English Baccalaureate Certificate confusing, divisive, xenophobic. Keep GCSEs (updated)

7 Feb

Update: 7 February 2013

See: Michael Gove must learn from EBC U-turn:

General Secretary Deborah Lawson said:

“This is astonishing but welcome news. On Tuesday evening, Michael Gove was praising and promoting the EBacc in a speech to the Social Market Foundations. On Thursday morning, we learn that he will scrap the idea of English Baccalaureate Certificates.

“This U-turn is a triumph for democratic accountability and a lesson for Mr Gove. In future, instead of rushing ahead regardless, following his own agenda, the Education Secretary must learn to listen, take advice from the profession, consider carefully and undertake genuine consultations.

“We hope that there will now be a national debate and genuine consultation, not only on the future of GCSEs and proposals for the National Curriculum, but on the whole 14-19 system of education.”

See also: “The purpose of assessment”: SecEd, 7 February 2013

6 February 2013:

Update, 31 January 2013:

Government not proved its case that GCSEs in key subjects should be abolished and replaced with new English Baccalaureate Certificate exams

The Government has not “proved its case that GCSEs in the key academic subjects should be abolished and replaced with new English Baccalaureate Certificate exams”, according to the Commons Education Committee.

MPs are also concerned about the impact of the changes on subjects outside the English Baccalaureate, where students will be taking GCSEs for some time to come, according to the Government’s plans.

In its report, From GCSEs to EBCs: the Government’s proposals for reform, the Committee says that the Government is trying to do too much, too fast. Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

“We have serious concerns about the Government’s proposed timetable for change. Ministers want to introduce a new qualification, require a step-change in standards, and alter the way exams are administered, all at the same time. We believe this is trying to do too much, too quickly and we call on the Government to balance the pace of reform with the need to get it right.

“No sensible reform of assessment can take place without clarity as to what is to be taught. Coherence is not achieved by accident but by design. Changes to assessment and accountability should only be implemented as part of a coherent review of Key Stage 4 education.”

The report warns that:

“changes of this magnitude are best achieved with as wide support as possible from across the education system, the wider economy, young people and their parents and, not least, the political spectrum.”

These criticisms concur with Voice’s concerns (see 11 December below) and those of others.

It is alarming that the Education Secretary seems intent on forging ahead regardless of how much advice or criticism he receives.  

It is a pity that select committees don’t seem to have sufficient power to save runaway secretaries of state from themselves and others from those errant ministers. The committee watchdog can bark but Mr Gove can ignore it while he ransacks the education system because he has no fear or respect for its few teeth. 

11 December 2012: 

Voice has given its Official Response to the DfE’s consultation: Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications

The main points of the response are as follows. Do let us know your thoughts below … 

Do you agree that the new qualifications should not be called “GCSEs”? 

The GCSE brand is well-known internationally and is recognised and largely respected by parents, employers and education providers (including universities).  Consideration should be given to strengthening this brand by addressing possible weaknesses, rather than replacing it. 

Do you agree that the new qualifications should be called English Baccalaureate Certificates?

The term ‘English Baccalaureate Certificate’ is confusing and potentially divisive.  It implies commensurability with other Baccalaureate qualifications (e.g. the International Baccalaureate) and yet it lacks the breadth and level of learning associated with established Baccalaureates. 

It is divisive because it separates England from the rest of the UK and from the rest of the world, bringing to an end the commonality which currently exists between England, Wales and Northern Ireland (all of which subscribe to the GCSE brand) and sending a rather xenophobic message to the many international schools which currently take pride in offering GCSEs as an internationally recognised and well-respected qualification. 

If not, what alternative title should be adopted? 

There is no reason why the GCSE brand should not be retained, with any necessary changes being made to content and assessment.  This would parallel the revisions currently being undertaken with the A level qualification. 

Do you agree with our expectations for grading structures, set out in paragraphs 5.4 to 5.5? 

As the proposed new grading structures are not defined in any detail, it is impossible to comment on them. 

We note that the Department appears to have accepted the premise that there has been a decline in standard, even though there has been no attempt to substantiate this by reference to empirical evidence. 

We are wary of the expectation that the new exam will enable 80% of16-year-olds to achieve a standard which is above that currently represented by a C grade at GCSE.  In any case, it must not be forgotten that grades D-G at GCSE represent creditable awards for the large numbers of students who are of below average ability in terms of their academic skills, and it should be acknowledged that the multifarious skills of differently abled students can be celebrated at various points along a continuum. 

