At the start of this blogpost I feel I should point out (in case it is thrown at me) that I am not a great fan of the coalition/Tory education reforms. I am not convinced that academisation is a silver bullet that will transform a school, and I have many reservations about free schools and multi-academy trusts. What I hope to do here is simply set out why I am not opposed to the recent move towards making the EBacc mandatory, to challenge some of the assumptions about the EBacc, and also why I don’t think this needs to drastically curtail the choices students will get in other areas.
Simply, I think it is important that students study EBacc subjects to 16. These subjects do make up the core of the curriculum throughout a student’s time at school, and are subjects that have been recognised by universities as preparing well for further study (of course others will do this as well, but nobody is saying they can’t be studied). Students will be in full time education until 18 – so would still have 2 further years to move away from the study of these core subjects. With many students now taking options for GCSE at 13 years old, I think a move towards keeping them studying these subjects is no bad thing. Do they know at 13 what they will end up doing at 16? Probably not, and we certainly shouldn’t be closing down potential routes by moving them away from the core academic subjects.
‘But they don’t enjoy humanities or languages’
Is not a very compelling argument. A huge number don’t enjoy English, maths or science, I would suggest. Are we saying that they should only study things they enjoy? If not, I would apply the same arguments that are used for English, maths and science being studied to GCSE to humanities and languages. These are important things that contain skills and knowledge which are likely to benefit students in future. They can spend some more time studying them, and at 16 they can choose where to specialise further. I would also warn RE colleagues against employing this line of argument – I have heard far more students complain about RE being compulsory (including at KS3) than I ever have languages or history/geography
‘Schools will stop them studying other subjects’
It seems to me that this isn’t an argument against the EBacc, but an argument against how schools are trying to jump through this hoop. In short, they shouldn’t stop offering a wide range of other subjects. I sat my GCSEs in 1998, and on top of a compulsory choice of German or French, and another of history, geography or RE (no core RE at my school), I had 3 more option choices. If schools choose to only do the EBacc subjects, they are curtailing choice unnecessarily (more in a moment)
‘Some shouldn’t study humanities or languages’
I would certainly agree that there are some students who shouldn’t study languages all the way to 16 – perhaps in the case of an EAL student with very poor levels of understanding in English, or a student who has a SEN which requires him or her to spend more time on English. This should be the exception, though, and I think all students would benefit from the skills and knowledge to be gained in history or geography.
‘RE should be in the EBacc’
Current RE specifications should not be. They are not as challenging as history or geography, but this is likely to change. I am still suspicious of RE being included – it is compulsory to study it to 16 (but not to GCSE) and worry that some schools would use it instead of history/geography to tick the ‘humanities’ box but not actually give it a full curriculum allocation. I could be persuaded that the new specs should be included and RE GCSE become part of the options process, though.
So what would I do? If I were to be in charge of curriculum design (again), I would look to implement something like this across a 3-year key stage 4. This assumes 25 1-hour lessons per week, across a 2 week timetable and I think is a good solution to allow study of the EBacc, but also freedom for other GCSE options:
English – 7 lessons (approx. 370 across KS4)
Maths – 7 lessons (approx. 370 across KS4)
Science – 9 lessons (approx. 480 across KS4)
PE – 4 lessons (core PE)
RE – 2 lessons (approx. 105 across KS4)
Hums option – 4 lessons (approx. 210 across KS4)
Languages option – 4 lessons (approx. 210 across KS4)
3 x GCSE options – 4 lessons each (approx. 210 each across KS4)
Which only adds up to 49 lessons…leaving one more to go elsewhere, or be used for PSHEE-type lessons. It could be used to give science an extra period (helping with triple science perhaps), or English/maths to have 8 not 7 lessons. It could even go to RE which would push hours to around 150, leaving enough time for full course for all.
This would allow students to take 10 GCSE subjects (11 if triple science was studied, 11 or 12 if RE was a full GCSE), the EBacc for all, plus 3 other option choices. Some schools may wish to give option groups more lessons – a reduction to 2x GCSE options could increase the others to 5 hours per fortnight. Others may wish to give English, maths and science more time – again, you could do this and retain 2 EBacc options and 2 others.
In short, studying the EBacc shouldn’t curtail other subjects as much as some seem to fear. I feel giving all (or the vast, vast majority) the chance to study these core subjects is a good idea, beneficial for them and the choices they will make at 16. Students should still get the chance to study other option subjects – providing those responsible for curriculum design are willing to provide it, and senior leaders are not panicked into pouring all available time into the EBacc subjects.
Feel free to disagree…