There has been considerable debate about the "English Baccalaureate", the subjects it includes, how it sits alongside the existing moribund diplomas, and its "retrospective" inclusion in the forthcoming school league tables.
While some have defended this as "just a quantitative measure of existing stats" (Dale Bassett, Twitter/Mike Baker's Blog) others see it as moving the goalposts, with Mike Baker describing it as "a bit like the Premier League deciding, in mid-season, to award extra points for every goal scored or corner achieved and back-dating tables for the results of games already played".
If the government believes all pupils should study a specific range of subjects at GCSE then it could legislate, although it has declined to do so.
As Warwick Mansell's Guardian article today points out, "The white paper set out the government’s expectation that 'every pupil should have a broad education (the English baccalaureate)'". However, an "education department spokeswoman says: 'The EBac represents a core that we think all schools should be making available to their pupils. We do, however, recognise that the full range of EBacc will not be suitable for all pupils and that is why we have not made it compulsory. We recognise the wider benefits that studying other subjects and qualifications can bring and we will encourage all pupils to study non-English baccalaureate subjects alongside the core English baccalaureate in order to get a well-rounded education.'"
So is the English Bacc not "well-rounded" or is there a difference in the DfE's mind between "broad" and "well-rounded"?
The promotion of a "broad" or "well-rounded" education is a good thing, but, regardless of the rights and wrongs of its introduction ahead of the actual promised certificates for pupils, this "English Bacc" seems pointless. Its name suggests it is an actual programme of study like the challenging and highly respected International Baccalaureate.
Instead, it recognises those who have taken a range of GCSEs. If you've got some GCSEs, here's another piece of paper to wrap the certificate. No extra work involved.
Giving "recognition" for something you've already got the same name as a challenging qualification raises false expectations and risks debasing and devaluing not only the term "baccalaureate" but this country's internationally respected and sought-after qualifications system.
Instead of offering an advanced-level Baccalaureate as an alternative to A levels, the Government is introducing Bacc-lite â„¢ "the low fat 'qualification'* (see terms and conditions) you can take between courses without filling you up".
As Ian Toone, Voice's Senior Professional Officer (Education) said in an interview with ePolitix: "British qualifications are well-respected throughout the world; it is only interference by government which has caused people to lose confidence in the exams system". This "English Bacc" idea could well bring about such a "decline".
Given the number of GCSEs taken by most students, it would be difficult not take a broad range of subjects.
Will those of us who've already got language, science and humanities GCSEs or O levels be able to apply for a retrospective "bacc"? Can we lump together our assorted swimming certificates, Scout badges, cycling proficiency awards, and drama and music grades and get an Extra-Curricular Baccalaureate?
What next? Will A level students who take a broad range of subjects be awarded an "English degree"? Will the English Bacc be available online like all those dubious 'doctorates' and alternative 'qualifications'?
Perhaps a new award for fourth place could be introduced at the 2012 Olympics and all those athletes who didn't quite make bronze could be awarded the new brass or pewter medal retrospectively/quantitatively.
Is the Government trying to encourage a broader curriculum or recognise individual achievement? All it seems to be doing is increasing bureaucracy with an expensive, pointless, repetitious piece of paper that will not have any meaning for FHE providers or employers.
["It is grossly unfair to hold a school to account for a target which has been applied retrospectively and could not possibly have been foreseen two and a half years ago when these GCSE choices were being made. It is also a fairly arbitrary target, as most pupils will find that their GCSE in ICT will be of more practical and economic use to them in the future than a GCSE in Ancient Greek, and yet it is the latter, rather than the former, which has been chosen for inclusion in the Bacc.”]