Concluding the EBacc debate: Brennan’s solid dessert followed by off-menu soliloquy and questionable additives

Janet Downs's picture
After the feast came the digestif, served by Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

But before this sticky liqueur, Kevin Brennan, shadow schools minister, criticised the leaking of the exam recipe to a tabloid instead of placing it on Number Ten’s table first. Brennan described the recipe as “a bit like horsemeat in a burger, it can be swallowed but it is not very palatable,”

He said the proposed exam recipe was anti-creativity. It didn’t examine “the purpose and relevance of exams at 16 when the participating age has been raised to 18”. Essay-only exams didn’t measure the full range of skills and knowledge. The timetable was rushed. Any new exam system needed to be “clear about the curriculum” and introduced with consensus based on evidence.

In short, Gove’s menu was “right recipe for chaos.”

Earlier, there had been references to soliloquies inspired by revelations from ex-children’s minister, Tim Loughton, about life at Grace Brothers, sorry, the Department for Education. So, was the proposed exam To Be or Not to Be?

Mr Grace, sorry, Mr Gove, presented his concoction. His soliloquy praised apprenticeships but this dish was not on the menu. Stephen Twigg reminded him to stick with the plat du jour.

Gove attempted to rebuff some, but not all, of Brennan’s criticisms. He denied the recipe was anti-creativity. The Government had a national plan for music. What he didn’t say was the music world, despite broadly welcoming the plan, was concerned about reduced investment and feared that music could be undermined if it was marginalised in the National Curriculum.

He said the Government had commissioned the Henley report. Again, he didn’t say that while many in the creative arts were positive about Henley they felt the vision could be undermined if creative subjects were sidelined in the National Curriculum or Ebacc. Neither did Gove mention the Government’s lukewarm response to Henley’s enthusiasm for the centrality of arts subjects. It merely said the recommendation would “feed into” the Curriculum review consultations.

Saturday schools had been extended for those capable in art and design. But he forgot to say that the initiative is extra-curricular and doesn’t address the problem of marginalisation of art and design in schools. Neither did he explain how Saturday schools would contribute to EBCs.

The Government, he said, had introduced a National Youth Dance Company. But he didn’t explain how this would ensure all children take part in dance or what it had to do with the EBacc. And he avoided Cameron’s dismissive comments about Indian Dance.

Gove had spent enough time stirring creativity. He touched on controlled assessment. Removing controlled assessment increased teaching time, he said. True, but that’s no reason why it shouldn’t be replaced by properly-assessed and moderated coursework as happens in New Zealand, for example*.

He discussed modularisation – but that’s already on its way out. He said its removal reduces gaming. But he didn’t say that Ofqual found no conclusive evidence that modular exams were easier. Neither did he mention that approximately half of GCSE entries for summer 2011 were for linear not modular exams.

Gove ignored timescale issues. And he dealt with Brennan’s point about essay-based exams by praising Nick Gibb’s speech, the one which cited “a study” and got the CBI figures wrong.

The meal ended with a toast from the Secretary of State: “I note that it is 4 o’clock. I hope this conversation can continue.”

I think Mr Gove can be sure of that.

*See faq above about global exam systems.

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