15 Jun Towards a Proper English Baccalaureate
Before joining KEGS as Head, I used to work as Head of Secondary at the British International School in Jakarta. It was an extraordinary experience on many levels. One of the features of the school that gave us confidence that we were delivering an extremely strong educational product was that we ran the English Curriculum at KS3, GCSEs / iGCSEs at KS4 and then the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
Those people familiar with the IB will not need any convincing – it is a superb programme in many respects. There is built-in breadth of learning, the opportunity to complete an extended essay, an element of Theory of Knowledge interwoven with every subject and value given to Creativity, Action and Service – the ethos-defining CAS programme. We also felt that the GCSEs gave students a superb preparation for the IB in a way that the IB Middle Years Programme didn’t – at least not at the time.
In Jakarta, CAS permeated the entire school ethos and we also adopted the IB Learner Profile as a whole-school tool for shaping our thinking on teaching and learning. These components have far greater significance than their points value on the IB, where only 3 points are given beyond the 6 x7 points for the three Higher and three Standard subjects.
However, the IB is not perfect or universal. The rigid subject groups make it difficult for students to undertake a specialised programme – say three sciences and certainly not two arts subjects. It is also too demanding overall for a large proportion of learners; at least it was before the introduction of the new IBCCs – Career-related Certificates. There are also some inherent inconsistencies in standards – some languages and maths courses have points parity despite representing different levels of attainment. Interestingly, IB schools are expected to work with integrity in terms of putting students in for appropriately challenging courses instead of the easiest ones. They also have responsibility for verifying completion of the CAS component and ensuring that the content is of high quality. Despite these issues, and reliance on centres to act in certain ways, the IB has credibility worldwide, allowing students to enter almost any profession or university course.
Arriving in the UK to take on the Headship at KEGS, the IB was being hotly debated. I was clear that the IB represented a superior framework to the standard 3 A level package. We undertook a thorough feasibility study into the possibility of running the IB. A number of things became clear immediately:
1) There was a deep commitment to the flexibility offered by A Levels in my school. Many students take three sciences and maths; many take multiple humanities subjects – History, Economics and Philosophy, for example; the possibility of taking both Art and Theatre Studies is important to some. In general there is a feeling that the IB can squeeze out the arts.
2) Given the commitment to A levels, the only option would be to run IB and A levels in parallel and, by our calculations, this would be unsustainable in terms of staffing and costs. It would have to be all or nothing.
3) We felt that we matched the IB in our general provision anyway: most students at KEGS engage in a wide range of CAS-type activities, they all take General Studies and almost all take at least four A Levels in addition to that; in fact many take five. So – why bother?
It was an easy decision, therefore, to stick with A Levels. For other reasons, we have introduced Pre-U English, the excellent Global Perspectives and Research course and increasingly, students are taking the Extended Project alongside General Studies. Despite the quality of provision overall, there is still a piecemeal feel to our curriculum; we pack it out with activities and rigour; we offer a very broad and challenging education and have our own distinctive ethos rich in international perspectives – but it doesn’t all hang together quite like the IB.
When Michael Gove announced the EBacc as a new performance measure, I was incensed. I have no objection to incentivising schools to offer a broad KS4 curriculum including the chance to take a GCSE in Languages and Humanities – but the EBacc measure is so crude, so rigid and was introduced in such a crass manner – it was infuriating. We have wasted the concept of an English Baccalaurate – the EBacc – on something utterly pathetic compared to the IB. The lack of vision inherent in this decision still galls me.
When the EBacc Certificates were being mooted, prior to being abandoned after what must have been one of the most one-sided, negative DFE consultation responses, I felt it was time to suggest something better and was determined to reclaim English Baccalaureate as the title of something with meaning and substance. The key thinking in my initial model was this:
- We need one system for the country; a system that is inclusive, allowing different levels of success at Levels below Level 3.
- We need to match the IB for rigour and breadth – but introduce flexibility to specialise in the way that three A levels allows.
- We need to ensure that we give value to elements of education that go beyond subjects and exams.
- We need to find a way to give technical learning a home alongside academic learning.
- We need to think about a model with terminal qualifications aged 18, not 16.
I wrote this up in this post EBacc for All; Excellence for All
Then things moved on: The Headteachers’ Roundtable formed, ran an alternative consultation on the EBC issue and then held a conference. I presented my ideas alongside other people’s and we then started to work on an alternative together. I think the solution we came up with is very powerful. It includes the idea of progressive grades, along the lines of Piano Grades, to measure attainment. With input from Special and Primary Heads, we devised a model that could be a universal framework for assessment across the system. It is recorded on the Headteachers’ Roundtable site here.
The potential for this system is immense. However, just now, we’re not in a position to put it into practice because it would require us to redefine all existing qualifications to fit the 1-8 Grading system. It is a vision for the future.
Following this piece of work, we were approached by members of the organisation Whole Education who were looking for a model to roll out via a set of Pathfinder Schools, signed up to the ‘Better Bacc’ principles that they had been putting together. Their values line up very closely with ours at HTRT:
Working with Whole Education, supported with input from City&Guilds – for their knowledge of technical/vocational qualifications, we’ve come up with an exciting model that could be implemented straight away. It is detailed on the HTRT site here: The English Baccalaureate Pathfinder Model
I love it. We’ve managed to find a proper way to include technical learning within the overall framework so it is not a separate ‘Tech Bacc’. We’ve also created a points system that might pave the way to removing grades from our qualifications altogether. No more cliff edges. Below is the Advanced Bacc in detail. It provides an A level/BTEC framework to match the IB; it would allow the IB to line up with A levels in a very integrated way, to the point where the IB might not even be needed it the Personal Development Programme contained a TOK course and CAS for all.
I am going to sign my school up to be a pathfinder. I want to evaluate this idea alongside the others, feeding in our experiences and working towards an genuine alternative; an IB for England. The full document on the HTRT site has a page of questions that we want to answer. The idea is to shadow the implementation of the Bacc framework, looking to see how it fits and what additional provision might be required.
Working with various people at HTRT, Whole-Education and locally in Essex I’m looking forward to exploring how various learners could fit into this system; does it work for everyone? A student on a L2 or L3 Apprenticeship attending college on day-release? A student with a mixed bag of GCSEs doing a mix of BTECs and an A Level? A student taking 12 GCSEs and 5 A levels? A student with special needs for whom L1 is a challenge?
I think it could work well at KEGS. To make it look simple for my students it could be represented like this:
The Personal Development Programme we would put together would be brilliant – and we’d have a framework for it to fit into that would allow us to ensure all students are included, not just those who opt in. The PRP would be our CAS – permeating throughout the school. There is more detail on this on the HTRT website and more to follow. The idea of a centre-devised element to the Bacc framework is very powerful.
The overarching accreditation is an area we are exploring. John Tomsett and I are talking to various university contacts to see if they will act as an accrediting body for the purposes of the pathfinding process. That will give the Bacc some credibility with students even while it is in a trial phase. Nothing has been confirmed yet but I’m sure someone will offer!
We’re not there yet, but I am starting to believe that the tide is turning in our favour. There is still too much fiddling and tinkering with GCSEs and Alevels without a broader vision… but the case for a proper English Bacc is very strong and I think we’ll get there in the end; we just need schools to show it can work and politicians with a bit of steel and genuine vision. Once we have this in place, we can then concentrate on all the things that will really raise the bar in our system -improving teaching and learning and raising aspirations.
Come on people – it is there for the taking.