24 Jan My Ebacc Consultation Response
1 What factors do you consider should be taken into account in making decisions about which pupils should not be entered for the EBacc?
Answer:1. The balance of curriculum breadth versus their mastery of English and Maths is a key factor. Arguably, students who in the school’s judgement need more time to reach Grade 4 in either Maths or English would be better to do this instead of taking a modern language. 2. Students with an interest in Sociology should be able to study this instead of History or Geography. We would contest the idea that Sociology is any less valuable than History or Geography as a humanity subject; it is just as academic, just as challenging and overlaps with both of the other subjects in many respects. We would suggest that it is an absurdity to argue that students who study either History or Geography are inherently better educated than a student who has undertaken the study of Sociology.
Accountability for meeting the EBacc commitment
2 Is there any other information that should be made available about schools’ performance in the EBacc?
Answer:We argue that Arts subjects are of equal value to History/Geography and MFL. We suggest than any Baccalaureate worthy of the name, should include participation in Arts. So, why not record the % of students who take at least one Arts GCSE alongside the Ebacc? More widely, we believe that the structure of the National Baccalaureate for England, as promoted by the National Baccalaureate Trust on their website, is actually where accountability should lie. This is a true Bacc in a way the Ebacc simply isn’t. Let’s look at defining the elements of a broad and challenging, rounded education for all learners at 18.
3 How should this policy apply to UTCs, studio schools and further education colleges teaching key stage 4 pupils?
Answer:If a policy does not apply equally to students in all settings it suggests that the policy doesn’t stem from a secure educational principle. The fact that the question is asked gives weight to the argument that the policy is flawed. Staff availability is an real issue in some settings; some FE colleges are unlikely to have the staff to offer Hist/Geog and MFL to all learners at KS4. The principle of the Ebacc is undermined by this reality. There are numerous permutations of KS4 subjects we could suggest that would provide learners with a rigorous, academically challenging and broad curriculum that would fall foul of the Ebacc requirements. So, it is not simply a question of exemptions for certain settings; there is a wider issue about all schools and colleges being free to determine appropriate curriculum balance for their students.
4 What challenges have schools experienced in teacher recruitment to EBacc subjects?
Answer:To date, this is not an issue for us in our school. We had already committed to Humanities and MFL for all – to the greatest extent possible. However, we include Sociology and RE and will continue to do so. We also include a compulsory Arts GCSE option. I recognise that we are fortunate in being able to recruit to EBacc vacancies; it is certainly much more difficult elsewhere.
5 What strategies have schools found useful in attracting and retaining staff in these subjects?
Answer:It helps to give a good amount of time for MFL and separate History/Geography at KS3. Good teachers of these subjects are less likely to value Humanities carousels or limited teaching time for MFL at KS3. It’s no good having a skeletal 2-hour per week offer of languages as a basis for KS4. Once you offer a solid core at KS3, good teachers are drawn to it; they have a chance to succeed. Another draw is the opportunity to engage in trips and visits relating to the subjects. When these opportunities are limited because of funding, it will be harder to recruit. More widely, teachers also value an intelligent school culture which doesn’t put a lot of weight on PRP, grading lessons and other accountability processes that diminish teachers’ professionalism. Workload is another factor. It may be that addressing the wider recruitment and retention issues is more significant to our system than putting pressure on it to recruit to Ebacc subjects.
6 What approaches do schools intend to take to manage challenges relating to the teaching of EBacc subjects?
Answer:We have introduced the National Baccalaureate for England in the Sixth Form. This a real baccalaureate. We have separate History/Geography at KS3 as a secure preparation for KS4 with specialist teachers. We have 3 hours per week for one core language at KS3 plus a second language option in addition in Y9. We insist on an Arts choice at KS4; anything less is not sufficiently rigorous. We include Sociology and RE in our Humanities block; this won’t change because it is not defensible to do so on any sound, non-political, intellectual grounds.
7 Other than teacher recruitment, what other issues will schools need to consider when planning for increasing the number of pupils taking the EBacc?
Answer:They should ensure that Arts subjects are given equal value so that they are not squeezed out by students being forced into choices they don’t want to make. In a three-option structure this means one for each of Humanities, MFL and Arts. In a four-option structure, it allows one additional free choice. Excellent teaching at KS3 is the way to recruit students to the Ebacc subjects on the basis of being willing participants. Keeping the range of Humanities options as wide as possible is important; we will be keeping Sociology and RE in our block and will contest the process if there are significant consequences as and when that is deemed to be a violation of the requirements.
8 What additional central strategies would schools like to see in place for recruiting and training teachers in EBacc subjects?
Answer:More generally, take away the rhetoric of ‘do this or else’ that emanates from DFE on so many fronts. Recruiting teachers in general is the bigger issue at stake. Review ITE. It’s no good promoting History and then introducing a policy that leads to the potential demise of excellent PGCE programmes such as the one at Cambridge. Knowledge-rich subjects require ITE that gives weight to the knowledge component of pedagogy; teachers will not get this on many Teach Direct programmes to anything like the depth required.
9 Do you think that any of the proposals have the potential to have an impact, positive or negative, on specific students, in particular those with ‘relevant protected characteristics’? (The relevant protected characteristics are disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.) Please provide evidence to support your response.
Answer:In theory, it is a good thing for students to study Humanities, languages and arts. We support this as it is built into our curriculum, with slight variations for the students with lower starting points, requiring additional maths and English. However, the biggest challenge is that DFE doesn’t recognise the inherent bell-curve driven grade-setting process and has already labelled grades 1-4 as ‘bad grades’. With students embarking on a more challenging curriculum (Ebacc plus Arts), it may transpire that some cohorts of students will gain lower sets of grades in the contest for positions on the bell-curve. This would be more acceptable if those grades were recognised as achievements. However, for large numbers of students to be doomed to receive ‘bad GCSEs’ by the virtual zero-sum nature of the grade-setting process, is unacceptable. There is no point in promoting Ebacc as a challenging academic curriculum model without recognising the simple truth that not everyone can be above average, giving some value to all grades within that framework.
10 How could any adverse impact be reduced to better advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it? Please provide evidence to support your response.
Answer:More widely, we should look to focus on accountability post-16. Take a look at the National Bacc for England -it’s an inclusive framework that secures breadth and challenge for all learners, taking account of personal development alongside academic and/or technical learning. It’s THE answer, to this question and would apply in every setting with all learners. Ebacc could easily be wrapped up within a more inspiring 14-19 framework. On its own, Ebacc is a very thin piece of curriculum manipulation with very little chance of making our population better educated overall, not least because of the absence of Arts.
See Also: Heads’ Roundtable response:
Stephen Tierney’s post on the subject: Time to respond.