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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 851-i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
TUESDAY 22 MARCH 2011
MATT BRADY, ANDREW CHUBB, CAROLINE JORDAN and HUGH O'NEILL
PROFESSOR LES EBDON CBE, CHRIS MORECROFT, DAVID BELL and SUSAN ANDERSON
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Education Committee
on Tuesday 22 March 2011
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Matt Brady, Assistant Headteacher, Tile Hill Wood School and College, Coventry, Andrew Chubb, Principal, Archbishop Sentamu Academy, Hull, Caroline Jordan, Headmistress, St George’s School, Ascot, and Chair, Education Committee, Girls’ Schools Association, and Hugh O'Neill, Headteacher, St Benedict’s Catholic School, Bury St Edmunds, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for joining us to discuss the English Baccalaureate. This is an unusual time for us to hold a session of the Committee, but the Education Bill is going through its Committee stages. It sat this morning and will sit again this afternoon, immediately after this session, and will go on until late tonight. Pat and I will enjoy its endless deliberations.
May I ask you first of all, from a structural, overview point of view, whether the English Baccalaureate entrenches 16 as an important benchmark and undermines the concept of 14 to 19 education? Following on from that, in so far as it ensures an academic core curriculum, would the English Baccalaureate, if it had gone up to 14 but not 16, have found more favour with educationalists? Hugh, you are looking at me. I am always tempted to ask the person who looks at me as though they want it most or want it least. You look the least keen, so I will invite you to answer.
Hugh O'Neill: I think that for a secondary school, age 16 is one of the critical benchmarks in terms of Government-measured performance, so anything that places a new emphasis on that benchmark will receive a lot of attention. We felt under a great deal of pressure to try to meet the requirements of English Baccalaureate. I think most other schools in our situation would be the same.
Q2 Chair: That would suggest a change in the points at which we publicly examine young people. If it went to 14 rather than 16, would you think that a better situation?
Hugh O'Neill: That would be returning to making 14 a formal examination phase, which was dispensed with a couple of years ago. I would not be in favour of going back to rigorous testing at key stage 3 again, which is what that would imply.
Q3 Chair: Does anyone else want to pick up on that?
Caroline Jordan: If we examine at 14 but not at 16-if we are increasing the school leaving age to 18-that would be welcome. Our concerns about the choice of subjects would be much lessened if we did not have to worry about taking it at 16 as opposed to 14.
Q4 Chair: Thank you. Does anyone else wish to pick up on that? Not particularly. Can I ask what you think of an advanced or accelerated Baccalaureate to reward schools that skip GCSEs, as featured in The Times Educational Supplement on Friday?
Andrew Chubb: What we need is a proper national debate about what we want to achieve through education. That is another idea that has come out before the debate on the national curriculum has got started. After the Wolf review and the E Baccalaureate, we need to go back to first principles and ask, "What do our students need for themselves? What do they need to engage them? What do our society and economy need?" Then we need to build a Baccalaureate worthy of the title from those first principles. Going back to first principles is what is needed before any other initiatives.
Chair: Do you want to pick up on that, Matt?
Matt Brady: Yes, I agree with Andy on that basis. Before we move towards an accelerated Baccalaureate, it is important to look at the EB as it stands in front of us at the moment; to look at the wrapper of qualifications and their relevance to students. The debate is about students, what is best for them, and whether they are capable of meeting the demands of the modern information economy. We need to start at that point before moving on.
Q5 Ian Mearns: Good afternoon everyone. Among the submissions that we have received, not many have welcomed the EBac completely and utterly wholeheartedly without reservation. From your perspective, what do you think is the primary purpose of the EBac?
Caroline Jordan: I am fortunate in that because I am representing independent schools, we don’t necessarily have to follow exactly anything that is going to be laid down as a possible performance measure. We are not so concerned about that. Broadly, the principle of the subjects and the philosophy behind it is something that we do adhere to in our schools. The prescription of the subjects is what we are concerned about.
Matt Brady: If I can pick up on that point, I believe that the idea behind the EB was to provide a rigorous academic benchmark against which schools can be measured; and to provide schools with the opportunity to promote subjects that have been in national decline in recent years. In principle, that is why I support the English Baccalaureate; I believe that we need to protect those knowledge-rich subjects, which have been in decline, and to provide a better and broader balance to the curriculum our students are capable of accessing. In principle, I agree with the idea behind the English Baccalaureate, but would be open to suggestion as to how it is enhanced and developed in future.
