The new year saw Britain’s head teachers complain that the inclusion of the “English Baccalaureate” in this year’s school league tables is unfair. Note that the English Bacc is not a new educational programme, but rather a performance metric based on the proportion of secondary school students who achieve a C grade or above at GCSE level in English, mathematics, science, a language, and either geography or history.
Following the established European Baccalaureates, and experimental programmes in the UK, the English Bacc is intended to foster a broad secondary education centred on subjects seen as critical in the development of rounded young adults fit for the modern world. It is a traditional, academic “three R’s” approach (reading, writing, arithmetic), which includes natural sciences, languages and the humanities.
Education secretary Michael Gove is a devious little sod, for he knew from the start what the English Bacc results would show. Most schools in the country have failed to hit the target, with just one in six students achieving the required balance of grades. What this proves, say the Tories, is the failure of the previous Labour government’s managerialist, league table-obsessed approach, which saw students seen for whatever reason as less able steered towards GCSE exams in less academic subjects.
The result of Labour’s teaching-to-the-exam strategy is to artificially boost school ratings in the annual academic bean counting exercise, allowing Labour to claim success following Tony Blair’s election pledge to focus on “Education, education, education!”. Labour invested a huge amount in Britain’s schools, following decades of neglect under governments of various hues, including Tory administrations that were generally hostile to state education. The problem is that, in its zeal to reform state education, Labour cut corners, and this is coming back to bite us.
The school curriculum now being followed by many students – as opposed to the idealised curriculum of education thinktanks and party manifestos – is arguably unbalanced, and it is young people who suffer as a result. The beneficiaries are those who would undo the comprehensive education system and return to the grammar school/secondary modern setup of old, reinforcing the class system and withdrawing opportunities for social mobility. In other words, Britain’s upper middle class is raising the drawbridge.