(The following submission has not yet been formally accepted as evidence)
Achievement at ASA
ASA was launched as a sponsor academy in September 2008. After just two years of operation,we had achieved a 39% increase in the number of students achieving 5 good GCSE grades including English and Maths in comparison to the predecessor school, and standards are on target to rise much higher still this year. For the past two years, we have also been at the 4th centile nationally for overall student progress.
Our values “Aspire, Serve, Achieve” are expressed through insistence on the following principles:
•A traditional uniform worn correctly at all times;
•Courtesy, respect and good manners being shown to all people at all times;
•The highest expectations of student progress, underpinned by rigorous individual target-setting, tracking and intervention strategies;
•A highly personalised curriculum which allows students to play to their strengths;
•A highly focussed drive to improve the quality of teaching and learning, underpinned by exacting quality assurance processes and a highly personalised staff development programme.
The Purpose and benefits of the E-Bac, the choice of subjects included, and its value as a measure of pupil and school performance:
As an academy, we welcome the Secretary of State’s proposal that there should be a baccalaureate award in this country. Correctly designed, it could give schools and academies the opportunity to design curricula that are truly “world-class”, drawing on the best of international practice and raising our expectations of all students. In short, a well-designed baccalaureate could give another “boost” to our efforts to improve our international competitivity. We recognise just how important this is, and want to be supportive of such efforts.
However, in its current format, the E-Bac falls well-short of achieving these very worthwhile aims. There are many reasons for this:
•The choice of subjects is very restrictive - with the omission of the Arts, RE, and Design Technology being key examples.
•Consequently, the E-Bac restricts pupil choice. For example, in a Church of England or Catholic school, RE would be compulsory to GCSE level. To achieve the E-Bac in such a school, pupils would have to study two humanities, cutting down the time available for a more rounded set of options, which might include arts or technology subjects for example
•The method of examination is very restrictive, with its insistence on GCSE. We agree with the Secretary of State that some vocational qualifications have been over-valued, and that this situation needs to be addressed. However, there are many rigorous vocational qualifications that students value, and find engaging, and we believe that these should also be included. An example of this would be vocational languages (either Business or NVQ languages) - demanding qualifications that would be of great use to students who wanted to use their languages in a business context.
•The range of areas covered is very restrictive. Other baccalaureates (see international comparators below) require, for example, extended projects, civic participation and enterprise skills to be a part of the award; our academy would want the same opportunities for our own young people.
•The E-Bac appears to re-establish the dichotomy of “knowledge versus skills”, with a strong emphasis on valuing the former over the latter when in fact both are important. This is not likely to promote well-rounded, independent learners.
•As a consequence of the above factors, we believe that the baccalaureate is of no value whatsoever as a measure of pupil performance. Whilst the particular combination of subjects chosen would suit the needs of some students (probably a small minority), it would not suit the large majority. It is therefore nut suited as a general measure of pupil performance.
The implications of the E-Bac for pupils, schools and employers
•For the reasons given above, we would argue that “failure” to achieve the E-Bac is irrelevant - yet by creating a de-facto new metric, there is a very real danger that the majority of students in the country will be labelled exactly that. We understand that there is no requirement for students to follow an E-Bac, but this view is at best naive; already, schools across the country are altering their curricula for students in Year 11 just to meet what is widely perceived as a new target (a practice which the White Paper itself condemned when referring to schools who “ramped up” the number of vocational qualifications purely for league table purposes). The following examples illustrate this point.
In a survey by the National Association of Music Teachers, 60 per cent of respondents said their departments had already been adversely affected by the EBac. Music teachers in 57 out of 95 schools said their schools plan to reduce opportunities to study music from this September.
The National Association of Teachers of Religious Education polled almost 800 schools and found that nearly one in three secondary schools are planning to cut time spent teaching RE as a result of the English Bac.
The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) polled over 100 teachers. Over 60% of art teachers told NSEAD they thought fewer pupils would start art GCSE courses this autumn because of the introduction of the English Bac. John Steers, general secretary of the society, said it felt as if the government had launched an "assault" on art and design. "Clearly the ministers don't value the subjects… …It is particularly strange because the creative industries employ so many British people.”
