Gove's Abacc is Crude, Misleading and a Misuse of Data - Careers Advisers

Henry Stewart's picture
The Institute of Careers Guidance has this week joined the critique of the new Department for Education (DfE) measure of 3 'facilitating' subjects (known as the 'abacc'). This measure is supposedly a test how well a school prepares its students for the top, Russell Group, universities. We have already pointed out how ridiculous the measure is, as the Russell Group only suggests students should take two facilitating subjects and we suggested Michael Gove should apologise for his mistake.

The Institute worked with the Russell Group to produce Informed Choices, a guide for students on which subjects to take at A level. It give clear advice of two facilitating subjects, and this was the advice that the Russell Group gave to the DfE. However Gove chose to ignore that advice to promote a sole focus on the Ancient 8 'facilitating' subjects - Maths, Further Maths, English Literature, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History and Languages.

Illogical and Absurd

The Institute response, written by Andy Gardner, points out the absurdity of the measure: "There may not be any connection between this performance measure and entry to Russell Group universities. One state comprehensive school that I work in achieves 14% in this measure, yet over 60% of the sixth form go to Russell Group universities."

The author describes the measure as 'illogical', pointing out how it makes no sense and giving several examples of how taking some combinations involving just one or two of the Ancient 8 would prepare students better than taking three:

"Someone choosing history, geography, English (three facilitating subjects) and economics at AS Level who decides that they want to do economics at a university requiring maths would be disadvantaged compared with someone who was offering maths, economics, politics and art (one facilitating subject)."

Crude and a Mis-Use

The Institute's view is based on "good old-fashioned careers advisers knowledge" and is damning of the DfE's approach, pointing out how it could lead to students taking the wrong subjects:

"The use by the DFE of the term “facilitating subjects” in years 12 and 13 (sixth form) is a misuse! ... This is a very crude measure and says nothing about the quality of the pupils’ destinations, their aspirations and the value that has been added by their sixth form experience. Finally, through past experience of performance measures, we are concerned that Year 11 pupils may be persuaded to take “facilitating subjects” not because they are right for the individual, but because it may lead to a higher percentage in this performance measure for the institution, regardless of the pupils’ actual aspirations."

There have been suggestions that Gove has recognised his mistake and is quietly dropping it. However no official announcement has been made and so confusion still reigns on which subjects the DfE is advising, and judging schools on. It is time for them to state publicly whether the recognise the critics are correct and the measure of three facilitating subjects will be dropped.
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