Andrew Chubb: I note that the rationale used to describe the EBac seems to have changed a little. A number of reasons have been given by the Secretary of State. What is clear is that it is now being described unequivocally as a performance measure, whereas earlier there was language around the idea of information to parents, shining a light on what schools do and so on. Now we know what it is-a performance measure-and as such, I don’t think it gives a reliable measure of what schools are about, partly for reasons that I have already given. There is narrow choice of subjects; there seems to be a presumption that history and geography are harder than other subjects. I don’t understand why RE is not a humanity, or why only GCSEs are being promoted as an assessment methodology. All in all, it gives a very poor indication of a school’s overall performance.
Hugh O'Neill: I was looking at the Government helpline on advising students about what they should do at option time age 14. It is a little out of date, but it followed the advice that I have given for years at my school, which is to look for a balance of subjects. The sort of subjects in the EBac have to be seen as excluding the ones that don’t get in. Design and technology subjects and all the arts subjects are excluded, but they are specifically named as two of the four areas of optional curriculum to which students should have access. By making an EBac, you determine that two of the four option areas are important enough to score on this qualification, and two others are not. There is no doubt that that will drive down the number of students taking those subjects. If that is the intention, I couldn’t support that as a principle.
Q6 Ian Mearns: The EBac was introduced without any consultation that I can think of; there was very little, if any, consultation, at national level. Some youngsters might fail to gain the EBac, but they would have managed to get five good GCSEs. Matt, you described this as a measure against which schools can be measured. Do you think that some youngsters could be collateral damage in the transition from the five A* to C grades to the EBac measurement?
Hugh O'Neill: I feel that I can answer that. My students will have no chance to get the English Baccalaureate this year. We got zero in 2010 because the subjects that we do-short course history and geography-were not recognised, and neither was the GCSE in religious studies. Two of our winners, our bankers in terms of getting high performance, were not counted, so we are on zero. We will be on zero next year because our year 11s are committed to the courses they are doing. Despite my inquiries to the Department about whether there is any chance of short courses being recognised, I have no answer to that. My year 10s at the moment are sitting running short courses too. The first students at St Benedict’s school who will actually achieve an English Baccalaureate will pass it in 2013. There are three years of collateral damage.
Andrew Chubb: I think there will be a lot of collateral damage. If we take the choice of subjects, I know the Secretary of State has said that you can deliver an EBac in 70% of the time available, and there is 30% left over for other things. Leaving aside the assumption-or the inference-that those subjects aren’t as important as the EBac for one minute, that is not really the case. The academy I lead is a Church of England academy so RE is compulsory for all students. I imagine that will be the same in many Catholic schools. As a transformer academy, we are working hard with historical weaknesses in English and maths, which means that we put more time into those very important subjects. By the time you add in PE, which is a requirement, and PSHE, which is essential, in our academy you are left with about 10% of the time to deliver anything outside what we would call the core plus EBac. That leaves no choice really.
That is part of the answer, but my other observation is that already in the country, some schools-not our academy, I hasten to add-feel compelled to withdraw people from subjects such as PE, history or whatever, to do a language or a subject that they didn’t originally opt for, to make up for not getting an EBac. The very practices that the Secretary of State rightly criticised in the White Paper about performance table gaming are already happening before our eyes and before the ink has dried on the paper. That is not good for student choice either.
There is a broader point about moving forward. Schools that feel they must get a certain percentage of students through the EBac will push those who do not have an interest in this choice of subjects down a course that they probably won’t enjoy as much, and might therefore have a less likely chance of success. That has implications for narrowing participation.
My final point is that even if you get to the stage where perhaps 30% of our nation’s young people have an EBac, what does that say to the 70% of young people who haven’t got it, and the huge effort they went to to get qualifications that are equally worthwhile? It doesn’t stack up.
Matt Brady: If I could pick up on your point about the retrospective introduction, this has not helped at a time of quite a lot of upheaval in education at the moment. Clearly, when you introduce a measure that nobody’s aware of, you will move the goalposts, and people will be fairly upset by it.