•We would therefore argue that the E-Bac is bad for pupils, and bad for schools. Moreover, the Secretary of State should not underestimate the anger felt by headteachers that has been provoked by making it a retrospective measure, nor by the same token, the deep mistrust about its true purpose, no matter what its current stated purpose may be. Securing the good will of the professionals involved in delivering any government policy is crucial to that policy’s long-term success, and this has not been the case with the E-Bac hitherto.
•Our extensive experience of working with employers brings no further comfort; time and again, we are told that this vital group of stakeholders value personal, team and enterprise skills, along with the ability to think for yourself, act on your own initiative, research problems and be creative problem-solvers. The E-Bac does not encourage these crucial competencies to be addressed and / or validated. As such, we feel that the E-Bac misses an important opportunity to improve our pupils’ employability skills - skills that are vital for our nation’s long-term economic prosperity.
International Comparators for the E-Bac
As an academy, we have discussed the issue of the E-Bac extensively with the Curriculum Foundation. This section has been produced by them, but I have re-produced it in full here as it also represents the views of ASA.
Making a like-for-like international comparison with the E-Bac is problematic. This is due to the lack of clarity about the purpose of the E-Bac. In different speeches the Secretary of State gives various reasons for its introduction. These include:
· to stop schools ‘gaming’ league tables,
· to encourage more students to follow academic subjects
· to ensure more students from poorer backgrounds have access to the best universities and “the most exciting careers.”
· to allow school-to-school comparison to inform parental choice
· to “secure a school-leaving certificate which shares many of the virtues of the European baccalaureate approach”
In its current form the E-Bac is no more than a new accountability measure based on a selection of a five ‘preferred’ GCSE’s. It is certainly not a well-considered programme of learning in the usual sense of a baccalaureate.
For the purpose of the inquiry we feel that it is possible to compare the E-Bac in three ways.
a. As a programme of learning for 11-16 year olds – comparable with the International Baccalaureate Middle Years programme or a National Curriculum entitlement for secondary education in other countries.
b. As a programme of learning and associated suite of examinations that lead to an ‘over-arching’ accreditation – such as The international Baccalaureate Diploma programme, The European Bac, The French Bac or the Welsh Bac.
c. As a public measure for school accountability
As a programme of learning
Most programmes that use the term baccalaureate have been developed as carefully designed programmes of learning. For example, the IB middle years programme sets out its credentials as follows:
The IB Middle Years Programme, for students aged 11 to 16, provides a framework of academic challenge that encourages students to embrace and understand the connections between traditional subjects and the real world, and become critical and reflective thinkers.
The IB seeks to promote the ‘education of the whole person through an emphasis on intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth.’ In addition to languages, mathematics, sciences, humanities it embraces the study of the arts, physical education and technology. Students also engage in a personal project and there is a community service component requiring action and reflection.
Many educationalists regard the IB as a well-conceived and balanced programme of learning. One that builds on the main traditions of learning while at the same time being futures orientated. Unlike the recent White Paper, the IB is not troubled by the mention of skills and attitudes. The IB encourages the study of individual subjects and transdisciplinary areas. It promotes inquiry as the leading pedagogical approach, focuses on developing the skills of learning and promotes civic participation.
By comparison the English Baccalaureate is deficient in many ways. By failing to embrace the arts, technology, RE and PE it does not have a similar breadth of learning. By focusing exclusively on a limited number of academic subjects it is questionable how well it will contribute to develop young peoples practical, personal, social and emotional growth. Having no equivalent to the personal project, civic participation or enterprise activities as components the E-Bac puts insufficient emphasis on applied learning.
We are of the view that the Secretary of State has fallen into the trap of perpetuating an unhelpful false dichotomy. The almost complete absence of the word “skills” in the white paper and the remit for the national curriculum review is testament to how entrenched such a position has become in the minds of education ministers.
Education should not be a battleground between two camps; knowledge versus skills, subjects versus multi-disciplinary projects, teacher-led versus student-initiated and academic versus vocational. These are false opposites that are not seen in the design of the IB, or for that matter, in the curricular of high performing jurisdictions such as Singapore, Finland and New Zealand.
