The Ebacc…failing

Where able to squeeze a few minutes out of my free periods, after-school time, and the evening after a long day, I have spent it watching the streamed link from this afternoon’s Education Committee Oral Evidence session on the “Ebacc”. On the first panel, representing the teaching profession, were Matt Brady (Assistant Head of Tile Hill Wood School and Language College), Caroline Jordan (Head of St George’s School), Andrew Chubb (Principal of Archbishop Sentamu School) and Hugh O’Neill (Head of St Benedict’s Catholic School).

In a manner which might have taken the Secretary of State for Education somewhat aback, based on his recent claims that many schools and headteachers welcomed the introduction of the new “metric”, the four heads were sometimes barely able to conceal their contempt for it. I am going to re-listen to this whole section again when I have time – I must confess I was enjoying it too much to take proper notes! Please watch this space for another post in the near future…

When the second group – from the worlds of business and further education – took their seats, Susan Anderson (Director of Public Services and Skills at the CBI) started by saying that the business community was broadly in line with the Ebacc as a “useful wrapper”, a measure that would help to cement literacy and numeracy and the study of sciences, but was also at pains to point out that other skills and curriculum areas such as IT, creativity and humanities were also vital. She did point out that that perhaps such debate was more appropriate as part of the National Curriculum Review rather than as a measure already imposed, with no consultation, before any such review has taken place…

The potential employers, represented by David Bell (Chief Corporate Development Officer at JCB Ltd.), did not see it as a measure of employability, due to the excessive narrowness of the measure. They poked fun at Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew as a requirement for a well-rounded student. They pointed up the fact that there was no need for any new qualifications, and that the Ebacc was, as Susan Anderson had already said, merely a wrapper. David Bell and Susan Anderson also remarked on the need for more (some? any!) debate on the content of the curriculum, and the need to ensure that students have the right behaviours for employment and skills – a culture imparted through the ethos of the schools themselves, ideally, rather than “bolted on” at a later stage. There was considerable concern that, even if a second “TecBacc” were added to the mix, one might end with a perceived hierarchy, with the Ebacc for bright kids and the TecBacc for thick kids, due to the preconception prevalent in the UK that the vocational side is for less academic pupils.

Chris Morecroft (President of the Association of Colleges) was at pains to remark that we must not reject all arts, humanities, creativity; apart from their intrinsic value to humanity, they are also important in motivating students, and can also contain just as much rigour as the so-called “academic core”…when well taught by staff who can bring the right approach to the “craft”. In much the same way, I myself would add that it is possible to deliver any of the 5 core “Ebacc” areas with no academic rigour or value whatsoever. It happens quite a lot… Susan Anderson then tackled the area most dear to my own heart: languages. She asserted that, having been dropped from the core curriculum, they now need to be added back in first, before we can expect that merely adding them to the Ebacc core will have the desired effect. In addition, as schools have been allowed to remove them from their teaching load, there is a need for teachers to cope with the extra timetable hours now demanded! Chris Morecroft added that restricting the teaching of languages to GCSE, thereby neglecting the work done on rigorous but APPLIED language qualifications over the past years, would be highly damaging. Languages need to be useful!

Quizzed on the matter of the Ebacc’s potential effect on university admissions, Professor Les Ebdon (Chair of Students Quality Participation Policy Network) agreed that the measure was merely a “wrapper”. He added that universities will always look inside the wrapper! Already, since the (retrospective) application of the Ebacc this year, he said that applicants and their parents have expressed concern. Universities have responded by acknowledging that retrospective application of the Ebacc is unfair – and will not apply it in this way. When asked “What about younger pupils – say, current Year 8s?”, he maintained that the best policy would always be to look at course profiles: with a quiet smile he asserted that Russell Group and 94 Group universities will NOT be using the Ebacc as a measure. In fact, as such institutions are being encouraged to be more socially inclusive, potentially Ebacc will HAVE to be ignored. He went on to point out that, for those students continuing after 16, what you want to do at A-level dictates what you need at GCSE. For this reason, the Ebacc measure is less relevant than good old-fashioned individual bench-marking of each student’s attainment in the subjects they take at GCSE which impact on their choices for A-level and beyond…

My stamina is starting to fade – so I will return to the rest of the discussion in a future post: but to finish with, the panel was asked the following question: from the point of view of industry, employers and higher education, did they think that the Ebacc was going to help or hinder?

Their verdicts?

Professor Les Ebdon – “won’t contribute much, has a confusing name (Level 2 rather than Level 3), just another thing for education to have to chase around, little value – essentially a gimmick! Rather than admiring the shiny new box, institutions will look in the box and see what is inside…”

Chris Morecroft – “not massively damaging but not useful. ALL pupils at 16 need appropriate opportunities for further development, or a relevant pathway suitable to their own needs” – not just an academic elite.

David Bell – “potentially damaging for the UK economy” (we need engineers!)

Susan Anderson – “in the UK, currently just over 50% achieve 5 A*-C including English and Maths…if it improves that, great…(but I am not sure it will…)”

And with that resounding acclaim for the new measure echoing around the walls of Westminster, the meeting was adjourned.  Is any further comment really required? All I will point out is this: out of the 8 panellists present for this afternoon’s meeting, none backed the Ebacc in its current form with ANY conviction whatsoever – and most of them slated it. Food for thought for the Secretary of State – or will he ignore this in much the same way he has in his response to Judicial Review over the BSF débâcle? It will be interesting to see how this plays out…

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