I hasten to add that I represent a language college in the Midlands. I represent a comprehensive school with very much an average intake, and our GCSE results very much mirror the national average. We have a very interesting approach to, for example, the teaching of languages in that we follow the CLIL programme, and we deliver subjects such as science, but also subjects that are not included in the English Baccalaureate-for example, music and PSHE-through the medium of a language. Our languages lead the way in terms of our school performance criteria. Our students really engage with the languages, and that is seen to offset the national decline from 2000 when 79% of our young children at school studied a modern foreign language to 2009 when that figure was down to 44%.
If we are to compete on the global stage and if we are to engage with the knowledge economy, that academic rigour needs to be achieved. Whether the English Baccalaureate in its current form is the ideal vehicle for that delivery clearly needs some debate, and I would pick up on Hugh’s point about the academic rigour of faith, ethics and religious education as part of the humanities portfolio of subjects. It does add value, and I echo his point.
Caroline Jordan: I was just going to say that in a White Paper that is talking about unnecessary prescription, we suddenly seem to have been told the subjects to teach. In a school like my own, where we won’t have to worry about the EBac-the majority of the girls would take that range of subjects anyway-we are able to look at the individual, and the able dyslexic who is obviously not qualified to take a language, but might take 11 or 12 GCSEs at a very high level in other subjects. We have the latitude to be able to do that, and obviously in other schools the pressure will be on those individuals and schools to reduce that.
Q7 Ian Mearns: Are you taking any particular measures to sell the concept of the EBac to pupils and parents now that it is being introduced?
Andrew Chubb: I refuse to sell something that I think is such a poor idea. It’s conceptually flawed, and I can’t go to parents and say that it is a good idea when I don’t think it is.
If I could pick up on one point that Matt made about languages, I think few would argue that business languages are not important, and it is another surprise to me that the Secretary of State is insisting on a pure GCSE in modern languages. I absolutely agree that languages are really important, but the ruling out of the NVQ in business languages or indeed the Asset Language ladder, which is a demanding qualification, seems completely arbitrary to me.
Q8 Chair: To go back to Andrew’s earlier point, have the Government reacted to the perverse consequences of previous accountability measures by introducing the EBac and bringing in a whole lot of new ones? Is that your view?
Andrew Chubb: I would say yes.
Caroline Jordan: Yes.
Chair: So that was a yes from Andrew, and a yes from Caroline.
Hugh O'Neill: Yes. The Schools Minister in June talked on two or three occasions in different speeches about the desirability of cutting down the amount of prescription. That was in relation to diplomas, but it seems to me that they were wise words that would also apply to the EBac.
Chair: And Matt.
Matt Brady: Yes, with the caveat that I think this is seen as a way of redressing the balance of the relationship between what are traditionally seen as academic subjects as opposed to vocational learning.
Chair: The rationale behind the Government initiative is reasonable. The question is whether the perverse outcomes offset the benefits, which brings me neatly on to Damian’s question.
Q9 Damian Hinds: Can we have a quick-fire round with one-word answers. How many GCEs does the average pupil at your school do over their entire school life, up to and including year 11?
Hugh O'Neill: 9.5.
Caroline Jordan: 10.
Andrew Chubb: It completely depends on the student.
Q10 Damian Hinds: There must be an average.
Andrew Chubb: I couldn’t tell you what the average is off the top of my head.
Q11 Damian Hinds: I will guess between 8 and 10. Is that fair?
Matt Brady: I would say 10 or 11.
Q12 Damian Hinds: Fantastic. Although it’s not directly relevant to today, can I take you back to your own O-level or CSE times? How many did you do? How many of those were compulsory? You are academically accomplished people. Would you have fulfilled the requirements of the English Baccalaureate?
Hugh O'Neill: I did eight. I would get it, yes. I had three choices.
Caroline Jordan: I did eight and I would have got it. I don’t remember very much choice.
Andrew Chubb: I didn’t have as much choice as I wanted. I did nine subjects and I am an EBac failure.
Matt Brady: I did 10. Four were compulsory; one was optional.
Q13 Damian Hinds: Sorry, say that again. You did 10, of which four were compulsory and one was optional. The other five were somewhere in between.
Matt Brady: They were science, English and maths. I was strongly encouraged to take two languages because I was on that pathway, so effectively that narrowed down the measure, and I count that as four. History was my option.
