Does EBac herald selection on the sly?

28th January 2011 at 00:00

Many seemed caught out by the emphasis given to the English Baccalaureate in the recent exam results. Some welcomed the emphasis on traditional subjects, but the lack of notice was branded unfair.

Questions were raised about how the EBac could be evidence of a rounded education when it lacked any vocational subjects, and how its subjects - different from those in the International Baccalaureate or other countries' baccalaureates - were selected.

Education secretary Michael Gove asserts that the five selected areas for the EBac are more academic, more demanding and more difficult, but that is hard to validate.

There could be another reason. It might herald the return to selective education. You read it here first.

Parents have got used to being told the importance of league tables. The new measure could appear to show not only which are the most demanding schools but also those likely to send the greatest proportions of students on to higher education. Cut away many courses in universities by reducing funding for the arts, limit sport, mock media studies, and parents can see yet more clearly where the path to ambition lies: the Bac schools.

Soon there will be a clamour to get children into these schools. Meanwhile another group will complain that, for many youngsters, a study of history is not appropriate, another language is too great a challenge, and it is unfair to demoralise them when other subjects offer a brighter prospect.

Heads, under pressure to dance to the right tune, will identify those pupils who might just scrape the EBac list and persuade some youngsters away from potentially more relevant BTECs.

A minister might say: "There are many excellent schools doing remarkable things for youngsters with less academic outlooks or less innate ability." Or: "Let's recognise this and take the pressure off such schools by producing separate but demanding performance indicators for them."

So we could have a Bac school league table and a general school league table. We could even call the Bac schools "grammars" and the general schools could be called "secondary moderns" - other names would be used, but the meaning would be the same.

All that would be needed would some kind of selection system, say at the age of 11, where we try to identify those with the potential to succeed in the limited learning that the Bac demands.

Of course, the pupils in them will mostly succeed, so that will be all right. But what of the rest?

At his opening exchange with the education select committee in July, Mr Gove said: "The days have gone, if they ever existed, when a society could survive by having an elite who were well educated according to a particular set of narrow academic criteria, and others who were simply allowed to become hewers of wood and drawers of water."

How does this view fit with the Ebac? Underneath the education secretary's seemingly haphazard approach, perhaps there is something more calculated; I hope he would be prepared to state clearly that the EBac is not an under-the-radar move to reinstate the selective system. Let's have this debate in the open. MW.

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