The Government wants all secondary schools to teach to the English Baccalaureate, where the aim is to achieve a C grade or above in English, Maths, the Sciences, History or Geography, and a language.
The EBac is going to make it difficult to get a mix of curriculum to meet a variety of needs. Schools can resist the EBac, but at the cost of never being considered outstanding by Ofsted, the supposition being that meeting the local community needs cannot be considered Outstanding. Nicky Morgan says that the EBac system ‘is a matter of social justice.’ Yet how does that fit with an individual’s specific needs, especially if they have special educational needs or are better suited to vocational education? Why the introduction of so many apprenticeships if everyone will have to do the EBac? Furthermore, having drastically curtailed language education in secondary schools we now want it to be compulsory again! Well, we have lost many language teachers who, I would guess, have moved on and will not want to come back. It all smacks of inconsistent, woolly and changeable thinking across successive governments. They have all demonstrated that they do not really know what is needed.
According to Nigel Matthias (deputy head at Bay House School in Hampshire) the EBac provides a lower status to other subjects and therefore has negative motivational implications for some students, as well as teachers. Some students are totally unsuited to studying a language or sciences and, it can be argued, should not be forced to do so. There is also the danger that core subjects will get extra curriculum time, thus curtailing other subjects. This means that the average student following the EBac will have limited opportunities to do other things, such as Technology or Art or RE, and will have a limited amount of time to follow such courses. It will also be difficult to squeeze a vocational course into this kind of scenario.
Staffing is a major problem, not just for the language teachers already mentioned, but for those in other subjects too, given that there is a recruitment crisis in Maths and Sciences, and that there are up to 50% of teachers looking to leave the profession in the next two years according to an NUT survey. Well, I left two years ago, and I am not going back! I am still waiting to see when the government is going to wake up to the low morale and unreasonable workload and stress that they have imposed on the education system.
There is a continuing Conservative animosity towards vocational qualifications, that is out of sync with the many apprenticeships they want to introduce. There ought to be a strong link between vocational qualifications in schools and the apprenticeships that they want, such that we are sensibly filling the skills insufficiency in our labour force whilst also giving students the sort of education that suits them.
I think the bottom line is that students need to study Maths and English in order to be literate and numerate, but what else they do should be defined by the school they attend and the individual needs of the students in the school. We have never managed to get this right, and, unfortunately, it does not look as if it is going to happen anytime soon.
Andrew Bateson is 57 years old and initially trained as a Geologist. He has been a secondary school teacher for 22 years teaching Chemistry and Science to 11 to 18 year olds. Previously he worked in the Ceramic industry in research and development and then management. He has experience of both the independent and state sectors, teaching in single sex and mixed sex schools. As a Union Rep., he followed educational policy closely throughout his teaching career. He has retired from teaching to continue working with OOL and to retrain as a Psychotherapist.