Now that the focus is really returning to the EBacc proposals I hope it's worth giving a reminder of what the consultation questions were ...

Ivan Godfrey's picture
Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications Consultation Response Form (Extracts only)
and one set of responses that were given (by me!). It may come as a shock to some to see how poor the nature of the consultation was!

2 a) Do you agree that the new qualifications should be called English Baccalaureate Certificates?

The baccalaureate is an internationally recognised qualification for students aged 18+ based on a much broader and inclusive curriculum than what is proposed. To use the name ‘baccalaureate’ for the sterile examination system proposed is both confusing and misleading as well as an insult to the International Baccalaureate itself.

3 Do you agree with our expectations for grading structures, set out in paragraphs 5.4 to 5.5?

To state that ‘all children with a good education should be able to achieve […] beyond the minimum levels currently required to achieve a Grade C at GCSE’ is dishonest wishful thinking. These comments appear to relate to a fantasy world where, just by hoping students will achieve higher levels because they are faced with a new exam structure, that will automatically happen. I fully support all moves to raise standards but can see no indication of any practical measure here that will lead to that. It is the learning process that matters, not the examination and it is only by giving emphasis to improving standards in the early years of education (as has been done in recent years) that standards will rise. The mere fact of introducing harder exams will only have the impact of de-motivating the majority of students.

5 Do you agree that it will be possible to end tiering for the full range of subjects that we will be creating new qualifications for?

There is already the implication that these examinations will be ‘harder’ than current GCSEs. To believe that a single such examination would then be accessible to all is a further example of purely wishful thinking. There is an apparent belief that students will be motivated by having a raft of questions that they cannot understand!!

7 a) We intend that English Baccalaureate Certificates should be assessed 100% by externally marked examinations. Do you agree?

We live in the 21st century, not the 19th. Whilst it is important for students to have a coherent framework of factual knowledge of the world around them today’s employers need students with the ability to apply knowledge, to research, to be creative and to think outside the box. Compared with many of our competitor nations the British education system is prone to ‘over-test’, particularly at the age of 16. To reduce that testing process to a series of ‘final’ exams when, in fact, the majority will still be furthering their studies wastes time, costs a huge amount of money and, in the scheme outlined in this paper, will be totally counter-productive.

7 b) If not, which aspects of English, mathematics, the sciences, history, geography or language do you believe absolutely require internal assessment to fully demonstrate the skills required, and why?

Skills are not compartmentalised in to single subject areas or in to blocks of 120 minute exams. This question is best directed to all types of employers who will be looking for fully-rounded employees able to adapt to changing circumstances. In any place of work it is exceptionally rare for any task to bear any resemblance to the format of the written exam as outlined in these proposals.

8 Should our expectation be that English Baccalaureate Certificates take the same amount of curriculum time as the current GCSEs? Or should schools be expected to place greater curriculum emphasis on teaching the core subjects?

I am intrigued by a governmental approach that claims to be ‘hands-off’ and giving freedom to schools and then talks about allocating specific amounts of time to subjects. One of my strong reservations about the proposals for the new qualifications’ structure is that, regardless of fine intentions, any subjects that lie outside the core will become less important in the eyes of schools competing for their position in league tables and in the eyes of parents and students. At a time when creative and lateral thinking has never been more important within the world of work it seems to me totally perverse to exclude creative subjects and design technology from the core.

9 Which examinations aids do you consider necessary to allow students to fully demonstrate the knowledge and skills required?

This is again best answered by those likely to work with the students when they are employed, but basically any aids which would be important in enabling a student to be able to fulfil a task that is challenging. A simple personal example - I speak French and German and recently trekked for over 500 kilometres with my wife through the Italian Alps. Prior to the trek I spent just a few hours looking at the basic structures of Italian of which I had no prior knowledge. Armed with a small concise dictionary for reference I was able by the end of the trek to communicate adequately in Italian and meet all our needs. Faced with an end of course exam with no dictionary and no obvious context I would have failed totally.

11 Is there also a need for a combined science option covering elements of all three sciences?

It is far better that students have knowledge of elements of all 3 sciences rather than focus on just one or two. A combined triple science option has challenged in the past and would continue to challenge the most able. Faced with a choice between the 3 separate sciences past evidence has shown that biology is the favourite option because it is perceived to be less demanding and rigorous – hardly what the authors of this document want.

12 What qualities should we look for in English Baccalaureate Certificates that will provide evidence that they will support students to be able to compete internationally?

Where is the evidence that our students do not compete internationally??!! As stated earlier most of our competitor nations do not have major exams at the age of 16 … and, unless all students across nations were following a similar curriculum with a similar assessment process, comparisons would be fairly meaningless. I fear the issue of international comparisons is merely a smokescreen to seek to justify a ‘macho’ approach towards exams.

13 Do you agree that we should place a particular emphasis on the successful English language and mathematics qualifications providing the best assurance of literacy and numeracy?

The application of numeracy and literacy skills is vitally important not just within discrete subject examinations but across all subjects. Given the tenor of the whole document and the thinking behind it I am not certain that the type of English/Mathematics exam that would emerge would reflect this priority.

16 Which groups of students do you think would benefit from a "Statement of Achievement" provided by their school?

If the statements in paras 5.4 and 5.5 are serious then I would guess these Statements would have to be available for all those not currently achieving at least Grade B or higher!!

