The English Baccalaureate: the end to dumbing down?

On 17th September 2012, Michael Gove announced the educational reforms concerning Key Stage Four examinations. The English Baccalaureate is set to begin in 2015 and will include compulsory core subjects: English, Maths, the Sciences, a humanity subject and languages.

The EBacc will be introduced “to raise aspirations and restore rigour to our examinations.” It is possible for every child to succeed, and the government “are explicitly ambitious for all children – and believe that over time [Britain] will catch up with the highest performing nations”. However, the fact remains that for every child to achieve, they need access to good teaching. Perhaps with one common exam board, it will be easier to identify underperforming schools. One exam board means that boards will no longer be competing for business by lowering standards, therefore eliminating the race to the bottom.

However, as John Bangs (former head of education at the NUT) argued, it appears that the government are ignoring the current achievements of young people – our generation who did take these ‘dumbed down’ exams and apparently lack aspiration. Nevertheless, not all schools do currently opt for the more rigorous exams, and by having an overarching exam board every student is set the same (higher) bar. There will be an end to the two-tiered system that is deemed to “cap aspiration”; exams will be taken at the end of two years with harder questions; coursework will be removed from core academic subjects. In other words they want to move back towards the O-Level style examination.

Named the English Baccalaureate, the reforms automatically bring to mind the International Baccalaureate, a qualification that is valued all over the world and is an alternative to A-levels. The government want the EBacc to compete with education systems across the world. So why dismiss International GCSEs? They don’t cover Shakespeare, and they are deemed to be much harder than GCSEs. Are they too hard and therefore too risky for the government to implement?

Teachers, universities and employers, have mostly welcomed the EBacc Certificates, as reforms promise a solid academic foundation. The EBacc does not look like it will particularly foster creative thinking or initiative, but with good quality teaching you can still encourage students to think imaginatively and outside the box. However, as to whether these reforms will be a success and offer an internationally competitive education, only time will tell. I am just glad I am not the guinea pig.

Illustrator: Monica Burns

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