Bacc to the drawing board for the Burnham-bac

28 Sep

First it was Michael Gove in school cap and blazer, reciting Latin and Ancient Greek on his bicycle, the RetroBacc, otherwise known as the "EBacc" (DfE) or "EBac" (Education Select Commons). Now, here comes Andy "Mod" Burnham in his green parka, revving up his new scooter, the "ModBac" (one c) or "Modern Baccalaureate".

Things that are "retro" or "repro" are not the genuine article and the problem with both these Bacc-lite schemes is that they ARE NOT BACCALAUREATES.

Commenting on the Education Committee's report on the English Baccalaureate and its call for the Government to "think again about EBac", General Secretary Philip Parkin said:

"The misnamed 'English Baccalaureate' is narrow and pointless. Whether as a performance measure or an actual certificate of achievement, it has no point.

"The Government seems unsure about what the EBac is actually for. The promotion of a broad and balanced curriculum is a good thing but the EBac does not do that.

"I am quoted in the report as saying: '[The EBac's] name suggests that it is an actual programme of study like the challenging International Baccalaureate. Instead, if you've got some GCSEs, you will get another piece of paper to wrap the certificates in no extra work involved.'

"I'm therefore delighted that the Committee concluded that: 'We do not believe the EBac the hybrid of a certificate and a performance measure, named after a qualification is appropriately labelled: it is not a baccalaureate, and as it stands the name can therefore be misleading to parents, professionals and pupils.'"

It seems that the "ModBac" is simply a broader and more comprehensive "EBacc" and therefore also "not a baccalaureate". What's "modern" about it? Perhaps it's the Secondary Modern Bacc to Gove's Grammar School EBacc.

However, Mr Burnham is right to say: "It’s indefensible that Latin is promoted above ICT, engineering, business studies or economics in the English bacc. It's indefensible that creative subjects don’t feature."

He is right to criticise the Government for “saying that only the subjects in the English Baccalaureate are the ones worth taking” and that the pressure on schools has been “solely as preparation for university” while those who go straight into work or apprenticeships have been undervalued and under-prepared. Successive governments' testing and target-driven agenda have valued academic success to the detriment of vocational skills.

Voice has pointed out that the EBacc reduces a broad and balanced curriculum to a few subject areas, ignoring RE and many other important subjects in the process. Students who would like to take vocational or technical subjects, Religious Education or concentrate on a range of sciences, rather than a language, could miss out:

"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."

It seems that the ModBac will include an "honours programme" of 'enterprising' activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh's award in addition to a "common programme of study" or "core" a sort of EBacc Extra.

A DfE spokesperson commented earlier this year that:

“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.”

According to reports, "unlike the English bacc, which rewards passes at A* to C, the ModBac also recognises pupils with lower grades who receive a 'foundation' level award". (Is this the replacement for the never-heard-of-again Grade C guarantee scheme?)

So, what is the point of it? Like the EBacc it apes, the ModBac seems to be a repetitious piece of paper. You've got your GCSEs and other qualifications at various grades and your Duke of Edinburgh on your CV so why dress it up with a fancy name? Employers and colleges will see what you've got and can offer. If the ModBac is simply an extra dressing for GCSEs, rather than a true replacement qualification system such as the moribund diplomas or even a real baccalaureate they will know that "foundation level" means "lower grades".

Encouraging students to participate in "things that are interested in, motivate them things they have a talent for", both at school and outside, is an essential and praiseworthy part of education. Students should be able to take a broad range of subjects.

However, prescribing what they should study, whether as a "core" or in total, can be restrictive. A truly broad and balanced curriculum needs to be appropriate to individual pupils' abilities and aspirations.

It is unclear if the EBacc and the ModBac are about encouraging a broader curriculum or recognising individual achievement. All both Baccs seem to be doing is increasing bureaucracy with an expensive, pointless, repetitious piece of paper that will not have any meaning for providers of further and higher education or employers.

Like AQA's idea that A-level pupils should be ranked by the schools they attend as well as the grades they get, the ModBac idea seems well-intentioned but its methods appear crude and impractical. (How, for example, with the AQA scheme, do you ensure that pupils from poorer backgrounds who have scholarships to independent schools are not disadvantaged? Would it be fair for a better off pupil with lower grades at a comprehensive school to have a higher ranking than the scholarship pupil at the private school?)

Rather than sticking fancy labels on pre-existing qualifications and achievements, both the Secretary of State and his Shadow should be looking at how the whole assessment system could be transformed, with more teacher and ongoing assessment, a greater range and type of subjects on offer to inspire pupils and parity between the vocational and the academic.

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3 Responses to “Bacc to the drawing board for the Burnham-bac”

  1. A. C. 29. Sep, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    What is the justification for “more ongoing and teacher assessment” as called for in the final paragraph? This runs counter to the current consultation on GCSEs which involves a move away from modular assessment. One of the main problems with ongoing teacher assessment, especially modular, is that it does not facilitate a holistic understanding of a subject. Another is that assessment is at greater risk of becoming more subjective as teachers may (subconsciously or otherwise) assess more harshly or more generously depending on whether he/she likes the pupil in question. This benefits neither the pupils who are harshly marked or those who are generously marked. Where is the evidence that ongoing and teacher assessment is preferable, and should therefore be increased, as a means of genuinely raising standards rather than simply leading to grade inflation? Is it simply a coincidence that, year on year, as coursework assessment components of qualifications have increased so too have average grades and the numbers of students achieving the top grades?

  2. Richard Fraser 30. Sep, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Dictionary definition of “Baccalaureate”: “examination” or “set of examinations”.

  3. Joyce Watts 03. Oct, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    As I have said before in another reponse, those responsible in government do not understand education. They seem to be grabbing at straws trying to make a name for themselves and in the process doing education no service at all.

    When I look at the responses from HQ they state the facts. What do the other unions say? Is it time for a co-ordinated/joint union onslaught to teach these people what education really means?

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