It is not surprising that the knee jerk decision by Michael Gove to introduce league tables based on retrospective performance in his five ‘English Bac’ subjects has been met with angry responses from headteachers. The Heads are not just annoyed about the way that Gove has sprung this decision on them; many of them run schools where changes in the way in which GCSE performances are measured will result in them tumbling down the league tables. Since 2004, when New Labour reduced the size of the compulsory curriculum at KS 4, many Heads have run down provision in Modern Foreign Languages to just a trickle; this has also, to a lesser extent, been the case with humanities. At the same time, knowing that they could include them in league tables, schools have introduced Applied GCSEs or BTEC style courses which formally count for several GCSEs — branded as ‘soft’ by the Schools Minister and his admirers at the Daily Mail www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1346622/Michael-Gove-The-traditional-way-sound-education.html
As well as being concerned with their own immediate interests and the consequences that sliding down the table has for their salaries; we can only hope that Headteachers; but also the organisations that represent them, use this as an opportunity to reopen the debate about what the compulsory curriculum should be made up of and how a ‘broad based’ curriculum can be accessible to all students. For example, avoiding a situation where, as may be the case in some inner-city schools, EAL students struggle to negotiate their way through French grammar on Friday afternoon, does not mean that a rethought foreign language element could not be part of a core curriculum.
Demands for a baccalaureate have generally been associated with progressive reformers. The aim being to replace, or at least reduce the importance of traditional subject certification, especially at A-level. The AQA examination board also gained approval for its own baccalaureate in 2008. Candidates, who take it on top of three A-levels, do an extended essay, 100 hours of personal development activity and an AS-level in critical thinking, citizenship or general studies.
Rescuing the baccalaureate from reactionaries like Gove necessitates developing and promoting curriculum alternatives. If after a decade of grinding through New Labour’s ‘standards agenda’ this does finally begin to happen, then Mr Gove might have done us all a favour.