Reading much of today’s press, put to bed last night before nice Mr Gove’s appearance at the House of Commons today, one might easily jump to the conclusions that yesterday’s All Change Please!‘s post was now well past its sell-by date and suggest that the 7th February should become National Arts Day in which we all take to the streets singing, dancing and painting in celebration of the day the EBacc was laid to rest and the Arts lived to fight another day. And you might further want to celebrate the day that Mr Gove had to admit he had got the whole thing wrong and that he had finally come to his senses and did the right thing.
But nice, innocent looking Mr Gove is of course a lot sneakier than that. First he managed to shift the blame for his so-called U turn on GCSEs on the fact that he had been advised that setting up single, ie non-competitive, exam boards would fall foul of European legislation. Quite how those two things are connected All Change Please! has yet to establish. And in fact, all that Mr Gove actually announced was that his idea to re-name GCSEs as EBaccs had turned out to be a ‘bridge too far’. In other words the more so-called rigorous, end of course, 3 hour, no-conferring, academic written papers are still with us, but just now called GCSEs again. He then announced an end to the two-tier higher and lower system of papers, meaning that all pupils will have to answer exactly the same questions. However, he added, extension papers will be offered to more able candidates hoping to achieve the higher grades. So, no suggestion of a two tier approach there then?
But the most significant change announced was is in the introduction of a complicated eight subject performance measure, which extends the new EBacc, or rather GCSE, subjects by including a further three non EBacc GCSE subjects, ie that can potentially include Arts subjects, PE, RE, etc. So, as it stands, to come top of the league tables, schools will now have to encourage students to take English language, maths, two sciences, geography or history and a modern foreign language. Plus another three that are not EBacc GCSE subjects, up to a maximum of ten subjects. Now, add in English literature, and it will make it very difficult for a student to take all three sciences, or geography and history, or French and German (or whatever). Confused? You will be…, especially on Year 9 options evening. Hmm – All Change Please! is starting to get the distinct feeling that this is yet another hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope, quick-fix bit of spin written by an unpaid intern that the DfE hope they might get away with.
And then there’s the revelation that the EBCertificate has not actually gone away, as students who complete the core six academic EBacc GCSE subjects will still gain the so-called prestigious award, and the measure will still be included in league tables. Now this does mean that while the 8 subject measure will at least give parents a better guidance as to the quality of breadth offered by a school, they will still want to see a good EBacc performance as well. So while the perceived value and uptake of Arts and other non-academic EBacc subjects has been raised, they still come second to the mighty EBC.
Meanwhile of course there’s also been the introduction of the proposed new National Curriculum. Strange that both things should be announced at exactly the same time? Why the urgency to tell everyone that EBaccs were going to be still called GCSEs, even though they weren’t? All Change Please! has no objection to a slimmed down NC defining the really fundamental knowledge that clearly everyone needs to acquire and understand, but there is little evidence here that what has been defined has been very carefully thought through in terms of the ease of the access to certain types of knowledge made possible by the information age, or indeed even agreed with teachers and subject associations. Much of it is as clear as mud.
And speaking of mud, watch out for tomorrow’s post on the new proposals for design and technology….