Thursday, January 13, 2011

michael gove's 'english baccalaureate'

i don't post much of significance on here, and writing's not my forte [i could probably do you a better diagram explaining myself here] but last night we had eddie's yr9 parent's evening [just ahead of him making his GCSE choices], coincidentally on the same day that michael gove announced his swanky new plans for an english baccalaureate qualification, so it's a hot topic for us right now, and i wanted to get this off my chest...

first of all - i've always believed that the school league tables are a load of crap.
when we moved up here sue did some supply teaching and worked for half days in two very contrasting leeds schools. the first was in a very economically deprived area, catering for many families and pupils with social and educational difficulties. in the results-based league tables, the school is routinely placed quite lowly. but sue was hugely impressed with the commitment of the staff, their professionalism and the quality of the teaching there, and came back enthusing about what a terrific learning environment they had created there.
the second school is in a much more economically stable area, and has had good ofsted reports. it usually comes quite high up the league with good results. but [without going into too much details] sue was relatively unimpressed with the place, which seemed pretty complacent and happy to focus on it's reputation rather than it's practice. she certainly felt it could have been doing much more with it's pupils than she witnessed while she was there...
of course that's just a snapshot, but then so are the league tables. that's why they're not to be trusted, even though successive governments have put so effort into promoting them as the primary indicator of a school's worth.

in essence, the idea of the baccalaureate [as i understand it] is one i'd support. if the bacc is a qualification that recognises that a student has had access to and success in a broad and varied range of subjects, studied in some depth then that sounds great to me. because i believe that education is about producing well-rounded individuals who have been given a chance to explore the full breadth of the available curriculum, and opportunites and encouragement to excel in the subjects where their aptitudes and passions lie.

but despite what he might say, michael gove's 'english baccalaureate' - and it's imposition on the league tables - is absolutely not about that breadth and variety of experience and attainment.
instead it looks to me like a regressive promotion of a two-tier academic vs vocational divide whereby schools are rewarded for their success in a narrow range of subjects and effectively punished for their achievements in those areas which the government perceive to be less important.
if gove's baccalaureate was truly about breadth it would have some arts requirement in it. but it doesn't.
the arts [along with many other subject areas] are deemed by the government to be less important than maths, science, english, foreign languages and the humanities.
as a school, if you want to do well in the league then you will now have to promote the bacc subjects and achieve good results across the board there, first and foremost.
and because a low showing in the league is likely to make your school less attractive to parents, and with the cash allocated largely dependent on the size of your roll, there are big implications for future funding there.

our eddie's school [allerton grange, in leeds] has been absolutely fantastic for him, and we have nothing but praise for the place and the staff. it's a school with an arts specialism, and that's one of the reasons it's been so great for him [and us] - it suits his aptitudes and has given him a big variety of great opportunities to explore and develop his creative talents [not least appearing in macbeth at the carriageworks as part of the shakespeare in schools festival last year]
it's also been brilliant in helping him in the more academic and gove-approved subjects too, where he's also excelling. but i fear for the school and others like it. because part of the school's DNA is the promotion of the arts it attracts kids like eddie who have a passion and an aptitude for the arts [actually, "passion" is not a word that you'd normally associate with eddie, but you get what i mean...!]
and those kids will go on to acheive good grades across the arts.
but the 'english baccalaureate' won't recognise those qualifications and achievements in the arts, and the school will be downgraded in the league as a result. it's wrong and it's incredibly misguided; and it seems to come out of our politician's presumption that "hard" academic subjects and qualifications are intrinsically more valuable than arts and vocational studies...

it's making me quite angry. grrr.

and having said all that, here's a link to my good friend steve's blog, where he puts it all much better and more succinctly :-)
there's also a link there to a nine-minute bbc clip of michael gove and a caller sort-of debating the issue on radio 5live.
it's worth a listen. i found our education minister rather patronising, rude and disingenuous in it, but that's just my opinion - you can have a listen and make your own minds up ;-)

1 comment:

bigdaddystevieB said...

I think your description of Eddie's school situation sums up ALL my reservations about Gove's "new plan"... The awful thing is (and I realise that it couldn't possibly be like this and that Mr Gove is taking advice from the very best sources, but...) that I can't help thinking that Gove's plans are based on his own very limited educational experiences. I really would like him to come into our school for just one whole week and experience some of the diverse issues, meet some amazing teachers and be massively impressed by some pupils who don't apparently fulfil his baccalaureate criteria.