Would the ModBac be a better qualification for all 16 year olds?

Janet Downs's picture
Andy Burnham is expected to promote the Modern Baccalaureate at the Labour Party Conference today.  The ModBac is an alternative to Mr Gove’s EBacc which expects pupils to achieve GCSEs C and above in English, maths, two sciences, a foreign language and one humanities subject: geography or history.  The EBacc has been criticised for leaving out creative and technology subjects, and omitting religious education from the list of humanities.

The new award, which is being piloted in Hull and has the support of the Archbishop of York, expects pupils to gain GCSEs in eight subjects including English, maths, science, and information and communications technology (ICT).  There will be an honours programme which requires pupils to take part in activities that show enterprise, such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s award.

Mr Burnham is expected to say: "It's indefensible that Latin is promoted above ICT, engineering, business studies or economics in the English bacc. It's indefensible that creative subjects don't feature.”

Is the ModBac a better qualification for school pupils that the Ebacc?
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/09/2011 - 06:54

The link above isn't working. Try this, but note the speech that Mr Burnham delivered may differ from the speech as written:


Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 07/10/2011 - 17:40

Is Latin really being promoted? I am pleased that Andy Burnham has been moved as he has been totally useless in the education portfolio. He has been reactive and generally less than informed about this crucial area. He has also been to quick to play the populist.

No, I don’t think it would be a better for all 16 year olds, though for some it probably would be better. I’m not sure we need to have a better Bac or Bacc, but different Bacs should be welcomed. I think Gove went for the EBac because the 5A*-C measure hid what qualifications were going on in the background to earn these grades. He was perhaps concerned that more rigorous academic qualifications were being eschewed in favour of those more likely to promote schools in a favourable light, though not necessarily pupils.

The publishing of a school’s results in terms of how many scored 5A*-C, how many achieved the EBacc, how many achieved the ModBac, how many achieved the ArtBac and how many achieved the VocBac (what Bacs have I missed?) would give parents a good view of what the school was offering, what pupils were choosing to do and the strengths of particular schools. A problem I foresee with this is that some pupils will qualify for more than one of these awards so schools will have to present their results as a Venn Diagram.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/09/2011 - 07:13

Charlie - you missed one, the TechBac promoted by Lord Baker (see link below). The promotion of Bacs is becoming ridiculous but if there must be one (and only one) the ModBac would be the most flexible as it could be tailored to the abilities and interests of particular children. The ModBac is neither an academic nor a vocational straitjacket and could respond more rapidly to changing circumstances. It also allows pupils of lower ability to gain a qualification rather than being told that if they don't get 5 GCSEs C and above they are failures.

The idea of a pick-and-mix selection of Bacs would be confusing. There would be a hierarchy of Bacs with the vocational being at the bottom. Parents, employers, teachers, university admission tutors and, above all, pupils would be bamboozled by the choice on offer.

The OECD has warned that there is undue emphasis on raw exam results in England. A proliferation of Bacs will only make this worse.


No, I don’t think there should be one and only one. If you have no Bac or a very broad measure of attainment such as 5A*-C, and schools will be judged on this, then you create incentives for the school to put its own interests above those of its students. If you have one Bac and it is too narrow in any direction then you have the state again encouraging schools to put their own interests above those of pupils, but in this case it might be forcing a pupil to take a qualification in languages and sciences when their heart is in drama and the arts.

A few good Bacs would allow schools to specialise and offer their pupils choice and at the same time allow for easy comparison between schools. Would five or six really bamboozle people?

Any hierarchy of Bacs would be based on the prejudice of the person making that hierarchy. If universities want the EBacc and think the VocBac doesn’t prepare pupils for academic subjects at university then fair enough. If employers in manufacturing want the TechBac rather than the EBacc then this will give some pupils an incentive to go down that route. If VocBacc is the bottom of the list for everyone then why are we allowing students to take qualifications that nobody wants? If that is the case then it should deservedly be bottom of the list, however, if the qualifications are rigorous and suitable then pupils with this Bac would be sought after in certain jobs and colleges.

