Backtrack on the Ebacc but the Great Reversal goes on


Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley

Backtrack on the Ebacc but the Great Reversal goes on

To general rejoicing, Michael Gove has been forced into a humiliating retreat in his plans to replace GCSEs by English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs) in core subjects. The damning report by the Parliamentary sub-committee allowed the Lib Dems to call time on a hastily constructed proposal that united opposition from NUT activists to leading figures from music, theatre and sports, industrialists and even Lord (Kenneth) Baker in a 30,000 signature petition. If the battle against Ebacc has been won however, a much more protracted curriculum war continues to be waged. Gove’s retreat is forced but it is also calculated.

GCSEs may be here to stay but further changes to their design and standing will leave little in common with the original philosophy of the qualification. Modular assessment and retakes have already gone and Ofqual will now be instructed to design new ‘tougher’ syllabuses in  Ebacc subjects where – as Gove told the Commons – internal assessment will be ‘kept to a minimum and used only where there is a compelling case to do so’ and new ‘extended writing’ requirements herald the return of the traditional essay.

Meanwhile Gove’s ‘knowledge curriculum’ will roll out in the way that it would have done in the Ebacc – an  emphasis on ‘British’ history, a concentration on pre-20th century literature  and a new priority on learning tables and mental arithmetic, being the clearest examples. Apart from the Lib Dems, Gove has sought to appease many of the country’s cultural and artistic elite, who have voiced concerns about the status of performing arts in schools – in decline long before Gove’s knee jerk introduction of EBC.

If Andrew Lloyd Weber, Lord Hall and friends may be the winners – Gove’s new league table format allows other subjects to be included alongside the English Baccalaureate ‘core’ – thousands of working-class school students will thus find that, far from being a ‘leveller’, the GCSE will only resemble the old O-level, failing the majority instead of encouraging and raising their aspirations. Facing bleak employment prospects and so working harder in school and college, Gove’s real problem continues to be that too many young people are now passing exams, so these have to be made more difficult and more exclusive.

The fall of the Ebacc is to be welcomed and can only encourage campaigns against Academies and Free Schools and in building resistance to further attacks on teachers’ pay and conditions. As we argue in our new book, Gove’s curriculum reforms are part of a wider Great Reversal in education policy, including a reversion to elite instead of mass higher education. Real alternatives are needed.

The Great Reversal. Young People, Education and Employment in a Declining Economy  £4.99

From   or     Kindle version available

The Great Reversal, Young people, education and employment in a declining economy by Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley will be launched at a free seminar on Social Mobility with Ken Roberts on February 13th at the University of Greenwich Hamilton House, 15 Park Vista, London SE10 9LZ from 2 – 6. No need to book but further details from see

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