Editorial - It got off to a truly terrible start, but that shouldn't blind us to virtues of EBac

21st January 2011 at 00:00

The Times Educational Supplement is a civilised newspaper with highly intelligent and educated staff. Or at least it was until last week. When Michael Gove announced that all students would be judged retrospectively against his new English Bac, it became clear that most of the journalists, including the editor, were severely deficient in their core education. This may not come as a surprise to readers, but it was an awful shock to fragile journalistic egos.

It is easy to understand the hurt and outrage that many teachers feel about the Government's decision to rate their schools retrospectively against a measure they were only made aware of a few weeks ago. As one headteacher said, it's like teaching pupils one syllabus for two years and testing them on another in the exam. "Only one in six pupils passes the English Bac," concluded the press, which neglected to mention that students didn't even know they had taken it. It was akin to a mass Mormon retro-conversion of non-believing ancestors or that bit in The Sixth Sense when Bruce Willis catches up with the dumbest person in the audience and realises he's dead.

Academies and schools in deprived areas that had been faithfully following the old script have been hit hard (pages 10-11). They have been penalised for failing to insist that students with English as a second language should learn a third, while their successful cocktail of vocational and traditional subjects now counts for nothing. But equally unhappy and similarly caught out were independent schools that subscribed to the "wrong" exam board, the few schools that had assumed that applied French was more pertinent than ancient Hebrew and the hundreds that had downgraded their humanities faculties after a decade of semi-official neglect. In fact, the complete absence of consultation over the EBac, its unjust retrospection, its arbitrariness, the sheer madness of it all could blind one to the low politics that almost certainly played a part. Instantly, Labour's educational achievements look threadbare while the base for most schools has been reset so low that they are bound to improve sharply in time for the next general election.

Yet there is a danger that the profession in its outrage will overlook the benefits of the EBac and become out of step with public opinion. Mr Gove is right to insist on the centrality of humanities and languages in a well-rounded education. Too many disadvantaged kids were equipped with an anaemic education of dubious value to employers and none to higher education. Above all, the EBac will be popular with parents. It's clear, it's familiar and it reeks of that valuable electoral commodity - common sense. However dubious its birth, whatever its limitations, the fury will fade and it will rapidly gain acceptance. It's time to do a Bruce Willis, accept it and move on. gerard.kelly@tsleducation.com.

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