Tories impose a secondary curriculum
Enter the Ebacc as compulsory core GCSEs.
The Conservative manifesto for the 2015 General Election contained the following (p34):
“We will require every secondary school pupils (sic) to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language, and history or geography, with OFSTED unable to award its highest ratings to schools that refuse to teach these core subjects”. The statement is now government policy and has the implications (a) that pupils will be forced to do these even if inappropriate and without adequate staffing and (b) OFSTED independence is illusory, with UTCs for example not able to gain the highest grades no matter what their quality of provision might be.
The phrase “Ebacc” (English Baccalaureate) previously used for this subject grouping was not in the manifesto, but returned in speeches in June. There is no actual Baccalaureate (the English Baccalaureate Certificate was abandoned at an early stage of GCSE reform) but the illusion that there is has been a useful political device with a gullible media. The policy of using the term for a performance measure has now been abandoned in favour of compulsion, and a strait – jacket on the curriculum. The theory of school autonomy underpinning previous policy is abandoned.
A presumption that narrow is better.
The 2015 manifesto contained no justification for the policy, which is assumed to be in line with the statement “We believe that there is no substitute for a rigorous academic curriculum to secure the best from every pupil” (p33). The policy now officially neglects other subjects and vocational subjects. The Lib Dem attempt to get computing as part of the core has failed despite modernisation under Gove presumably as not academic. The imposition of a specified curriculum goes beyond any earlier stipulations.
The performance 8 measure introduced by the coalition means most schools will offer up to 8 or more subjects, but priority in staffing must now be for the core subjects. The statement that schools will be forced to comply and some “refuse to teach” is a political attack which ignores problems of specialist provision and staff shortages in key areas. Thus to comply, some schools will employ non specialists to meet the criterion which will presumably satisfy OFSTED in the short term even if quality suffers - good specialists may be take off their specialisms to teach core subjects. The long term implications need to be monitored, especially if non core teachers are sacked to employ core teachers, possible to meet shortages in language and humanities.
The narrowing of the curriculum is likely to happen during 2015-16 with steps to move staff out of school subjects not in the core – and possibly make staff redundant. How many staff are required in the core subjects to impose the plan on all secondary schools is not known. There are warnings of an impending shortage of qualified staff, notably from Teach First. The Tory manifesto promises 17,500 extra maths and physics teachers, though no deadline is set. Schools should now be assessing what is required and how over 2015-16 they will implement the policy.
What happened to Broad and Modern?
The previous commitment to broad and balanced provision is not evident in the current proposals and there is little more than rhetoric in the two speeches made by Gibb (11th June) and Nicky Morgan (16th June). However Gibb stated “It has also been suggested that our emphasis on academic subjects*in the national curriculum**, and especially the introduction of the Ebacc, 'crowds out' the study of other important subjects, particularly the arts. We should acknowledge that the curriculum always involves trade offs, more time on one subject means less time on others”. This is a clear and accurate description of the effects of the narrow curriculum being imposed on state schools. It cannot be imposed on the independent sector.
Nicky Morgan on June 16th argued that “there does not need to be a false choice between an academic or an arts based curriculum***. You can do them both and you can do them well”.
This is clearly not the case if schools are cutting down on provision and staffing in the non-Ebacc curricuum. The term Ebacc which was not in the Conservative manifesto is now back in both speeches, though it does not exist. There is no English Baccalaureate, only a bundle of subjects with no overarching structure, unlike the International Bacccalaureate and the Welsh Baccalaureate, but the return of the phrase is useful window dressing.
While there is no detail yet on how the straightjacket of the six subjects will be imposed, it is clear that unlike all previous approaches to the curriculum, and in defiance of the academy lobby rhetoric of freedom, the Tory approach to education is to impose a narrow version of an old academic curriculum. This will define secondary schooling just as phonics is defining primary schooling. The curriculum is now a battleground.
Trevor Fisher13 07 2015
*the six Ebacc subjects are not the only academic subjects, and indeed the role of subjects like music, technology and engineering (of the STEM subjects only Science and maths are regarded as academic by the Conservatives) combine both practical and theoretical elements: theory being more accurate to describe the cognitive elements than academic.
** The national curriculum is being abandoned in academies and free schools. However the Ebacc comprises a new back door national curriculum, which unlike the official national curriculum is not open to discussion. It is wholly a political invention.
***a political division between academic and arts based is a new rhetorical device not heard of before. In practice schools have striven to provide both – plus technology, sport and much else no longer talked about in this Brave New World.