Q14 Damian Hinds: Okay. I suppose the point I was trying to implicitly make was that back when we were all at school, it seemed quite normal to have a lot of compulsory subjects. I have spoken to lots of MPs and others who did exams at O-level or CSE. For most of them, the subjects that we are talking about today in the English Baccalaureate were largely compulsory in most types of school. Whether you want to call it achievement, attainment, performance or anything else, what is the most important measure of something at key stage 4?
Hugh O'Neill: I personally would say that five passes, including English and maths, is a perfectly reasonable benchmark to set. English and maths are absolutely essential. Within that is a certain range of ability. As soon as you start to specify the subjects you want to include, the more you include the more you drive up the threshold, because there is a chance that a medium ability student will be weaker in one of those threshold subjects. Having two that are absolutely key and three others seems a reasonable compromise.
Caroline Jordan: I don’t think that we have an issue about a language and a humanity being included. In fact, most of the schools I represent will have that as a requirement. The individual, obviously, would make a slightly different in choice. Our issue is the type of language that’s specified and indeed the humanity.
Q15 Damian Hinds: I was asking a slightly different question. Whether it’s the English Baccalaureate or five A* to C, value added or uncapped average scores-write in your own measure-which do you think are the most important measures at key stage 4?
Caroline Jordan: I don’t really have a view at key stage 4. The majority of our schools are looking at key stage 5 outcomes.
Q16 Damian Hinds: Okay. Thank you. Anybody else?
Andrew Chubb: I think the Secretary of State is quite right to insist on high standards in English and maths, and I think that the current performance measure of five or more GCSEs, including in English and maths and their equivalents, with the exception of English and maths, which should be GCSEs, is completely reasonable. There is a question about whether that is how you compare yourself to other schools-whether you take a pure value added or a contextual value added argument. I know that the latter is coming to an end. I do have a view on that, but that is perhaps not for this panel. I would say that the current measure is a just performance measure.
Q17 Damian Hinds: You mean five A* to C, including maths and English.
Andrew Chubb: Including maths and English and the equivalents for the other three is a completely reasonable floor target, if you like-a completely reasonable standard. The EBac, though, is an unjust metric. Can I pick up something that you said a minute ago? You seemed to make a link between subjects that were compulsory when you were at school and perhaps when I was at school. The point I would make is that at that time I think about 10% of pupils went on to higher education.
Damian Hinds: Just to be clear, I wasn’t saying that that necessarily made it a good thing; I was just saying that it perhaps isn’t new for these things to be suggested.
Matt Brady: I would suggest that five including English and maths is a good measure. I think it adds value to the measure that preceded it, which was the raw five A* to C. I see the English Baccalaureate as another brand of schools measurement, and I see it as a measure of school performance. I did not write the submission with the view that the English Baccalaureate should become the measure of school performance, but I believe that it is a valuable measure.
Q18 Damian Hinds: On your suggestion of five-plus A* to C grades with English and maths, how does it square with what you were saying a few minutes ago about the decline in the teaching and examining of modern foreign languages?
Matt Brady: I think that is exactly the point. The EBac redresses that decline, and as a country we need to look at the qualifications that 16-year-olds are leaving education with. If you look at English, history and geography as an example, they are the world subjects. You only have to open the newspaper today to realise that we need to appreciate the world in a very different way. I think that those subjects are absolutely key to educating our young people in the ways of the world. They are knowledge rich, they are demanding, and they are cognitively challenging. I believe that that will add a cognitive measure into the mix.
Language, for me, is obvious. I feel passionately about the cause of languages, but there are other academic subjects with academic rigour that could be put into the programme. I have been speaking to arts colleagues this week about the academic rigour of, for example, music and the theory base upon which it operates. That is something to be considered.
Q19 Damian Hinds: But would you accept that if you are giving a list of subjects, you have to draw the line somewhere?
May I reveal a prejudice? When I saw the figure about the English Baccalaureate it did not strike me as particularly controversial. Obviously since then we have discovered all sorts of controversies and received lots of correspondence from RE or RS teachers, music teachers and others. In terms of defining an academic core, everyone is agreed that English and maths is about right. On foreign languages, I think most people you speak to in teaching, in education, say that you get richness from learning a language that you don’t get from other subjects. Matt, you rightly say that in the modern world we need to do that. We know that science is vital in terms of the disciplines. Finally we could have a bit of a debate about the definition of humanities.
I hate to go back, but when I was at school humanities meant history and geography. So I suppose that to me that always sounds like quite a natural thing. It is not meant to be every subject and, as each of you has said, you do perhaps eight, nine or 10 GCSEs. This is only a subset. There is still plenty of room to do RE.
