Stories + Views
Academies fail the English Bacc
While there is fierce debate about the inherent value and fairness of the English bacc, imposed retrospectively on all schools, Terry Wrigley, recently retired as senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, has done detailed analysis of the exam results of the academies.
Analysis of the ‘bacc’ results for acadmies confirm previous arguments that their “success” is built on sand. As I have argued before, the academies’ apparent improvement over the schools they replaced has depended on two factors, the substitution of easier exams, and the recruitment of enthusiastic pupils from better-off parts of their cities.
Under pressure from government to raise exam scores by any means necessary, academies have, more than most other schools, relied on the quick fix of alternative qualifications such as GNVQ and BTEC, which, according to the last government, were supposedly each worth up to four GCSEs. This created the appearance of rising standards but without the substance.
Now, with Michael Gove’s introduction of the “English bacc”, the quality of education provided by most academies is thoroughly exposed.
The following figures are based on summer 2010 exams. They include all academies with Year 11 pupils which had been open since 2008 or earlier (i.e. where exam candidates had had time to complete their examination years at the academy), but with the exception of former CTCs and high-achieving private grammar schools (also excluded from government department analyses in previous years as untypical).
Of these 102 academies
34% had not a single pupil passing the English bacc
43% had only 1-5 percent of pupils passing
only 10% had 10% or more pupils achieving the English bacc.
In other words,
only 1 in 10 academies managed to get even 1 in 10 of its pupils up to this new ‘standard’.
A broad and balanced curriculum
In highlighting this, I am not specifically endorsing Michael Gove’s definition of ‘English bacc’. I also recognise the difficulties caused for many schools which were driven to use such alternative qualifications in order to stay out of trouble, given the threat of closure for missing ‘National Challenge’ targets. I deplore any use of this new award to create further divisions between schools in more affluent and more deprived areas.
I believe that the precise formulation of which subjects 14-16 year olds should be expected to study requires broad democratic and professional debate, and should not be left to ministerial prejudice. It might, arguably, include a creative arts subject; citizenship; media studies; or technical and vocational subjects. However, it is important to uphold in principle the importance of a broad and balanced curriculum to age 16, as required throughout Europe.
Gove’s invention of the “English bacc” without consultation or debate exposes his autocratic approach to policy making, but it also highlights the disastrous failure of academies to give their pupils a worthwhile education.
Terry Wrigley is editor of the international journal Improving Schools. His fourth book ‘Changing Schools’ appears later this year.