Why the government EBac is not enough

14th December 2012 at 00:00
Our young people need vocational skills just as much as academic results, argues Tory former education secretary Kenneth Baker

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has created an English Baccalaureate to improve pupils' performance in a number of academic subjects. Some schools where the majority of pupils have already opted for this combination will have no difficulty at all in delivering the full EBac. Others face a greater challenge to provide access to the full range of EBac subjects and a number have had to drop technical and vocational qualifications now that a great many of these will no longer count in the league tables.

I entirely accept that some of these qualifications - and the courses of study that led to them - were of poor quality and should certainly go. Others, however, are very demanding and reflect the interests of many pupils.

It is especially important for young people to be able to study subjects they find interesting and challenging. It is not enough to tell them they are learning things for their own good, or that old and wise adults have decided what is best for them. Young people need to see for themselves how knowledge and skills are used beyond the school gates - at home, at work and in the community.

This is one of the principal benefits of teaching technical and practical subjects at key stage 4. Engineering is a prime example. Designing and building a bridge involves geometry. A solar-powered car involves physics. In hands-on subjects, pupils find clear answers to the age-old question, "Why am I learning this?"

We must also think about the choices young people make at 16. If pupils have no experience of technical subjects at KS4, are they likely to choose them at 16? As our country needs people with technical skills and knowledge we should be breaking down barriers, not putting them up.

I therefore welcome the government's decision to consult on a level 3 Technical Baccalaureate (TechBac), but I am convinced that provision should also be made for a TechBac to sit alongside the EBac at 16.

For this reason, I asked Sir Michael Tomlinson to head a working group to bring forward proposals to establish a TechBac at levels 2 and 3 - and what he has recommended can be found in the panel above.

Above all, it is vital that technical, practical and vocational subjects should be just as demanding as academic study: students must be stretched.

Although the proposals have been developed by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the TechBac would be available to pupils at any school or college offering a technical curriculum and we are working with City and Guilds to develop this qualification.

The curriculum for the TechBacs at 16 and 18 would involve practical and technical work alongside academic studies. University technical colleges (UTCs) would certainly be able to offer it, but so too could many comprehensives if they have the space, the equipment, the teachers and the examiners. Post-16 colleges would also be able to offer the TechBac as recognition of a broad and rewarding programme of study.

Many 13- and 14-year-old pupils become disengaged from an education that is not connected to their prospective adult lives and to their future jobs. They value and are motivated by subjects that involve handwork, project work, problem-solving and teamwork.

We have already discovered in UTCs that by melding maths, English and science into practical studies there is a significant improvement in these basic subjects. The country needs masses of technicians and engineers but they must have a well-rounded education and this is what a TechBac would provide.

Lord Baker of Dorking is co-founder and chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust.

PROPOSED TECHBAC CURRICULUM

The level 2 TechBac would be available to young people aged 16-plus. The main elements would be:

Grades A* to C in English, maths and at least two science GCSEs (and, in due course, English Baccalaureate Certificates).

A full level 2 technical and vocational qualification endorsed by employers.

An extended project.

Functional skills in English, maths and ICT.

Work experience.

Personal, learning and thinking skills and employability skills.

A level 3 TechBac for 18-plus students would look like this:

Passes in a large level 3 technical qualification (for example, a BTEC); a smaller level 3 technical qualification plus one or more A levels; or at least two A levels in technical or science subjects.

Studies in English, maths and ICT to support the qualifications listed above if these subjects are not being studied at A level.

An extended project.

Work experience.

Community service.

Personal, learning and thinking skills and employability skills.

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