How will this affect your curriculum and timetable?
Caroline Jordan: I won’t let it affect mine, and it won’t affect it very much anyway because we do ask our girls to take a humanity and a language. But we will not be insisting that the humanity is history or geography; we will allow them to choose RS.
Hugh O'Neill: We have switched from short courses to full courses. I feel disappointed about this because all our students receive both history and geography, which I would have thought is a good thing, and now they can only really have room for one. We recommend them, as we always have done. We have always said that universities and employers value those subjects, and about two thirds of our students take them. There is a slightly increased take-up, but we are not compelling students to do them.
Andrew Chubb: We are committed to enabling students to have as personalised a pathway as possible, certainly post-14. We are also committed to finding academic rigour and creativity in whatever subjects are delivered. So the answer is that we won’t be requiring students to follow this pathway post-14. We will be making sure that any student who would like to follow the pathway is enabled to do so by having followed a broad, balanced and rigorous curriculum at key stage 3, and we will support them through key stage 4 if that is their choice.
Q20 Damian Hinds: Will you be advising that, as Hugh has just mentioned, these subjects are more highly valued by future employers and by people managing admissions to higher education? Whether they should or shouldn’t be is a separate debate.
Andrew Chubb: Well, it’s interesting because what employers seem to be calling for-the last report that the CBI wrote about this-are employability skills such as enterprise and all of the aspects that make up a person’s ability to be successful in the world of work. That does not seem to figure anywhere in the current set of proposals for EBac. I can’t use the term qualification, because it isn’t, but as a metric that supposedly prepares people for the world of work, it simply doesn’t, in that respect. So, no, I won’t.
Q21 Damian Hinds: On employability skills, do you know of any other current or-at any time in our history-previous measure that has measured that?
Andrew Chubb: We are looking at introducing something like an NCFE enterprise qualification. We place a lot of emphasis on ensuring that students develop their personal learning and thinking skills-not only in a discrete subject, but through the curriculum. We are looking to develop our own Baccalaureate in conjunction with our partners, which will find a way of ensuring that all students are properly prepared in that way as in many others.
Matt Brady: We’re not changing our curriculum this year. We have not made any moves to do so. Interestingly, geography has experienced a rise in popularity. It is difficult to define to what extent the English Baccalaureate has had an impact on that. We believe, just like Andy, in free choice. We believe in personalised learning and looking at the individual child and ensuring that their pathway is clear and beneficial for their learning. I hasten to add that I am in charge of not only our language specialism but our applied learning specialism as well. I work with a great number of gifted colleagues who deliver very effective vocational pathways with their students. We are looking at things like work skills as part of our curriculum to support those learners as well. I believe that the two can co-exist.
Damian Hinds: Thank you.
Q22 Chair: In terms of casualties in subjects, we have discussed applied languages, short courses, a combination of history and geography, but do you have any idea as to which areas of study might be most hurt by the English Baccalaureate? What is the collateral damage?
Hugh O'Neill: I think that religious studies will be severely threatened by it, because most state schools offer it within the humanities curriculum as a GCSE. They may cover it in a loose way within some of the PSHE curriculum, but they certainly will not be offering it as a GCSE, unless it is offered within the humanities part. RE, for a non-faith school, will be an extremely rare choice, if the EBac stays as it is.
Q23 Chair: Any other thoughts? We have touched on music, but there is art, any of the creative subjects, engineering and so on.
Andrew Chubb: I am tempted to say anything that is not English, maths, science, history or geography will become rarer. The simple truth is-the White Paper has said it-that if you set that as a target, that is what people treat as a priority and other things will get moved aside.
Q24 Damian Hinds: I am interested to get your take on this. If there was, at the margins-it won’t happen in your school, Hugh, because as a Catholic school you will continue to do RE to exam level-at other schools, a small shift from, for example, RE to history, how big a disaster is that?
Caroline Jordan: I think that the point is that RS is as rigorous academically at GCSE as history and geography.
Q25 Damian Hinds: But that suggests neutrality. It is neither a good thing or a bad thing, if they are equally rigorous and kids move from one to another.
Caroline Jordan: Yes, but then they will not go on to take an A-level in the subject or in something like philosophy and ethics, and then we will not have people going on to read PPE at Oxford and so on.
