The English Baccalaureate – and the prospect of Building a Better Bac

At school leaders’ conferences I have been struck by the extent to which the EBac is dominating planning, both long and short term. The message from Michael Gove about greater curriculum freedom has been swamped by the fears of the EBac and how it might be used in future. Some year 11 students are even being put through history GCSE after school in order to give them a chance of an EBac certificate. Some freedom!

Apart from the obvious worry about the school’s position in an EBac league table, leaders are concerned that individual students may be disadvantaged by not having an EBac when they apply for university in four or five years’ time.

The fact that selective universities have no track record of asking for composite qualifications, such as the EBac, and are interested in the student’s performance in individual subjects, does not seem to allay the fears. Even when selective universities ask for a certain number of points from students doing the International Baccalaureate (IB), they still demand specific requirements in individual subjects.

Fear is all – and is destined to dominate curriculum planning at the very time when government ministers have repeatedly stated that they will offer more curriculum freedom and school leaders were looking forward to becoming curriculum planners again.

At least the IB is a proper baccalaureate, as is the successful Welsh Bac, whereas the EBac is nothing more than an accountability measure and, as such, should be ignored by universities, which have their eye on higher matters, such as intellectual quality.

It is disappointing to see the SSAT offering courses on how to jump through the EBac hoop – how to get better results in history and geography, how to get more students studying languages, etc. A sad compliance to a measure that ought to be opposed tooth and nail.

As chair of Whole Education, I am personally delighted that WE is working with ASCL, the Curriculum Foundation and the Independent Academies Association to Build a Better Bac, as our campaign is called.

We shall be giving evidence to the Select Committee’s brief inquiry on the EBac.

Watch this space.

5 thoughts on “The English Baccalaureate – and the prospect of Building a Better Bac

  1. EBac conversations o not seem to be dominating staffroom converations at our school however they are most defintely impacting upon curriculum design with one point in particular concerning me. The conversation point gaining traction is that a MFL GCSE will impact upon University entry? I can find no evidence to support this position, is this one of the first education EBac myths to surface?

    • Kristan, I think that University College London stated two years ago that it would want applicants to have done a modern language, but this has nothing to do with the EBac. I don’t expect universities only to consider applicants with an EBac for the reasons stated in the blog.
      Perhaps we should start a collection of EBac myths.

  2. There are many reasons to adopt a properly sceptical approach to the EBacc not least, as John’s blog says, that it is anything but a bacclaureate containing as it does no holistic, educationalist approach to the development of the student nor to the linkages between subjects studied.

    The Secreatary of State’s Chokemchild mantra of “facts, facts, facts” appears to have produced a Blockbusters curriculum that seems most unlikely to instil in anyone “the best that has been written and thought”.

    I am confident that the profession can build a much better bacc. For example, should we need to insist on languages, ancient or modern, can we ensure that British Sign Language is accorded the same status as other community languages and therefore prevent a whole cohort of hearing impaired students from debarred from gaining the bacc?

  3. Thank you John for a reasoned and cogent dismissal of this nonsenical measure, based as it is on the whim of an individual and not rooted in rigorous research. As a linguist I do welcome anything that puts languages firmly in the frame of debate, but to predicate the whole thing on GCSE is backward looking, and risks causing greater problems than it purports to solve. Added to that is the doubt over the capacity of some schools to deliver languages in Key Stage 4 given the contraction of some MFL departments. It’s curriculum design by league table and doesn’t serve the interests of large numbers of pupils whose life chances may well be irreparably damaged as a result.

  4. Should we be concerned as well that the EBac might disadvantage children with special educational needs, such as deaf children, who might be very bright, but struggle to learn a language? As far as I can tell, there is little out there on how to make teaching of languages accessible to deaf children.

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