Gibb us a wave!

That nice Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, has told us that, at some point in the future, all children will have to take the EBACC.

This set of letters first entered our consciousness around January 2011, as I recall. The much lamented Michael Gove had suddenly announced that GCSE outcomes would be measured by EBACC, which was short for ‘English Baccalaureate’. At the time my school was about to hold our ‘options’ evening for Year 9 students. Gove had decreed that, henceforth, students and schools would in part be measured by whether students had achieved the EBACC, a kind of modern version of matriculation. You didn’t get a certificate, or anything but you were deemed to have achieved it if you had got Grade Cs or above in English, Maths, Science (not BTec, of course!) a Humanity and a Language (ancient ones such as Greek and Latin were included but not ‘community languages’). I was tasked with preparing a leaflet for parents: no easy job when, in fact, nobody seemed to know much detail. In typical Gove manner, the ‘policy’ had been announced with scant regard for the consternation and chaos it would cause (two and a half years later, he did the same sort of thing with the ‘no resits’ diktat).

Now, of course, we know that the EBACC is a combination of allegedly worthy, ‘academic’ and ‘rigorous’ subjects and Gibb has, in true Goveian manner, announced it will happen. Apparently it’s about ‘social justice’, because all those deprived backstreet kids are ‘entitled’ to be told what they should learn by Mr Gibb. He knows what’s good for you.

A teacher friend of mine met Gibb at a high level reception a few months back, where my friend was loudly rubbishing OFSTED, who had, to be fair, just rubbished my friend’s school. Gibb heard and had him taken aside where he listened carefully to what my friend had to say about the iniquities of the OFSTED inspection. Gibb undertook to follow up and feedback. Needless to say, a while later a minion contacted my friend to say Mr Gibb was unable to intervene, which he must have known at the time. A smooth operator, is Mr Gibb!

The EBACC announcement seems a bit cack-handed in comparison, but this is now post-election and the Tories can just about do what they like. No need to explain where all the language teachers will come from let alone organise recruitment, training and so on. Apparently, something called ‘the market’ will do that.

Nottingham University: what IS it playing at?

Here’s the text of a letter I have just sent to the Nottingham Post about the new Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology:

Dear Sir

I’m wondering why a world-renowned institution like Nottingham University has got into bed with the Djanogly Learning Trust to promote a new ‘academy’ of entirely unknown quality.

The Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) seems to have been conceived in response to the 2011 Wolf Report into vocational education, the thrust of which was that children shouldn’t specialise too soon and should ensure a thorough grounding in the ‘basics’ of literacy and numeracy. NUAST’s published curriculum will have children from 14 specialising in either an ‘Engineering’ or ‘IT’ pathway, to the detriment of a broader, balanced curriculum: in order to achieve the English Baccalaureate children will study geography (the only ‘humanity’ offered, no history) and, as their Modern Foreign Langauge, German or Chinese (and, it must be doubtful whether, with no previous experience, children will be able to achieve a GCSE ‘pass’ in Chinese after two hours a week for two years).

As for English and Maths, students will only get three hours each per week. One of Professor Wolf’s most eye-catching proposals in her report was that children should be required to resit Maths or English if they ‘failed’ at 16 – I wonder how much of that will be going on at NUAST!

However, there are some more basic questions to ask of NUAST. Will the wonderful building envisaged in glowing graphics on their website actually be reality in three months’ time? (Pop down to the Dunkirk Roundabout and have a look, then place your bets!) Will they have appointed well-qualified specialist teachers or will some, as I have heard rumoured, have to teach outside their specialism? How many students will they actually have in September? Oh, and, who’s paying for all this?

I really can’t see what is in this for Nottingham University. Surely their undoubted expertise should be used to assist all schools within their area rather than ‘sponsoring’ one that will, if successful in recruiting, draw students away from those schools and cause real problems for their curriculum planning.

No, I still don’t get it.

‘I’ stands for…?