Damian Hinds: I did it without the A-level.
Chair: PPE at Oxford is, of course, a probational subject for politicians.
Q26 Damian Hinds: Andrew, do you see it as a big problem if, for example, some kids at the margins move from RE to history?
Andrew Chubb: Yes, because I do not think that it is a marginal issue. This is a fundamental sea change in what we are being expected to deliver, certainly in areas such as mine in east Hull. It is dangerous to assume that you just have to switch from RE to history. It is nothing like that at all. As things stand, technology and the arts are valued by staff, students and society as much as history and geography are. Arguably, in terms of the results that students come out with, with this new metric in place it seems that unless you have this particular selection of five subjects, other things are not as important. It is a much deeper question than a bit of history and a bit of RE.
Q27 Nic Dakin: Can I focus on young people currently in years 7, 8 and 9? Will the existence of the EBac make their outcomes and their education better, as they reach age 16 and 18? Will it have a neutral effect, or will it be detrimental? At the end of the day, it is the young people who matter.
Chair: Winners and losers.
Hugh O'Neill: I can say that I don’t think that this will happen in my school, but if a school was driven, because it was extremely concerned about exam performance, to move students into that narrow curriculum and to do subjects that they are less suited to, in the end they will end up with fewer passes.
I will declare an interest in that I am a historian. History is my subject. I am often concerned about what I think is the quite naive view that studying history for two more years will create a more rounded citizen. It seems to me that the skills that we learn in history are about balance and judgment. You can achieve those in a whole range of other subjects. The other thing about history is that it is a very tight assessment model. If you cannot write well, you certainly cannot pass history at A-level and not at GCSE either. It is not just about acquiring a body of knowledge that we think is valuable; it is also testing a particular writing skill, constructing arguments and so on, which are quite high level. I do not want to see kids driven towards doing that because they feel that is necessary.
Q28 Nic Dakin: So you are simply saying it would be benign as long as schools don’t-to use somebody’s phrase from earlier-indulge in performance table gaming or as long as Ofsted doesn’t begin to say that this is a measure by which you will be judged. It will be benign unless it is a matrix.
Hugh O'Neill: Personally, I don’t think that it can be benign if it is stuck there as a performance measure in performance tables. That doesn’t look benign to a head teacher. That looks aggressive. I don’t think we have any choice but to recognise that as something that will be challenged on. I am facing zero for the next three years, and if Ofsted makes it one of its key performance measures, I would be terrified that I am going to get an inspection. I would not come out very well in terms of outcomes. It doesn’t look benign to me at the moment.
Q29 Nic Dakin: From your judgment, are young people going to be less well off as a result of it?
Hugh O'Neill: They certainly would be if we were inspected and reduced to unsatisfactory. That wouldn’t do them or us any good at all. That would be alarming.
Q30 Nic Dakin: I am trying to focus on the young people, rather than the institutions. Having run an institution for four years, I fully understand the pressures. I fully understand the need to ignore some of the nonsense that comes from people like us. I am interested in focusing on whether this is a good thing for kids in years 7, 8 and 9, when they are coming to the curriculum in key stages 4 and 5. People used phrases earlier such as "capable of meeting the needs of the modern information economy" and "capable of performing in the modern knowledge economy". Will they be better off as a result of this or not? That is what I am interested in.
Andrew Chubb: Let’s look at three broad categories of student: those who are higher attainers, those who are middle attainers and those who are lower attainers on entry. Those who are higher attainers at the start of secondary school education are not really going to be motivated by a threshold measure that recognises whether they get five or more C grades or above. However, those people may be worried about the prospect of it becoming a criterion for university entrance later on, so they will, at least, have their choice restricted. They do not gain.
The middle attainers are already motivated to achieve a threshold with five or more C grades or above, but, again, their choice will be restricted, because schools, in the main, will be worried about this-our academy and others excepted-and will be forcing people down a road that is not suited to them.
That brings us to the lower attainers, many of whom will not want to have that particular diet of subjects. For them, there is the risk of being switched off. I think, therefore, from the students’ point of view, there are no winners that I can see, and everybody loses to a greater or lesser extent.