The Singapore Curriculum places ‘Life Skills’ at it centre, including cross-curricular work, community involvement and project work as important components. This is in addition to traditional domains such as languages, mathematics, science and technology, humanities and the arts. The Singapore Ministry describe their mission as:
“Our schools are striving to provide students with a holistic education, focused on both academic and non-academic areas. We want to give our students a broad range of experiences and help them make the most of their years together in school where they will interact with one another and form strong friendships for life. As they grow up, we want to provide them with the full opportunity to develop the skills and values that they will need for life. Besides judging our students’ performance through examinations, we are also looking at other and broader measures of how well they do in education.”
Ministry of Education, Singapore
The New Zealand Curriculum, in addition to the traditional domains of languages, the arts, health and PE, mathematics, science, social sciences and technology, lists the important skills of managing-self, relating to others and thinking skills as key competencies. The curriculum framework describes, community and participation and sustainability as important aspects of learning. The New Zealand curriculum framework embraces all aspects of learning:
“Young people who, in their school years, will continue to develop the values, knowledge, and competencies that will enable them to live full and satisfying lives”
New Zealand Ministry of Education
In Finland, in addition to the traditional domains, the curriculum framework includes important cross-curricular themes. These include growth as a person, media skills and communication, citizenship and entrepreneurship and responsibility for the environment, well-being and a sustainable future. These are seen as important aspects of their curriculum. The curriculum framework states “cross curricular themes represent central emphases of the educational and teaching work.”
The Finns describe ‘the conception of learning’ as ‘an individual and communal process of building knowledge and skills.’ They recognize the importance of learning to learn saying ‘in addition to new knowledge and skills, both learning and work habits are to be learned that will serve as tools of lifelong learning”.
Mr Gove appears keen to compare learning in England with that in other high performing jurisdictions. However, the evidence he chooses to support his ideas is often partial and selective. Well designed baccalaureates and curricular from high performing jurisdictions such as Singapore, Finland, and New Zealand recognize the importance of breadth and balance and the importance of developing skills and attitudes as well as knowledge and understanding. The idea that these goals are in some way at odds with each other is untenable.
The introduction to the current curriculum review states “The Government believes… …the inclusion of skills development and the promotion of generic dispositions, have distorted the core function of the National Curriculum.” The foundation sees such a view as an unfounded. Such an analysis does not reflect the curriculum priorities of high performing countries. We believe that such a view does a serious disservice to young people and their parents.
As an overarching qualification
The second international comparison that might be made when evaluating the E-Bac is as an ‘over-arching’ or ‘modular’ qualification.
In this case the E-Bac might be compared to the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, the French Baccalaureate, The Welsh Baccalaureate or the European Baccalaureate.
However, it should be noted that these awards are not designed as ‘school leaving certificates’ for 16 year olds or as school accountability measures. They have been designed as learning pathways and qualifications for university entrance and life beyond school. (16-19)
The IB diploma programme, for example, is designed for 16-19 year olds. Over the course of the two-year programme, students study six subjects chosen from the six subject groups from the major domains, including the arts. Choice and breadth of study are the touchstone.
For example in the humanities strand students can choose from:
· business and management
· information technology in a global society
· social and cultural anthropology.
In the arts strand students can choose from
· visual arts.
· dance (from 2011)
In the second language strand there are three options are available to accommodate students with different backgrounds.
· Language courses for beginners (that is, students who have no previous experience of learning the language they have chosen).
· Language courses for students who have had some previous experience of learning the language.
· Language courses are designed for students who have a high level of competence in the language they have chosen.
In addition to the traditional programme there are three core requirements that are included to broaden the educational experience and challenge students to apply their knowledge and understanding. They include:
· Creativity, action, and service require that students actively learn from the experience of doing real tasks beyond the classroom.
· Theory of knowledge is a course designed to encourage each student to critically examine different ways of knowing (perception, emotion, language and reason) and different kinds of knowledge (scientific, artistic, mathematical and historical).
· The extended essay is a requirement for students to engage in independent research.