It is senseless to think that everyone can be above average, so attainment needs to be appropriately differentiated so that students’ efforts can be credited accordingly. 

Do you believe that we should insist on a common grading structure for all English Baccalaureate Certificates or should we allow Awarding Organisations the freedom to innovate? 

For grades to be meaningful to students, parents, employers and university admissions tutors, it is essential for there to be a common grading structure.  However, Awarding Bodies should be free to suggest what that common grading structure should be. 

Do you agree that it will be possible to end tiering for the full range of subjects that we will be creating new qualifications for?

It is certainly possible to eliminate tiering, but not necessarily desirable.  Some subjects (e.g. history) have never had tiered papers, but others (e.g. mathematics and modern foreign languages) would struggle to differentiate across the whole range of ability without tiered papers.

Are there particular approaches to examinations which might be needed to make this possible for some subjects?

It may be possible to design examination papers in which the questions become progressively more difficult, so that students can stop (or run out of time) when they reach the limit of their abilities.  Alternatively, in some subjects, it may be possible to set questions which can be answered at different levels of ability, thereby enabling differentiation by outcome.  However, it may be better to consider assessment structure on a subject by subject basis to ensure fitness for purpose.

We intend that English Baccalaureate Certificates should be assessed 100% by externally marked examinations.  Do you agree? 

No. It should not be assumed that external tests are necessarily more rigorous and objective than coursework or other kinds of internal or teacher assessed work. 

Ironically, external exams are generally marked by teachers and there have been an increasing number of grading appeals in recent years, which may suggest that external testing is not without its problems. 

Teacher assessment need not be inevitably subjective if supported by proper training and moderation. 

There are advantages and disadvantages associated with different assessment measures but, whatever approach is adopted, it is important that assessment is used to promote good teaching and learning rather than undermine it (e.g. by encouraging ‘teaching to the test’).

If not, which aspects of English, mathematics, the sciences, history, geography or language do you believe absolutely require internal assessment to fully demonstrate the skills required, and why?

If these subjects are to promote employability skills and have relevance to the workplace, they all require a variety of assessments other than terminal written exams as employees are often required to produce work through independent research and projects but are rarely required to sit a 3 hour examination paper. 

Should our expectation be that English Baccalaureate Certificates take the same amount of curriculum time as the current GCSEs?  Or should schools be expected to place greater curriculum emphasis on teaching the core subjects?

Any move towards increasing curriculum time for EBC subjects would limit the time available for other subjects, thus jeopardising any attempt to provide a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum.

Which examinations aids do you consider necessary to allow students to fully demonstrate the knowledge and skills required?

This varies between subjects and Awarding Bodies should be free to make relevant proposals.  It should not be automatically assumed that aids necessarily make the student’s task easier, as, in the real world, the use of aids, such as calculators, dictionaries and reference sources, enable people to demonstrate considerable skill.

Do you agree that these are appropriate subject suites?  If not, what would you change?

There should be the option of an English qualification which combines language and literature. 

The proposal for an optional Additional Mathematics qualification appears to be re-introducing tiering by the back door. 

It is not clear why environmental science should not be available as a separate science option.

Is there also a need for a combined science option covering elements of all three sciences?

Whilst triple science may be appropriate for students who wish to study science for A level, for those whose abilities and interests lie elsewhere, having to take triple science would severely restrict their capacity to pursue their other interests.

What qualities should we look for in English Baccalaureate Certificates that will provide evidence that they will support students to be able to compete internationally? 

It is important that the new qualifications recognise analytical and evaluative skills as well as factual recall.

Do you agree that we should place a particular emphasis on the successful English language and mathematics qualifications providing the best assurance of literacy and numeracy?

It would be perverse if ‘the best assurance of literacy and numeracy’ were indicated through achievement in subjects other than English language and mathematics, although it should be recognised that the new qualifications in English and mathematics need to go beyond functional literacy and numeracy and that functional literacy and numeracy need to be fostered across the curriculum.

In order to allow effective teaching and administration of examinations, what support do you think Awarding Organisations should be:

a)  Required to offer? 
  • Clear specifications
  • Marking criteria
  • Past/specimen papers with marking schemes and examiners’ reports
  • Exemplar work
  • Guidance notes for teachers
  • Opportunities for continuing professional development for teachers
b. Prevented from offering?
  • Privileged’ information given only to those who are prepared to pay for it.