Having no set qualification such as just 5A*-C grades at GCSE is a bit like having a big bucket of mixed fruit at the supermarket. Adding an EBacc might split out the citrus fruit, but you are still left with apples, blackberries, figs, melons, gooseberries and tomatoes all mixed together, not at all convenient. Having the ModBac instead of the EBacc might instead have removed all the berries, this is no better. If grapes were highly valued a supermarket might even have an incentive to paint gooseberries red. Why can’t we just have a separate bucket for each type of fruit and allow our children to excel at what they do best?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/09/2011 - 10:55

Charlie - why should there be "set qualifications" imposed by the government? Universities, colleges and employers make it quite clear what qualifications are needed for each route. This has always been true. In the early sixties, for example, 2 A levels + GCE Latin would gain a place at university, and 5 GCEs was the entrance requirement for teacher training.

GCEs have been replaced by GCSEs to which have been added vocational examinations like BTec. It is not necessary to provide a wider consumer choice in examinations. When there is such an extensive range there will always be confusion, even controversy, about what each qualification means.

There are already incentives for schools to put their own interests before those of their pupils. Schools with sixth-forms are better off financially if they encourage pupils to stay with them rather than explore other options. And in the race for league table glory, schools can encourage pupils to take inappropriate exams. The OECD warns that the excessive emphasis on exam grades in England can lead to a lower standard of education with non-cognitive skills being ignored and teachers teaching to the test.

The ModBac addresses the OECD concerns. It is suitable for all pupils and includes non-cognitive skills. There is no need to split the Bac, if indeed one is needed, into academic, technical, vocational and so on. That could result in the two-tier system which Professor Alison Wolf warned about, or, worse, a multi-tiered system.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 29/09/2011 - 07:28

Let's line up these bacs with what they will get the student. Most decent university courses will need an EBacc type as a foundation for higher study; perhaps ModBac would be ok for someone who needs to go in to work that doesn't need a degree.

It's in line with what the government are asking the universities to do: they now have to openly publish what A levels i.e. the subjects, that pupils need.

I don't know why you carry on with this failure labelling Janet. It's this use of language which helps to screw up the process. Failing to achieve any particular standard of proficiency isn't the same as being a failure.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/09/2011 - 09:15

Ben – I’m not labelling children as failures, Mr Gove is:

“There is a dreadful correlation between poor attendance and educational failure. Overall just over half of young people get five good GCSEs.”

So, the half of pupils not acquiring five GCSEs C and above is “educational failure”. Now it’s possible that Mr Gove’s statement means schools are “failing” but a 16 yr-old who has not reached this benchmark might interpret this differently –s/he is a failure because Mr Gove has expressly linked not achieving the benchmark of five GCSEs C and above with failure.

I don’t believe such a pupil is a failure. When GCSE was introduced in 1987 it was made clear that a GCSE grade G was a pass – a basic pass, but still a pass and a threshold of literacy (Level 1). GCSE C was meant to show above-average ability in a subject. GCSE E was expected to be the standard achieved by the average pupil.

Over the years this has been debased. Now it is deemed a “failure” if pupils don’t get five GCSEs C or above. However, if the state is ever reached where the majority of pupils achieve GCSE C then the standard of GCSE C has fallen to the level where it can be achieved by the average pupil (ie 1987 GCSE E). What grades will then signify above-average attainment? Will high ability be demonstrated only by those pupils gaining A or A*?


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 29/09/2011 - 09:30

Ben – it’s obvious you haven’t followed the link to the Modern Bacc or you would know that the award is not designed solely for those pupils who don’t want to do a degree. It is suitable for pupils of all abilities. There is a common core comprising GCSE English, Maths and Science, an ICT qualification and an award in enterprise or financial capability. However, that is only the core. The award is split into different levels. Foundation level is equivalent to GCSE D-G, Intermediate is A*-C, and Higher is the equivalent of A levels. To achieve levels one and two pupils must gain a minimum of eight subjects.

It is wrong to dismiss ModBac as an exam which is "OK for someone who needs to go into work that doesn't need a degree". I repeat: it is suitable for all abilities and far less restrictive than the narrow EBac.

Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 07/10/2011 - 17:45

Is a child who achieves four GCSE's all at A grades a failure? Is a child who achieves B passes in Maths, Physics and Chemistry a failure? Over to you Mr 'simplistic' Gove.

Nigel Ford's picture
Thu, 29/09/2011 - 09:43

I don't see the point of Ebacc or ModBac, both are gimmicks and Burnham's latest innovation seems to be a kneejerk reaction to Gove's original concept, and appears to put him on the defensive.

IMO the only authentic bac is the Ibacc which seem to have more credibility than A'levels.

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