Awards are gained through a mix of external and internal assessments and include a variety of methods including essays and short response questions as well as oral work, field-work and performances. The highest total that a Diploma Programme student can be awarded is 45 points. The diploma is awarded to students who gain at least 24 points, subject to certain minimum levels of performance across the whole diploma and to satisfactory participation in creativity, action and service. Generally about 80% of Diploma Programme students are awarded the diploma each examination session.
With a pass rate of about 80% the International Bac is recognised by universities in nearly 140 countries with some 120,000 Diploma Programme graduates entering university each year. As a qualification for 16 year olds the E-Bac has no currency, and is so narrowly conceived that only 15.6% of pupils achieved what Mr Gove would call a pass this year.
In our view, as an over-arching qualification, the E-Bac is found seriously wanting. It is too narrow in its scope, fails to include the arts or technology, and over-emphasises one aspect of learning. It makes no attempt to connect learning to important aspects of education such as civic participation or student autonomy. It has not been piloted or undergone any of the tests that would be required of a genuinely credible qualification.
Similar observations about the E-Bac could also be made when comparing it to the French, Welsh and European baccalaureates. Young people in England deserve access to a baccalaureate that compares favourably to those on offer elsewhere.
As a measure for school accountability
Generally baccalaureates are not used as an additional metric for school accountability.
Once again if we compare top performing jurisdictions with England it is worth noting that neither Finland or New Zealand use the narrow metric of tests and exams to construct school v school leagues tables.
Finland, in particular, have eschewed the accountability movement in education that assumes that regular high-stakes testing and performance tables is the key to raising student achievement. The only standardised, high-stakes assessment occurs at the end of general upper secondary school, before students enter tertiary education. Before this no external tests are imposed on Finnish classrooms.
“The purpose of schooling remains focused on holistic development of personality including knowledge, skills, values, creativity, and interpersonal characteristics. Schools are places for learning and caring, where learning comes before testing; achievement is defined in relation to one’s own development and growth, rather than in relation to universal standards.”
Pasi Sahlberg, PhD
A short history of educational reform in Finland
In Singapore, qualifications do form part of the public accountability framework. The Ministry has been providing information on the performance of secondary schools since 1992. The School Achievement Tables replaced ranking lists in 2004 and are intended to provide a more holistic view of the performance of schools with the focus on both academic and non academic subjects. MOE does not rank primary schools.
In addition Singapore have introduced a ‘Teach Less, Learn More’ project which focuses on developing learning skills to counter some of the negative consequences of teachers focusing excessively on test results and qualifications.
It is worth noting that it is countries, such as the UK and USA, that have chosen to use league tables in a public way, that have seen their PISA standing fall over recent years..
Current research (Watkins, C (2010) 'Learning, Performance and Improvement') indicates that a narrow focus on testing and qualifications leads to a narrowing of the curriculum. This focuses student attention on practice and performance in tests rather than on deepening understanding and developing learning skills. Over time, this not only damages students’ appetite for learning but also depresses the results they achieve in tests. Alternatively, if Ministers are not convinced by current research they might like to take a lesson from history.
“….we hold that in several important respects the influence of the examination and the process of preparation for it are inimical at present to the healthy growth in mind and body of a large number of children who pass through the Grammar School.”
“This examination (The School Certificate) now largely determines the curriculum for pupils under the age of 16”
Extracts from the The Spens Report (1938)
Secondary Education with Special Reference to Grammar Schools and Technical High Schools
Concluding Remarks - towards a “better baccalaureate”
At the start of this paper, we stated that we supported the Secretary of State’s desire to introduce a baccalaureate into our Education system. However, we believe that the E-Bac is deficient in every respect to its international comparators, and that overall, its introduction will be damaging to our pupils’ education. As an academy, we are however working hard with a number of partners nationally to develop a “better baccalaureate”. Details of this project can be found on our web-site: www.abetterbaccalaureate.org. We would be delighted to work with the Secretary of State and other ministers to develop an award worthy of the baccalaureate title, which had the potential to offer our students truly world-class opportunities, rather than a simple “badge” awarded for students who opt for a very narrow set of qualifications.