Matt Brady: In terms of change to the key stage 3 curriculum, if we are talking about years 7 to 9, in schools where the focus has shifted away from languages and history and geography at key stage 4, there will be some sea change to be observed. It will come as no surprise that schools will be looking at a new measure and readjusting their curricula accordingly. At years 7 and 9, you might expect that languages, history and geography might gain in terms of profile and in terms of time on the timetable.
Q31 Nic Dakin: But will students gain? Is it better for them?
Matt Brady: Ultimately, I believe it is, because it provides a level of cognitive challenge alongside the vocational learning aspects that our 11 to 14-year-olds are currently experiencing. It comes down once again to what balance is broadly right for our children, and I believe it is something that is positive, regardless of your social background.
Caroline Jordan: I think we would welcome encouraging that broadly academic route to 16, and there are a few students in years 7 to 9 who will now take those routes, which is to be welcomed. It would make a difference to some of them-perhaps the middle achievers we are talking about. I agree that high achievers will go down that route anyway, but I am worried about the effect on low achievers.
Q32 Nic Dakin: Your dyslexic girl who, at the moment, you would choose not to put in for a language-would you stick to that?
Caroline Jordan: I would, because I am able to, as I don’t have to worry about the performance indicator.
Q33Nic Dakin: Thank you. One of my observations is that over the last few years, there has been what I would call a BTEC-isation of the curriculum, which people can see as either a good or bad thing. Certainly, in the area that I know best, what it appears to have done is to have driven up outcomes for young people at 16, on the back of which GCSE maths and English have pursued that five A* to C indicator. Does that, in a sense, turn this on its head, or should we have a vocational or technical Baccalaureate that stands alongside the EBac? Would that be a route forward? You can see what I’m asking.
Andrew Chubb: I would make a couple of points. First, I would like to address the issue of cognitive challenge. It is a logical non sequitur to say that cognitive challenge equals history and geography, and the inference, therefore, is that those subjects somehow contain greater levels of cognitive challenge. Cognitive challenge can be found in any subject. It is about the skill of the teacher and how they deliver the subject, as well as the level of challenge that is applied to or drawn out of any particular subject for students. It is fallacious to say that any one subject inherently contains greater cognitive challenge than another.
I’m sorry, I have forgotten the original question.
Q34 Nic Dakin: I am merely asking whether, given the apparent success of the vocationalisation of the curriculum, one route would be having some sort of technical Baccalaureate, which could stand alongside the EBac with equal value.
Andrew Chubb: My suspicion would be that if you were to have three Baccalaureates-EBac, technical and vocational-you would have a hierarchy of Baccalaureates, with vocational at the bottom, technical in the middle and EBac at the top. As much as anything else, that is to do with our ingrained and entrenched national prejudices about the value of engineering. One question I would have-I ask MPs-is if a requirement of getting into university were the ability to strip an engine or service your car, how many people would have got to university? I certainly would not have done. I dearly wish I could service my car better. That is what I mean; I would find it cognitively extremely challenging to have to strip the engine of my car. Having three Baccalaureates would create that hierarchy and, in my view, it would be a false hierarchy. My answer would be not to have three Baccalaureates, but to have a Baccalaureate with what the French call "filières"-different streams, or different selections of subjects-but which included all the other skills that are needed for the good of society or for our economy, and so on. That would be a Baccalaureate worthy of the name.
Matt Brady: If you look at the success of the International Baccalaureate, which is now being offered in many post-16 institutions, I think that is a much better model than the introduction of more Baccalaureates at this level, as Andy suggests. We need to look at the composition of the Baccalaureates, use this as an opportunity to redress the balance, if you like, but then look at a skills portfolio that is part of the International Baccalaureate and which could be used to benefit young people.
Q35 Nic Dakin: Picking up that point, the ASCL, which represents something like 15,000 members, has said that, "As an over-arching qualification, the E-bac is seriously wanting." Do you agree? If the EBac is to be there, how might we improve it, or begin to talk about improving it, so that these young people get something of value?
Hugh O'Neill: Personally, I think it comes back to something that Andrew said earlier. Fundamentally, there are questions about the whole system of assessment and qualification, which return again and again. It seems to me that whenever standards are driven up and the pass rate goes up, the immediate question that comes up in the newspapers and among politicians is, "Are standards falling?" If we drive up the pass rate at GCSE or A-level, the automatic assumption is that somehow we’ve done something wrong because it must be easier to get those passes.
