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From The Editor - Is the EBC Mr Gove's poll tax moment?

opinion | Published in TES magazine on 18 January, 2013 | By: Gerard Kelly

At regular intervals the country adds to its long list of embarrassments, that catalogue of nonsense and lunacy that induces a collective cringe. The poll tax, It's a Royal Knockout, George Galloway's cat impression and last week's interview with the actress who played E.T.'s hands 30 years ago spring to mind. Now it seems the proposed replacements for GCSEs have united vast expanses of opinion in similar horror.

Ofqual, headteachers, unions, independent schools, captains of industry, artists, athletes, academics, Labour MPs, former Tory ministers, future Tory ministers and Stella McCartney have lined up to denounce the new English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) being cobbled together by Michael Gove's team (pages 28-32). The Archbishop of Canterbury, Piers Morgan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have yet to pronounce but it can be only a matter of time.

Faced with such daunting opposition, lesser politicians would have buckled. But Mr Gove seems disinclined to back down. After all, his single-mindedness has refashioned education more thoroughly and more rapidly than any other secretary of state in recent history has managed. Many have hated those changes. But none can deny the impressive determination that made them happen. He didn't get where he is today by listening to too many opinions. And in his opinion - an opinion shared by many others, incidentally - GCSEs are simply not good enough.

Could the EBC, however, be one initiative too far? Could it be his poll tax or, at the very least, as career-limiting as John Redwood's Welsh mime, William Hague's baseball cap or Neil Kinnock's wet bum? Because what is striking isn't so much the breadth of opposition ranged against him as the weight of argument his opponents wield.

For a start, many academics think that designing a tougher, single exam that still seeks to assess all abilities is impossible. Ofqual is worried that restricting a subject to one board will deplete expertise and destabilise the industry. Others believe that limiting assessment to linear exams will demotivate some pupils as surely as it fails to assess the potential of others.

The fear that creativity has been sacrificed in the pursuit of rigour isn't restricted to designers and assorted luvvies. Business leaders, too, are unimpressed with the EBC and its faint 1950s whiff. And almost everyone thinks that introducing it with indecent haste and a minimum of cross-party support is monumentally foolish. All in all, the EBC is shaping up to be as convincing as Lance Armstrong on Oprah.

As things stand, there is every inducement for an incoming administration to scrap it in 2015, the year it is supposed to start. For that matter, what will prevent schools from deserting en masse to respected alternatives such as the IGCSE?

So the question must be asked: why bother? Why invest so much time and energy in an exam that is universally unloved and looks anachronistic now that every pupil will leave school at 18? Wouldn't it be better to go back to the drawing board or to stick with reformed GCSEs than to continue to promote a less satisfactory alternative? Or is the art of compromise so neglected that everyone in the department has forgotten how to use it?

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Comment (3)

  • "Impressive determination"! Gove's relentless pursuit of his policies is pig-headed obstinancy. The Academies Bill was rushed through Parliament with the speed usually reserved for Terrorist legislation. Nearly half of secondary schools may have dashed for the cash but the case for academy conversion being the only way schools can improve is being debunked.

    The Education Bill was underpinned by misleading talk about "plummeting" down league tables since 2000. Gove likens himself to Martin Luther King to evoke "the fierce urgency of now." But in Gove's case it's more "fools rush in".

    Not for Gove the calm, slow, deliberate consensus built up over many years by politicians in Finland. Pat Glass, who sits on the Education Select Committee said in the EBacc debate on 16 January:

    'One insider in the system recently told me confidentially, “When the blood bath happens, I expect this Secretary of State will be long gone.”'

    Gove has misled the Electorate. He has misrepresented data and cherry picked "evidence". His use of PISA figures has been censured by the UK Statistics Watchdog. His claims about academies have been disproved. His assertion about academy "freedoms" has been quashed by the Academies Commission which said,

    "Most things an academy can do, a maintained school can also do."

    For more information read:

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    18 January, 2013


  • If this is to be Michael Gove's 'poll tax moment' then the education world needs to build a quickfire head of steam to drag the concerns right in to the public domain. It's clear from the House of Commons debate that there are concerned voices within LibDem and Conservative ranks and they need to be contacted by all those who see and understand the myriad objections to the current EBacc proposals.

    For starters there is the Bacc for the Future petition to sign at

    and then these items on the Local Schools' Network

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    19 January, 2013


  • As concerned parents, we are fed up with the way the Con - Dem government have been ploughing through our Education system, destroying all the things that made the British system great. Mr Gove seem to think that every one is wrong and against him and his Conservative - Lib Dem Government; and that comments being made are mainly from such group. This is far from the truth. Although he is somewhat irritating and arrogant in his presentations at times instead of being a servant to the nation, the electorate that are asking Mr Gove to think again are not against him. Rather, what we as parents want is a system that provide learning instructions, which all our children can access, with opportunities that will assess the efforts of our children in relation to their abilities and be fair to all. Mr Gove, you need to listen - 'you can fool all the electorate some of the time, and some of the electorate all the time, but you cannot fool all the electorate all the time.'

    Let us, as parents and part of the electorate, who have voted this government into power stop Mr Gove in his tracks from fooling us. Parents, you have got the power and not Mr Gove. Let us build the momentum and use various avenues.

    Parents, you can make your voice heard and join this debate by signing the Bacc for the Future petition - to sign at

    For more information - register to access - www.blackteachersorg

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    20 January, 2013


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