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Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Importance of Teaching - but only what we tell you to teach

In December 2010 the Department for Education released its White Paper – ‘The Importance of Teaching’. Part of the Executive Summary states: “In England, what is needed most of all is decisive action to free our teachers from constraint ……. rather than ceaselessly directing them to follow centralised Government initiatives.” Amongst other things, the White Paper goes on to discuss how the coalition wants to ‘de-bureaucratise’ the system and to get away from schools becoming good at achieving government targets at the expense of being able to do what is best for the pupils

Michael Gove’s method to ‘de-bureaucratise and allow teachers to do what is best for the pupils’ is to constrain teachers in what subjects they can offer children by forcing them to follow a centralised Government initiative – the English Baccalaureate.

The English Baccalaureate will be a new qualification, achieved by obtaining a GSCE grade A to C in English, Maths, a science, a modern language and a humanity.

Schools are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand the Government is telling them they will be free to teach in a way best suited to accommodate individual pupils’ requirements. However, schools are now going to be judged not on how well they teach the core subjects but also on subjects which some pupils might not even take.

Governors across the country will be facing hard decisions. They may be forced to decide to reduce the range of options available to pupils and insist that they complete subjects that will add up to an English Baccalaureate. Schools where less than 35% gain the new qualification will be placed into special measures and branded as failing.

It will be a brave school indeed that decides to look holistically at individual children’s needs to allow them to take subjects that they are best suited to. The risk for the school is that not enough children will even take all five of the subjects required for the Ebacc and that will mean that, despite generally all round excellent results, the school will be labelled as a failure and be placed in special measures.

The English Baccalaureate also highlights the dichotomy between academic and vocational qualifications. Through this legislation the Government is placing a far greater emphasis on academic qualifications and achievement. However, this means that if the Ebacc takes off then those children who study vocational subjects could be stigmatised because of their ‘lack of academic prowess’.

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