The EBacc is back…..never mind the children.


Well it  has certainly been an interesting start to the new academic year.  What is becoming the most consistent thing in education is that there is no consistency.  In a far off time it was the case that teachers regarded the August exam results day as of concern for their pupils; had they got the grades they needed to go on to their chosen course or university?  Once politicians began to intervene in education things changed.  In an effort to judge schools against each other exam results seemed like an easy option, but of course they weren’t.  I recall being horrified when a colleague boasted of their best year ever with 40% of pupils getting good GCSE grades, turned out that he worked in a school in a difficult catchment area and in the shadow of two selective grammar schools.  Since then we have gone through raw exam scores, value added scores which take into account the progress made by children since primary school, the percentage achieving five or more GCSE grades at A to C, the percentage achieving five GCSE grades at A to C including English and Maths.  Each of these measures has been used to judge schools and in each case failure to meet them has had serious consequences.

And so it should, you might say.  Of course what this means is that schools focus on the magic numbers, whichever ones happen to be in force at the time.  They devote extra resources and effort to ensure that they do as well as possible; note that I am talking about the school here and not the children in it.  Along comes Michael Gove and decrees that a new success measure will be used with immediate effect, the English Baccalaureate!  The announcement was followed by much comment that it was unfair to start measuring school by this standard without some warning.  However schools across the land swung into action and responded to the new target like a pack of educational pointers.  Alas Michael Gove seems not to have realised that it is exam boards who issue GCSE certificates, not the government, and that no mechanism existed for collating the results or funding certificates and so the idea sank into the background.  However the damage had been done, schools whose survival depended on meeting the targets dictated by the government had already changed their option systems, barring the most able from taking subjects that were outside the EBacc umbrella, re structuring staff and re organising themselves.

The next phase was to decree that the measure would be how many pupils gained five GCSE s at A to C including English and Maths.  Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  Well as part of the process of ensuring that they were meeting these standards the schools have been doing things like entering pupils for exams in the crucial English and Maths early in their final year rather than wait until July.  Some schools have entered pupils for exams with more than one exam board, taking the best result they can get.  Well according to the current jargon this practice is called, “gaming the system”.  A phrase that I take to mean doing everything you can to exceed the targets.  If you want to know how successful this strategy was have a look at this:  Now there are two views on this; on the one hand of course schools have been doing that, why would they not?  Clearly the more of their pupils who get the necessary grades to go on to the course or career of their choosing the better.  For many schools early entry and early results allows them to be sure what their final figures are going to look like ahead of time, they can know where they are in regard to their targets.  The second view is that perhaps blaming the schools is not the best approach, perhaps the system is what is at fault?

Well a sudden announcement some weeks after start of the term decreed that schools could carry on entering pupils early but the first result would be the one that counted and any further attempts would be wasted.  Too late for many who had already entered their pupils, prepared them for the exams and organised their whole year around them.  All over the country letters were being drafted to parents explaining the sudden reversal.  Heart searching for schools and teachers, distress for pupils and confusion for parents.  And now the latest change.  Another decree has gone out.  From 2016 there will be four measures of success, pupils performance across their best eight GCSEs, a measure of progress from their primary school results, the percentage gaining C grades or above in English and Maths and finally, here it is again for your enjoyment, the percentage gaining the EBacc!

The  two points that spring from all this are first, that schools all across the country are busy working out how they can best meet these targets or, “game the system” , as the press and politicians would have it.  The second point, the one that is inexcusable is that all this is about schools performance, not the well being of the pupils in the school.  For the first time in my career I have met a student who identified the biggest block to his progress in learning as the Secretary of State for Education.  He had been forced into a set of options that he did not want because he had the capacity to do a great deal for the school figures.  A lot of gifted and caring professionals are trying to balance the future of their school against the futures of the children in their charge.  Is this really the best we can do with our education system?

One Response to “The EBacc is back…..never mind the children.”
  1. lucy says:

    Unfortunately all so true and disheartening! . With the change of discount codes this year it’s further bad news for the Arts in school….., we used to have students doing Photography, Art and or 3D Design which is no longer on offer in our school (even though year 10 students did choose these combinations) because duplicate art subjects will not count in headline data! I have wondered so often recently who is remembering the students and their achievements because no one above me seems interested even though they tell me they are!
    More measures, more hoops to jump through… more lose of real learning in the classroom!

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