The so-called Twitter Headteachers of the Guardian article this morning really do need to hit the ground running and provide a platform that teachers can support. They need to provide a positive, policy focused framework to which we can all subscribe. The first thing that they should do to achieve this, in my humble opinion, is to publish a joint and open response to the government’s EBC/GCSE proposals and ask teachers en masse to copy and paste it into their individual feedback to the proposals. Here’s what I think it should say.
Do you agree that the new qualifications should be called English Baccalaureate Certificates?
This is the wrong question. We should not have any externally accredited exams at 16 in a system where all are expected to stay in education until the age of 18 as it prevents holistic 14-19 learning and limits learning in these vital years.
Do you agree that it will be possible to end tiering for the full range of subjects? Do you agree that EBCs should be assessed 100% by externally marked examinations?
There should be no need to tier exams, but again you have skilfully asked the wrong question. Examinations have their place in an assessment system but they should be secondary to the informed assessment of qualified and well trained education professionals. The over-reliance on exams has indeed created a system that is unfit for purpose. Your proposal will lead to teachers being paid (but not fully trained) to mark the exams of students from other schools, whilst simultaneously not being trusted to evaluate the performance of their own students in their own classes. This is a remarkable failure of vision and simultaneously the very definition of irony.
Should our expectations be that EBCs take the same amount of curriculum time as the current GCSEs?
No examination should take curriculum time. The curriculum should. A healthy curriculum provides a healthy balance across a range of subjects and disciplines. The focus on the EBacc subjects will inevitably lead to a narrowing of the curriculum in a high stakes accountability structure. It does not take account of local economies and wider student interests. Instead we should be anticipating that all students choose a multidisciplinary curriculum across their 14-19 years that will best reflect their interests and aspirations, and align them with the core skills and knowledge that we know will ensure their continued success in study and life generally.
Which examination aids do you consider necessary to allow students to fully demonstrate knowledge and skills?
This is a ridiculous question for a consultation on the broad principles of curriculum and examination. It runs counter to your claim to wish to allow professionals to design assessment. Putting a question like this on the consultation when so many other possible questions are omitted only makes professionals disbelieve you when you say you have no wish to micromanage us.
Do you agree that we should place a particular emphasis on qualifications providing the best assurance of literacy and numeracy?
I see what you did there, you cunning minister you!! How can we possibly say no to a question like this? But again it is the wrong question. Are the purposes of effective literacy and numeracy best served by an entirely terminal examination in a handful of reified subject domains, or is truly effective literacy and numeracy across all subjects and all classroom encounters? we tend to think the latter and so this needs to be built into your proposals.
How can awarding organisations eliminate any unnecessary burdens on schools relating to the administration of EBCs?
Oh my goodness. Have they already happened? We thought this was a consultation, but it seems you’re already into the administration!! Or is this just your way of showing that you care about us, you caring minister you. Here’s an unnecessary exam board burden you can remove: the need to pay exam boards huge amounts of money to poorly organise and poorly monitor the poor marking of exam scripts. Or how about removing the ‘magic’ of grade boundary shifting after marking in order to deflate grades? A final suggestion might be to get the marking and grading correct so that we can stop having to ask you for re-marks (and by the way, when we pay exam boards so much for their services how come we aren’t allowed access to online student scripts by default, rather than having to order them?)
Which groups of students do you think would benefit from a ‘statement of achievement’ provided by their school?
NONE OF THEM!!!! We have had leavers’ certificates before as compensation for students for an education system that systematically failed them. We do not want to go back to that. Ever. If you must have a leavers’ certificate, let it be for all from the government (don’t think we didn’t see that the ‘statement of achievement is to come from schools by the way!) as a summary of their internally and externally assessed broad 14-19 curriculum across a range of subjects including – deep breath – vocational ones!!!!!
Do you believe any of the proposals have the potential to have a disproportionate impact on specific pupil groups?
Yes. The poor. The vulnerable. The artists. The humanitarians. The engineers. Those with SEN. Those without a memory for facts. Do we really need to go on? When you narrow the methods by which success is recognised you either narrow the mindsets of successful people or narrow the numbers of successful people. End of story.
Should we introduced reformed qualifications in all six English Baccalaureate subjects for first teaching in 2015?
Are you MAD? In less than three years you want to introduce a whole new set of qualifications. Would you do the same with a new wonder drug being mooted for the first time today? Would that be safe for human consumption? Would it be guaranteed to makers patients better? Why on earth would you think that the same could be true of education and its tens of thousands of Guinea Pigs? It’s not that we don’t trust you on swift implementation of hurried reform (after all Free Schools have been a raging success) but it’ll be in the middle of an election year and we can’t help but think that the minister will be helping the PM win a landslide – or be buried under one. How about instead we treat the implementation of a significant reform seriously and ensure it is trialled and made as error-proof as possible. In the meantime you could even properly see through the legacy GCSEs to ensure that the final cohorts are not diminished by having to take them.
Should all languages in which there is currently a GCSE be included in our competition?
Erm… Are you referring to getting rid of Latin from the EBC? Or are you more concerned about the increased accreditation of Urdu, Pashtun and other languages by schools (largely in challenging urban environments) that are ‘gaming the system’ by getting their students to sit exams in their home languages. How dare we? We are making it too easy. We are dumbing down. Or maybe the fact that these students are already taking a foreign language called English might be seen to balance out your concerns? Either way, as the plan is to reduce many non-EBacc subjects to outsider status (maybe we should call these qualifications the MehBacc) perhaps we should hang on to all ancient and foreign languages a while longer.
So there you go. My main piece of advice for the Twitter Headteachers if they feel so inclined. Give us something clear to back you on. Oh, and quickly find yourselves a name before they begin calling you the TwatterHeads. Personally I’d be in favour of something like Shadow/ED to show that we’re serious about making our presence felt whilst attempting to prick the conscience of those with shadow on their job title.
I wish you all the luck in the world, TwatterHeads. 😉
Since I wrote this post, THIS has happened: