Four reasons why the EBac is bad news for schools and students

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When it comes to judging schools’ performance, it appears that all subjects are equal but some will now be more equal than others. The enforced English Baccalaureate (EBac) is on its way and this is going to present schools with some serious issues. 

I’m a deputy headteacher at a 12-form entry secondary in Hampshire. We are a comprehensive in the truest sense, with an incredibly broad intake. Each year, we have 350 students sitting GCSEs but also more than 100 studying for other qualifications, such as Cambridge National Certificates and the NCFE’s V Certs. 

The EBac is going to make that mix difficult, if not impossible, and the breadth of the curriculum we offer will be seriously curtailed.

Schools can resist the EBac at the cost of never being considered outstanding by Ofsted. But how much of a choice is it to be forced to trade recognition of excellence for ideological -acquiescence? Regardless, it may not even be possible to fulfil the obligations of the EBac. Here’s the 4 main difficulties I see the Ebac presenting.  

1. Motivating students and teachers

In my school, the phrase “collective endeavour” summarises our moral purpose and culture of high expectations. But the compulsory EBac and the Progress 8 performance measure are making it increasingly difficult for school leaders to persuade staff who teach qualifications outside the EBac that their contribution to school performance is equally valued and significant. And how can teachers convince pupils of the value of vocational qualifications (or even non-EBac GCSEs) when every performance measure seeks to marginalise them? 

2. Staffing needs

This is going to be the major issue of the EBac. In a relatively large school such as the one I work in, we would need to find a at least 10 extra language teachers to make delivery viable. Where are these staff going to come from? Having had several years of the government telling the profession about the importance of teachers possessing expert subject knowledge, we suddenly face the inevitable and unenviable prospect of non-specialists delivering subjects across the EBac. A major rethink is needed if we are to staff computing and physics courses with the type of high-quality graduates that the profession needs.

3. Narrower choices

What incentive is there for schools to offer, for example, the study of both history and geography at GCSE? Will art, drama and dance continue to get the same proportion of curriculum time when they aren’t sufficiently rewarded? Colleagues at other schools tell me that they are being forced to increase curriculum time for core and EBac subjects at the cost of one or more additional options. In this scenario there is a very real danger that pupils’ education will be suffocated-rather than liberated. 

4. Vocational education under threat

Few would disagree that Professor Alison Wolf’s 2011 report on vocational education was a necessary corrective for a broken system. But now only a handful of reformed qualifications count, and more rigorous, useful qualifications have been introduced. Despite having been bolstered with greater breadth and examined components, these new qualifications are being pushed out to the fringes beyond the EBac. So much for that added rigour. Are we then to assume that the recommendations of the Wolf report have failed?

Put bluntly, the EBac continues to stigmatise vocational education. At worst, it is a restrictive, imposed diktat about curriculum choice that ignores the needs of local communities. The enforced EBac fails to recognise that vocational studies can be an essential part of a broad curriculum, providing invaluable opportunities for young people to develop their potential and apply their knowledge in a real-world context. Although only a minority of our pupils choose vocational routes, the impact on the local economy is highly significant. 

Nigel Matthias is a deputy headteacher at Bay House School in Hampshire

This is an edited version of Nigel's feature. You can read the full article in the 28 August edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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