Politics Magazine

The Unique Life of the EBacc

Posted on the 07 February 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

This morning we woke up to the surprise announcement that Michael Gove has retreated on his plans to replace the first round of secondary school exams in England, currently GCSEs, with the “more traditional” English Baccalaureate certificates (EBaccs). The reasons behind the welcome U-turn are that there were difficulties in developing and rolling out the qualifications in about 30 months, and that Gove’s proposal to allocate monopolies on particular subjects to single exam boards would be in breach of European law on public service contracts. It also appears that the Liberal Democrats were keen to torpedo the plans.

These barriers have rendered Gove’s plans to be impracticable. Hopefully, it will teach our dear Education Secretary that devising policy (especially on a matter that is of real importance to millions of people) with little regards to anything other than the kudos it gets him with his party’s grassroots, simply doesn’t work. Education policy is best formed with real input from teachers, exam boards, employers, universities, and, call me daft if you will, the students who will sit them. The humiliation of the Goveites is and was not only well-deserved, but probably inevitable.

As the mangling of our school-level qualifications system is politically motivated, it is worth considering what the political aims of the Department of Education’s political masters were, and still are. Remember, they’ve still over two years to inflict damage on GCSEs. We were to see a return to an explicitly harder set of exams which would have an old-fashioned curriculum which would’ve been narrower and incisive of outmoded concepts such as calculus in Mathematics. And you’ve got to hand it to them, that is truly reflective of their values: inflicting practices on society that are no longer relevant to real life just because it’s what they did.

It is well known that the EBacc system was designed to squeeze out the arts and “softer” subjects in favour of the sciences. That is probably just as well, given that there will be no university courses available in these areas due to a complete absence of funding.

The requirement for good, correct grammar, spelling and punctuation throughout every exam paper, instead of merely the extended response questions, is not as clearly backwards as the other ideas, but I know dyslexics whose prospects would be subject to severe damage by such a marking policy. Overall, I don’t have an opinion on said idea.

Lastly, I observe Gove’s peculiar obsession with impractical schemes to rank candidates on a national level. At one point, every A Level student was to receive a national ranking. Though that system was dismissed as absurd (1 mark would be the difference between tens of thousands), this would have been introduced in a subtle form with EBaccs, with grades being allocated by decile: the top 10% of students sitting each exam awarded Grade One, the next 10% Grade Two, etc. Students will be judged not by their performance, but by their peers’ performance. What a suitable demonstration of the unfairness they will face in adult life.

So yes, this is a welcome victory for sense. But many of these plans will be applied to GCSEs anyway, with real consequences for many.

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