There are so many things I don’t understand about the introduction of the English Baccalaureate it’s hard to know where to start. So, for fun, let’s assume the Gove hasn’t introduced this measure as a way to re-establish a two tier education system, that this isn’t a hopelessly naive nostalgia trip seeking to downgrade the subjects important to 21st Century life-long learning, and that the measure isn’t merely making no sense because no-one has thought it through.
No, let’s be rational and analytical like the well-educated individuals Gove wants. Let’s ask some questions.
1.Will including one language GCSE in the Ebac will improve the general ability of this country to speak Modern Foreign Languages?
It’s a bit late by then, to be honest. We all know that early language learning is the key to competancy. Gove’s comment that without language learning “ an integral part of the brain's learning capacity rusts unused” leaves me bewildered. The brain’s ability to learn language in a natural way that is distinct from other learning declines rapidly from infancy onwards. It plays no part in learning at GCSE, it barely impacts on language learning in KS2 when MFLs are introduced. One language in the EBac is not going to make the enormous cultural shift in learning that this country really needs to improve communication in MFLs (not that all of Gove’s languages are Modern. The lack of uptake in Ancient Greek is just as worrying to Gove), and his comment on the brain is dangerously close to Bad Science.
2. Will the EBac help improve uptake of Science subjects?
No. As with language, just the one science is needed, a requirement most schools make voluntarily. One science at GCSE does not a scientist make. It won’t help you study at A-level standard and cannot possibly of any use at university level, given the current Science A levels only just meet the mark.
3. Will the Ebac help your University chances?
No. A levels are what Universities look at. And if you’re applying for Engineering, will your Geography and Written Hebrew GCSEs really help you get in? No more than that week at Cub Camp you padded your UCAS form with.
4. Does the EBac imply you’re smart?
Gove wants students who achieve the Ebac to get a Special Certificate. To show how special they are. Maybe they’d like a sticker too, which is just as meaningful. My Husband studied no humanities at school, would not have got his EBac sticker, but can calculate cumulative interest payments in his head, which is pretty handy. We all know people who are brilliant in their field and hopeless outside of it. Taking EBac subjects does not imply that you are any more intelligent than someone who has studied Music or Sociology or Theology or ICT. However, the fact that other subjects are no longer ”core” and referred to as “soft” does devalue your ability in them. We have no need, EBac says, for the engineers or the designers, let alone the Artists or Musicians. Let their needs and talents go by the wayside. Because that’s what will happen to those subjects when schools don’t have to account for learning in them. There is only so much budget to not-quite-go-round, after all.
5. Why isn’t the EBac being made compulsory?
The National Curriculum is a legal document. It is a legal requirement of schools to teach the National Curriculum. To make the EBac compulsory would require all sorts of complicated law-passing activities, which need consultation, research and evidence-based rationale. Why bother with all of that when you can simply pressure schools into using it through the menace of League Tables? Much simpler this way.
6. Are Geography and History the most valuable humanities?
Of course not. They are no more demanding intellectually than sociology, psychology or RE. To classify them as harder than other subjects is ridiculous. Questions are only easy if you know the answers. I studied History and Geography at GCSE. I got an A in both without too much effort. The subject that made me sweat blood was Graphic Design. Our abilities are diverse, a fact recognised by the breadth of GCSE subjects currently taught.
7. Isn’t it good that we should make able students take challenging subjects?
See above. Also, no. All children should be free to study the subjects they feel passionate about, be it Ancient History or Cooking. They should be able to specialise in the area they want to work in, and academically able students should be free as any other to study in whichever field they may want to devote their working life to. Otherwise it really is Education with all the reality taken out. It might reduce University attrition rates too. Oh, and improve children’s well being (which given that the UK comes bottom out of 21 wealthy nations in 2 of the 6 dimensions on the Unicef child well-being index, may not be a bad thing http://www.unicef.org/media/
8. Does anyone else think the term EBac sounds unfortunately similar to VBAC? That’s Vaginal Birth After Caesarean, to clarify non-teaching jargon.
Just me? Oh well.
Anyway, this analysis has now taken us from Gove to Vagina. Which is probably where we should stop for today.