Stephen Twigg speech on the EBCs

Fiona Millar's picture
The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg called an Opposition Day debate on the introduction of the English Baccalaureate Certificates in the House of Commons this week. His opening speech on Wednesday included some strong words about the Gove reforms and a hint that Labour will pursue something more like a real baccalaureate than the narrow qualifications proposed by the Coalition. Here is the full text of his speech.

"This debate strikes at the heart of the challenge facing this country’s education system. The central question is this: how do our schools equip the young people of today to play their part in the economy and society of the future.

Labour believes that a true baccalaureate approach- one that recognises skills, knowledge and the core characteristics needed to succeed in the future- should be at the centre of the debate about qualification and assessment reform.

Whilst we have made progress in improving education, there is much to do as we strive to compete with the highest performing jurisdictions.

Our future economic competitiveness relies on our ability to produce aspirational citizens and young people with the skills, knowledge, resilience and character needed to get Britain ahead in the world.

That is why we have called this debate today. Yes, we need to reform the assessment and qualification system; it is why Labour has asked Professor Chris Husbands to lead an independent review of 14- 19 education in England. This is the approach that has been taken by the Labour Government in Wales.

We want to build a consensus on sustainable curriculum reform. Surely before deciding on changes to assessment, it makes sense to reach a decision on what is needed from the curriculum. Instead what we have from the Education Secretary is a plan drawn up on the back on an envelope that enjoys very little support.


The Association for School and College Leaders said in its response to the government’s consultation:

 ‘This reform will only be successful if those who have to implement it feel involved and if there is an attempt to build consensus around the changes proposed. ‘

I absolutely agree.

If we look at the introduction of GCSEs, they were established with cross party support. I share concerns expressed by former Conservative Education Secretary Lord Baker that rushed reforms, lacking political consensus, will not offer the best way forward.

On this side of the House we believe that the government’s plans to introduce a narrow subject range of English Baccalaureate Certificates will undermine our future economic position, not strengthen it.

Concerns about both the substance and implementation of English Baccalaureate Certificates have been voiced by a broad range of groups. Voices in business- including the CBI, the creative industries and the knowledge economy.

Sir Jonathan Ive the pioneering inventor behind the iPod, last year Knighted for his service to design and enterprise, recently opposed the narrow focus of the Government’s plan:

‘It will fail to provide students with the skills that UK employers need and its impact on the UK’s economy will be catastrophic’

Sir Jonathan Ive is joined by other leading British innovators in warning the Education Secretary that his plans are ‘jeopardising Britain’s future prosperity’.

Research carried out by Ipsos Mori for his department demonstrates the effect the E Bacc performance measure has had on creative subjects, like Design and Technology, with over 150 schools having withdrawn the subject from their curriculum as of September 2012. We can see seen similar declines in Drama and Art. The Secretary of State’s plans for EBCs risk making this even worse.

A survey by YouGov for the National Union of Teachers published earlier this month found that over 80% of teachers said that the proposed changes to exams at 16 are being rushed.

Louise Robinson, President of the Girls' Schools Association has said that the Education Secretary is transfixed on "a bygone era where everything was considered rosy...You can't be forcing a 1960s curriculum and exam structure on schools. These children are going to be going out into the world of the 2020s and 2030s. It is going to be very different from the Education Secretary's dream of what it should be."

It’s an indication of the Secretary of State’s unpopularity, when we have voices from the private school sector and the NUT united in their opposition to his plans.

Let me consider three areas in which the Secretary of State’s plans fall short.

Narrowing the curriculum

When the high performing jurisdictions in Asia are now looking to our success in innovation and creativity, now is not the time for us to move backwards.

As they look to us, it is a false debate that says you can’t have rigour in Maths, English and Science and place emphasis on the broader curriculum.

As Michael Barber has pointed out ‘Leaders in Pacific Asia are realising that what worked in the last 50 years is not what will be required in the next 50. They have come to the conclusion that their economies need to become more innovative and their schools more creative. It is one thing for an education system to produce well-educated deferential citizens; another to produce a generation of innovators.’

We are right to want our schools to have a forensic focus on Maths and English for all young people- that is why Labour has committed to rigorous Maths and English for all to 18, a plan backed by the CBI’s recent education report. Yes we need rigour in Maths and English; rigour is needed right across the curriculum.

Excluding crucial subjects like Design and Technology, Computer Science and Engineering will not promote innovation in schools. They are an important part of our economic future.

