GCSE option choice………….well, perhaps not too much choice.

Creative design from a year 9 pupil.

Creative design from a year 9 pupil.

All around the country my colleagues are gearing up for the process of selling their subject.  Sorry, that should have read, “providing impartial advice and guidance to our pupils regarding their choice of courses for GCSE”.  However the current educational landscape has made this more contentious than usual.   Schools whose specialism has been Design Technology for years and who have invested in high quality resources and excellent teachers have in some cases turned their backs on the subject in order to promote the much maligned EBacc.  If you are reading this from outside the UK education system you might find it hard to imagine that a school with an excellent record in delivering a subject might want to retain that excellence, perhaps even build on it in order to provide the best possible education for their pupils.  Ah, but you don’t understand the situation.  If you have the power to announce that schools will have their performance measured on the limited range of subjects in this notional EBacc, and if you further ensure that any school judged to be failing by your inspection system will be forcibly opened up to private enterprise who can turn it into an academy, then you can exert powerful pressures on these schools to do whatever you want.  Bearing in mind that an academy can change teachers conditions of service,  that all staff in such a school will be made to reapply for their jobs and are quite likely not to be appointed and that any headteacher who finds themselves in such a situation is unlikely ever to work in education again and you can perhaps see how high the stakes are.

Now our beloved secretary of state for education has a knack of asking over simplistic questions at times like this so let me suggest one, “Is it right that the leader of a failing school should continue to work in education?”  The answer you are of course supposed to give is, “Well, no.”  However as an intelligent person you might want to dig a little deeper.  We are in the middle of a storm of media interest about a hospital that failed for years to treat patients with dignity and humanity, in other words a bad hospital.  What has emerged from the news coverage is that the pressure to meet, and prove that they had met targets was so occupying the staff that they did not have time to care for their patients.  The parallels are obvious.  What makes a good hospital is not an ability to meet targets set by managers or even governments; so it is with schools.  An excellent school is surely one where every child truly matters and where every member of staff is working for the very best for those children.  The current pressure to meet EBacc targets creates exactly the same situation, forget the children, meet the targets.  For an alternative approach have a look at this: https://designfizzle.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/how-about-this-for-a-curriculum-review/  This is the result of a careful analysis of what we can do best for the children that our community entrusts to our care.

It must be said that all is not well for the secretary of sate nor for the EBacc.  A recent Education Select Committee report sounded some warnings about the governments education policy;  “We have concerns about the potential impact of the English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) on subjects outside the English Baccalaureate, which will be left with “discredited” GCSEs for some time to come. We question the extent to which it is possible  to “upgrade” some subjects, without implicitly “downgrading” others. The Government should be prepared to revise its policies if evidence emerges that our school system is failing to help sufficient numbers of young people acquire the technical and creative skills needed for further learning and work in key areas.”   (  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmeduc/808/808.pdf  if you fancy a read of their report).  I want to know what they regard as evidence, I hope very much that they are not prepared to wait until this generation of children have been blighted as political parties play election football with the education system.  I trust that the tidal wave of expert opinion which says that it is vital that we develop technical and creative expertise in our children will be counted as evidence.    I suspect that Mr Gove’s seemingly unfailing ability to dismiss any criticism as coming from a pressure group may also apply, in his mind at least, to the Education Select Committee.

Just to compound the absurdity it is now clear that the EBacc will have no certification in its present form and that new GSCE exams will be called EBacc when they are instituted.  Hang on, what about the children who are being asked right now to opt for examination courses that will shape their future?  Will they get nothing more than a severely limited and limiting range of subjects to chose to study because schools have been dragooned into offering just those subjects included in an illusory qualification?  Yes, I am afraid they will.

But that is not the worst of it.  Children who have a real talent in creative subjects, who will find their fulfillment through them, who might be the cultural giants of the future, but who have the potential to help a school towards its targets because they could get GCSE grade C in the EBacc subjects might not be given the chance to study design, art or performing art subjects.  I would love to think that schools across the country would have the courage of their convictions and the confidence in what they are doing to ignore these targets.  I would love children and parents to know what their choices really are and most of all I would love to be able to get more parents into schools to find out what goes on, to see the commitment of my colleagues and to share in the excitement we feel when their children do amazing things.  But of course we can’t get parents into schools because of child protection issue, something of an irony there I  feel.


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