  • a modern languages e-bac with English, German, an oriental language, European studies* and economics
  • a vocational e-bac, with English, maths, business and enterprise studies*, communication studies and ICT
  • a classical e-bac – English, Latin, Greek, History and RE
  • a humanities e-bac, with English, History, Geography, RE and a MFL.

Courses marked* do not yet exist!

To add more flexibility and personalisation there would be some ‘either/or’ options.  Of course students still take further GCSE courses outside their specialist e-bac area.

Suggestions please for further eBac specialisms – humorous or otherwise!

Meanwhile there’s an excellent analysis of the current e-bac proposals here.

Cut off their Goolies…

Hands up those of you who saw Lord Adonis and Katherine Birbalsingh on Newsnight yesterday. Well, overlooking the fact that you shouldn’t have been up so late on a school night, it turned out to be one of those rather uneasy interviews where the two guests realise that they actually tend to agree with each other. And the general consensus was that we need more no-nonsense order and discipline, somehow to be achieved by a return to a very traditional approach to teaching and learning in which the kids sit silently in rows soaking up the knowledge from their fact-filled teacher preaching from the front.

You can see the full report here:

It starts at around 17 mins 15 seconds, with the studio interview beginning at 23 mins 51 seconds

What they don’t seem to get is that is that it’s not so much how things are taught, but what is being taught that’s the problem. When the students perceive that the lesson content has some relevance to their future life, then they become eager to learn and don’t start to become disruptive. I’m reminded of one of the best lessons I ever observed, which was a class of disaffected 15 year-olds being taught metal workshop practice. They were fully engaged, perfectly behaved and learnt a lot in a short space of time – despite the fact, or more likely because of the fact that there was not an National Curriculum Attainment Target anywhere in sight.

Meanwhile the Newsnight TV debate somewhat reminded me of the classic ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ sketch where Pamela Stephenson’s social theorist shocks everyone by agreeing with Mel Smith’s plans for yob control – that the only solution was to ‘cut off their goolies’.

“La La La La La, I can’t hear you”

It seems that the chattering teachers are starting to realise that there is a National Curriculum review taking place, and that subjects such as Art&Design, D&T and other so called ‘soft’ subjects might be left out. And just for once, instead of competing with each other for superiority, such subjects appear to be united in their fear of being marginalised. Sadly it’s all come a bit late, as Mr Gove has his fingers stuck firmly in his ears and is singing loudly “La La La La La, I can’t hear you”.

First though, there’s the issue of the EBac and all the media-hyped reports of schools cutting courses in the creative arts. Surely any sensible headteacher is not going to risk entering all students for the EBac subjects at the expense of reducing the number of overall GCSE A*-C passes – an ‘A’ in Art must be better than a ‘F’ in a MFL? And anyway, the EBac only consists of five subjects, so, as most students take between 8 and 10 subjects, there’s still plenty of scope for other ‘non-EBac’ subjects to flourish?

Meanwhile, controversially as ever, I suggest we should be celebrating the ‘de-acadimisation’ of subjects that are more accessible to the vast majority of students. Outside of the constraints of the National Curriculum Attainment Targets and totally ill-conceived Level Statements, teachers will once again become free to cover what is most appropriate for their students and circumstances. Then, when they’ve remembered, or come to realise, what it was like before the National Curriculum, start to take risks again and develop new more creative approaches to education in the Arts without fear of an Ofsted inspector telling them they should be following the rules all the time.

So, while it’s a shame that students who have the misfortune to be academically able will continue to be denied access to more creative, technical and vocationally-oriented courses, at least the rest will be able to gain proper credit for their talents and abilities without the need to sit and often fail the obligatory ‘written-paper’.

While I don’t want to go back to the 1950s, the 1980’s surely was a more progressive and optimistic time? Back there maybe we can at least start to pick up again where we left off…

Russell Spouts

Here we go again – the Guardian is reinforcing the media message that academic is best for everyone, based on a report by the totally unbiased and dis-interested Russell Group – a lobbying group for Oxford, Cambridge and 18 other leading universities.

I particularly enjoyed this bit:

Yesterday Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group admitted that choosing the right subjects at GCSE and A-level was “crucial to whether a teenager maximised or reduced their opportunities and life chances”.

In other words, the only way you will ever be successful in life is if you go to a top university and become an academic?

(The report) gives media studies, art and design, photography and business studies as examples of “soft” subjects and states that they are “vocational or  have a practical bias”. “If you plan to take more than one perceived ‘soft’ subject, some caution may be needed,” the guidebook warns.

Yes – you had better be careful or you might end up getting a job in something you are actually good at and find interesting!