Can the Secretary of State tell us what plans he has for the subjects that are not included in the EBCs? He has said that he wants Ofqual to assess the expansion of EBCs. That sounds like an afterthought.


When I ask parents in my constituency what is their biggest concern about education, their response is often: will it prepare their children for the jobs of the future?


Parents want schools that instil knowledge but parents know that knowledge alone isn’t enough. Parents value the role of schools in educating their children to become active citizens, informed consumers and participants in the economy of the future.

This is the prism through which assessment and qualification reform should be viewed. This means having a true baccalaureate approach, requiring forms of assessment that are fit for purpose.

However, the Education Secretary told the House in September ‘We want to remove controlled assessment from core subjects’. Can he confirm that he intends to introduce purely linear assessment for EBCs?

As I understand, the power to decide on forms of assessment currently lies with Ofqual. Can I ask the Education Secretary if he is planning on bringing forward primary legislation to give him the power to do this?

If so, is it also his intention to write the questions, invigilate the exams and mark the scripts too?

The Education Secretary has expressed his preference to scrap controlled assessments, replacing them with 3 hour exams at the end of two years study. In no other walk of life would we expect three hour linear exams alone to provide the basis for an assessment of the depth of learning.

Can he tell the House on what evidence he has based his preference for entirely removing field work in Geography, laboratory experiments in Science and presentation skills in English, favouring instead a linear exam that could encourage rote learning over deeper understanding?

The third area in which the Government’s plan falls short is perhaps the most worrying.

A two tier system by stealth

We know from his Plan A- published in the Daily Mail in June of last year - that what he really wants is to re-introduce the two-tier O-Level and CSE system. Yet another example of the ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ mentality to which his former Children’s Minister referred at the Select Committee this morning. Having failed to reach agreement on this, it seems a stealth version of a two tier system is emerging from the rubble.

The Secretary of State told this House in September that his plans would not amount to a two tier system. However, it seems that is exactly what he is trying to introduce. By proposing a ‘statement of achievement’ for those who will not take EBCs, is he not returning to a two tier system? It is arguably even worse than the old CSE, as high performing CSE candidates held the chance of getting an O-Level. Can the Secretary of State tell us what value will be attached to the statement of achievement? How helpful will it be for those young people who aspire to FE college, apprenticeships and work?

We should reject the talent myth that divides children in to winners and losers before they have even had the chance to demonstrate their potential. This defeatist thinking is socially regressive and caps our potential as a nation.

What estimates he has made on the proportion of young people who will be excluded from taking EBCs in core subjects?

At the other end, the SoS has hinted at the reintroduction of norm referencing that would place an artificial cap on the proportion of high grades. Is he still intending to do this?


A Lesson in Bad Policy Making

On EBCs we have had from this Secretary of State a lesson in bad policy making.

Putting the cart before the horse, choosing dogma over evidence and no attempt to build consensus over a lasting solution.

Ofqual has expressed real concern about his timetable. Careful implementation is vital if changes are to succeed. Will he rethink the rushed timetable?

The education system is ripe for reform.

But reform that works.

Labour has set out a plan for reforming vocational education, with a Technical Baccalaureate at 18, which includes Maths and English to 18 for all. Having undermined important vocational courses like the Engineering Diploma- first devalued by the Education Secretary before being reinstated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer- the government hasn’t given this crucial area the priority it deserves. While the CBI criticises his plans, Labour would get businesses to accredit vocational courses.

In September, the Secretary of State set out his blueprint for assessment and qualifications reform, with no plan for vocational education. Labour set out our plan for vocation education, including for a Technical Baccalaureate at 18. How did the Tories respond? ‘These proposals would leave millions of young people unemployable’ is what they said in September. Two months later the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State gave his support to Labour’s Tech Bacc. We have seen from this Secretary of State that vocational education is, at best, an afterthought. His policy on vocational education is a total shambles.


Education is key to building One Nation Britain.

The government’s plan for EBCs is in tune with much of its programme in education: narrow, backward looking and for the few not the many.

The Education Secretary has presided over the fiasco in GCSE English. Now on his plans for changes to exams at 16, we see week after week more opposition, from business, entrepreneurs, teachers and parents.

By contrast, Labour want to see a true baccalaureate approach to assessment and qualification reform.

Labour is working to build consensus on reforms that work for Britain; that will strengthen, not undermine, this country’s standing in the world.

I commend this Motion to the House."

The full Opposition Day debate on the EBCs can be accessed here.




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