How can Awarding Organisations eliminate any unnecessary burdens on schools and post-16 institutions relating to the administration of English Baccalaureate Certificates?

Protocols which are commonly agreed between all Awarding Bodies should be in place.

Which groups of students do you think would benefit from a “Statement of Achievement” provided by their school?

If any single group of students is likely to benefit from such a Statement, it should be made available to all groups.  We are opposed in principle to the idea that only lower achievers should be provided with such Statements as they will inevitably be viewed as having very little value.

How should we ensure that all students who would benefit from a “Statement of Achievement” are provided with one?

If such Statements are thought to be desirable, they would have to legislated for to ensure that they are provided with the required content and in the required format.

Do you believe any of the proposals in this document have the potential to have a disproportionate impact, adverse or positive, on specific pupil groups?

Adverse impact. The current proposals are likely to disadvantage lower achievers, students with special educational needs, especially those with specific learning difficulties and impaired memory functions, and those students whose abilities and interests lie in subjects other than those contained within the narrow range of this new qualification.

If they have potential for an adverse impact, how can we reduce this?

Ensure that the new qualifications are capable of assessing a broad range of achievement (not just that represented by the current A*-C grades at GCSE); retain a variety of assessment formats (not just terminal examinations); restrict the duration of any examinations to a maximum of two hours; and extend the range of subjects available to include the current range of subjects available at GCSE.

Should we introduce reformed qualifications in all six English Baccalaureate subjects for first teaching in secondary schools in 2015, or should we have a phased approach, with English, mathematics and sciences introduced first?

2015 is too early given the vast amount of development work which is required.  Time needs to be allowed for piloting if mistakes are to be avoided.  It would be very confusing if a phased approach was used as this would result in different qualifications being taken side-by-side, with consequent difficulties in terms of currency, status and understanding by employers and others.

How best can we prepare schools for the transition to these reformed, more rigorous qualifications?

Schools need to be involved in the development of the new qualifications and will required at least 12 months’ lead-in time and the provision of appropriate training and resources, with associated funding.

How long will schools need to prepare to teach these reformed qualifications?

12 – 18 months. It needs to be borne in mind that these reforms will be happening alongside reforms to A levels, the national curriculum and raising the participation age.

Should all languages in which there is currently a GCSE be included in our competition?

Yes. To do otherwise would involve making spurious judgements about the value of different languages.

Should the number of languages for which English Baccalaureate Certificates are identified be limited? If so, which languages should be included?

No. All languages should be valued equally.

Given the potential number of new languages qualifications to be developed, should they be introduced to a later timescale than history and geography English Baccalaureate Certificates?

No. Any delay will inevitably disadvantage students and possibly prevent them from achieving the full English Baccalaureate.

Should we expect post-16 institutions to be ready to provide English Baccalaureate Certificates at the same time as secondary schools?

Yes. The only alternative would be for post-16 institutions to continue with GCSEs for up to two years after schools have abandoned them, which would be unfair for schools and may disadvantage students when competing against their counterparts in schools (including school sixth forms) for employment and entry to higher education.

How best can we support post-16 institutions to prepare to provide English Baccalaureate Certificates?

Post-16 institutions need to be involved in the development of the new qualifications and will required at least 12 months’ lead-in time and the provision of appropriate training and resources, with associated funding. 

Do you agree that five years is an appropriate period for the new qualifications to feature in the performance tables before the competition is rerun?

Disagree. Five years would allow for only one cohort from years 7 to 11 work through.  Also, it is difficult to see what scope there would be for new competitors to enter the market after five years, as they would lack the necessary experience to compete alongside those who have secured the five-year monopoly.

Views on responding to this call for evidence (e.g. the number and type of questions, whether it was easy to find, understand, complete etc.).

It is clear from the wording of some questions that there are ‘preferred answers’.  Some important questions have been left unasked, e.g. views on the range of subjects proposed. 

A more detailed outline of the proposals may have facilitated a fuller response in places.

This is a very lengthy and time-consuming consultation and it is hoped that careful consideration will be given to the responses.

Further information:


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One Response to “English Baccalaureate Certificate confusing, divisive, xenophobic. Keep GCSEs (updated)”

  1. Richard Fraser 18. Dec, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    “Ebacc plans imperil Olympic legacy, say sports chief” [www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/dec/17/ebacc-olympic-legacy-sports-chiefs]

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