If at first you don’t succeed…Michael Gove is poised to offer yet another version of his ‘back to O Levels’ agenda. First it was, well, O Levels, then the ill-fated EBacc Certificate and now, it seems, it’s the I-Levels (not to be confused with the iGCSE which is a different animal). Anyone know what the ‘I’ stands for? Maybe it’s the ego-maniac ‘onlie begetter’ (he’d appreciate the Shakespearean allusion!). Anyway, apparently it’s only rumoured at the moment and it will be put out for consultation so, phew, that’s alright then, plenty of opportunity to persuade Mr Gove to make changes. If you would like a chance to start formulating your response (I know I would), read the article in Wednesday’s Independent.

BBC takes the biscuit

When I taught Media Studies a few years back (why DIDN’T this a subject make it into Gove’s E BACC: seriously, a lot more useful than Latin, surely? But I digress…). Anyway, I used to discuss the topic of ‘news values’: the reasons why certain things made it onto the news and others didn’t. Yesterday a major teachers’ organisation, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL, formerly AMMA), passed, virtually unanimously, a motion of ‘no confidence’ in Michael Gove AND Sir Michael Wilshaw at their annual conference. Furthermore, their General Secretary, Mary Bousted, devoted the whole of her conference address to an attack on Gove and all his works. Now, admittedly, “Teachers Attack Education Secretary” comes in the same headline category as “Dog Bites Man”, especially with the current incumbent, but the newsworthy aspect of this story is that ATL are generally considered to be ‘the moderate teachers union’, distinct from the NUT and the NAS/UWT who have both threatened strike action in June and the autumn. The ATL hasn’t threatened anything and, arguably, their stance is of the moderate ‘teacher-in-the-classroom’. You could read this story in newspapers as diverse as The Mirror and The Independent (a copy of Dr Bousted’s speech had obviously been released in advance) but you wouldn’t have seen it mentioned on the BBC evening news. Fair enough, they only have room for about a dozen items and there was the Cyprus financial crisis to cover, not to mention the snow. And the snow.

So, nothing about education yesterday, then? Well, not quite. There was the disturbing news of the school that had banned the sale of triangular flapjacks in the school canteen. Now, I don’t intend to discuss this in detail: maybe it was ‘taken out of context’, maybe it says something about the human condition that I don’t get, but it did offer the newsmongers of the BBC an opportunity to combine a ‘just fancy that’ light-hearted piece at the end of the news with a Daily Mail ‘healthandsafetygonemad’ story. Maybe I am being too sensitive but it does seem to me that when the teacher moderates so forcefully express their utter condemnation of Gove and his fellow-traveller, Wilshaw, this is more important than ‘Flapjack Gate’.

He ain’t going nowhere (apologies to Bob Dylan)

Much as I dislike the tendency in modern politics to ‘personalise’ I have to face up to the fact that opposing current changes in education means opposing the works and ideas of one man. My fellow opponents have got excited in recent weeks by the pressure being put on Michael Gove. He has backed down over EBACC, he has faced criticism from fellow MPs and in the media over his failure to control his special advisers, there have been revelations of a ‘bullying culture’ within the DfE and there have been strongly critical pieces in influential newspapers. Might he be on the way out, some have wondered? Continue reading

Skids under the EBACC

Michael Gove is reported to be about to make a humiliating U-turn by scrapping plans to replace GCSEs in key subjects with the EBACC. This is in the face of opposition from OFQUAL, the Lib Dems, the Education Select Committee – not to mention the art world and the teacher unions. This  shows that he CAN be shifted if the opposition is strong and united.

“The Ebacc is a sad result of political rhetoric and empty intervention”

Click through to the following Guardian article which you may have missed, criticising the proposed and previous assessment regimes,  from assessment expert, Bill Boyle.

“Professor Bill Boyle has been the director of the Centre for Formative Assessment Studies (CFAS) in the school of education, University of Manchester for 20 years and has supported developments in teaching, learning and assessment across the globe during that period. He is currently working with the World Bank on supporting education systems in eight developing countries (Angola, Ethiopia, Armenia, Zambia, Mozambique, Vietnam, Kyrgistan and Uzbekistan).”