18 a) Do you believe any of the proposals in this document have the potential to have a disproportionate impact, adverse or positive, on specific pupil groups?

The whole examination (and teaching) structure inherent within this document is addressed at a minority of pupils – those likely to be successful at a certain type of exam with a high pass mark requirement. For reasons stated throughout my reply I do not believe that even these pupils will be challenged appropriately to demonstrate their potential because the emphasis appears to be on end of course recall rather than application of knowledge. For the majority of pupils the examination and teaching structure will offer nothing other than a sense of failure. The potential danger that the resultant disenchantment with the education process presents for our nation is extremely serious and should not be ignored.

18 b) If they have potential for an adverse impact, how can we reduce this?

By abandoning the current proposals and working with professionals across the education world to address the issues of real importance for education in the 21st century. By ensuring that the focus is moved away from the final examination process to concentrate resources and efforts on addressing issues such as early years’ support through schemes such as Sure Start and embedding progress already made in the primary and early secondary curriculum.

19 Should we introduce reformed qualifications in all six English Baccalaureate subjects for first teaching in secondary schools in 2015, or should we have a phased approach, with English, mathematics and sciences introduced first?

Return to the drawing board and come up with a set of proposals that have a degree of consensual support across the educational world.

20 How best can we prepare schools for the transition to these reformed, more rigorous qualifications?

These proposals will mark a complete sea change of approach from the consensus development of improved performance that has been working its way up through pre-school education, the primary sector and in to the secondary sector in recent years. It will create disillusionment and confusion for teachers, students and parents alike. Our Olympic athletes were successful because of the firm foundations they had in their early years of training not because someone suddenly said they had to run faster or raised the bar for the high jump an extra 10 centimetres.

23 Should the number of languages for which English Baccalaureate Certificates are identified be limited? If so, which languages should be included?

Why on earth should they be limited and who would presume to act as ‘God’ to identify worthy and non-worthy languages??!! The fact that this question is even asked betrays the restricted thinking of the authors.

27 Do you agree that five years is an appropriate period for the new qualifications to feature in the performance tables before the competition is rerun?

Whilst welcoming the move towards fewer examinations boards I am highly sceptical of the process outlined for identifying an individual ‘awarding organisation’. I fear it will become a race to satisfy the perceived needs of individual politicians to prove how macho they are about final examinations. I also regret the continued elevation of performance tables to the determining factor of value in education. I cannot give any judgement on a question that proposes a system with which I totally disagree.

28 Please let us have your views on responding to this call for evidence (e.g. the number and type of questions, whether it was easy to find, understand, complete etc.).

This appears, sadly, to be a ‘consultation’ in name only. It is abundantly clear that minds have been made up on all except the most trivial details and also that questions have been framed to direct responses along certain lines. It was far harder both to find the actual consultation document and to return it than in consultations I have undertaken in the past. I am frankly incredulous at the presentation, dogma and lack of logic that permeate the presentation. I cannot take seriously any document that uses as evidence the result of a YouGov poll of the general public on a question of which they would have no actual detailed knowledge. I fear that all my comments and, indeed, all critical comments will be ignored on the grounds that they come from ‘vested interests, political correctness’ etc. I would love to think that some of the points I have made are actually considered and reflected upon seriously but I do not anticipate changing any minds.
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Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/01/2013 - 13:03

Ivan - the shallowness of the Government's consultation was demonstrated by its first questions. These were about what to call the new exam. This was considered to be more important than discussing the curriculum which would underpin the exam.

It's not just a case of the Government putting the cart before the horse. It's the Government waffling about the colour of the cart.

Ivan Godfrey's picture
Sat, 19/01/2013 - 14:24

Absolutely, Janet ... and that's exactly what I said in my reply - in trying to make this item not too long I left out some of my responses including that one!

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 19/01/2013 - 15:45

This is very helpful, especially as the DFE appears to have removed the entire consultation from its website.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/01/2013 - 08:28

The consultation questionnaire didn't just contain crass questions. It was badly designed and difficult to complete (see link below). I couldn't do it online. Apparently there was also a "technical fault" which resulted in the questionnaire being substituted by one in a different format.

I had to cut-and-paste my response, save it and submit by email with a request for a receipt. The DfE did so but I wonder if responses which weren't submitted electronically will be analysed.

I don't know if you had this problem, Ivan, but I found that the answer columns varied in width and weren't wide enough. So my answer for the momentous question 1 (Do you agree that the new qualifications should not be called "GCSEs"?) looks like this:

ns are
and out-

It got worse. My answer to the question about a common grading structure for EBCs is as follows:


(The actual response is longer - when printed it it filled one page of A4.)

Ivan Godfrey's picture
Sun, 20/01/2013 - 13:02

No, Janet, I didn't have that problem but I do recall how difficult it was to find the consultation in the first place. I remember feeling as if there seemed to be a possible conspiracy to force potential respondents off the scent!!!

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/01/2013 - 13:56

Funny you should say that. I had the same feeling.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 20/01/2013 - 17:55

"It may come as a shock to some to see how poor the nature of the consultation was!"

Many of us are now unshockable.

I attended one of the first consultations (on the new primary curriculum) after Gove got convicted of failing to consult. The nature of the consultation meant that everyone in the room for that 7:30am consultation (I kid you not and there were a lot of us there) knew it was absolutely pointless being there.

I cried through most of it.

Thanks for this very useful post Ivan.

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