The EBac seems to redress that balance to the liking of some people, because the national pass rate at the moment is 15%, and I estimate that if we drove lots of students we could get up to about 25%, which would be a nice way of creating an elite of passes at GCSE. But is that what we need? It seems to be what this debate more and more turns around. I am unhappy about the idea that having a qualification that we know 60% or 70% won’t pass is the way forward.
Q36 Nic Dakin: Can we have an EBac that isn’t flawed, or is it in its very nature flawed? Is this a good idea that could be made to work, or is it just a bad idea?
Hugh O'Neill: If you want a measure that makes sure that more than half the population can’t get it, it is excellent, but if that is not the intention I am not sure what you will gain from it.
Q37 Damian Hinds: Like a degree.
Hugh O'Neill: Yes. But unlike a driving test, where the assumption is that anyone should be able to pass and you want your driving population all to have a standard, in education we seem to be stuck on the idea that we really don’t want everyone to have a level of qualification because that will somehow devalue the very thing that we are trying to work towards.
Andrew Chubb: I think we should be looking at international models. Singapore, for example, is a very exam-centric country and I believe that the Secretary of State draws some inspiration from its system. If you look at the heart of the baccalaureate qualification there you’ll see civic participation, work-related learning skills, personal learning and thinking skills and so on and so forth. I absolutely agree with what Hugh said; the debate should be around what we are actually trying to achieve through this.
It is not a qualification-that’s another thing I’d like to nail; it is a collection of subjects. There is nothing additional about it; that is all it is. Are we out to try to create some kind of educational Berlin wall or to produce something that is really going to benefit young people, our society and our economy? If what the Secretary of State has done is to launch a debate along those lines, that is a very valuable thing to have done and I think it’s what we need to do. We need to take this opportunity and say, "How can we create a baccalaureate that will really add value to the education that our students currently have?" That’s an excellent question to ask, and one on which we as a profession would like to engage with the Secretary of State at some length.
Q38 Craig Whittaker: Good afternoon. The general consensus that I’ve very much been hearing this afternoon is that the EBac is too narrow in focus. In fact, evidence submitted by Universities UK suggests that, and it is indicative of some of the evidence that we have received. What I will say to you though-I want to think about this from a different angle-is that over the months that I have been attending this panel the one outcome that everyone seems to want for our young people is a positive economic impact on society eventually, bearing in mind that we have almost 1 million NEETs in our society. Only last week, or the week before, we had a group of college principals in front of us who said, "It’s not us guv, because they’re not getting to us." They very much put the blame on your sector. Bearing that in mind, as well as the fact that the current curriculum is much more open than you would have us believe the EBac is going to be, and the fact that we are falling down the international comparative league tables in virtually every subject all the way down, is a narrow focus not a bad thing?
Caroline Jordan: As I have said, to have a narrow focus, but the right focus, is the right thing to do, and that is why it’s just about getting the subjects. To have an academic focus for many young people is a good thing to do, but it’s more about what is inside that.
Andrew Chubb: The issue of NEETs is a very important one, and you are absolutely right to flag it up. We have managed to reduce our own NEETs percentage rate to about 4.6% this year, which is about 3.5% below the national average, and that’s in an area where traditionally the number of NEETs has been very high. The reason I mention that is that we’ve achieved it by personalising learning, and by personalising learning through key stages 3 and 4, we’ve managed to increase participation post-16. What we have found in our own academy is that it is them, guv, sometimes. The answer is that sometimes it’s us and sometimes it’s them. People do drop out, and when people drop out before Christmas of the year in which they start a year 12 course, that figure goes into the school’s figures. On occasions, if they don’t integrate well into the college, that is seen as the school’s responsibility as well. Whose fault it is may be open to question. The point is that bringing in a metric that narrows and is more likely to lead to disengagement pre-16 is only going to increase the number of NEETs post-16.
I will end by making this point. There is a very worrying statistic going around at the moment. If you take those who are NEET at 16, within 10 years one in four is in prison and one in seven is dead. It’s a very serious statistic and a very serious issue, and one that I think the EBac is going to make far worse.
Matt Brady: A simple answer to your question about whether the narrowing of focus is beneficial for subjects that are in national decline and are essential to the rounded education in this country is yes, that is a good point. With the EBac, there are some positives to be drawn in terms of a narrowing of focus and looking at subjects that are in national decline. Clearly, the debate will rumble on in terms of which subjects are in or out of that measure. Clearly, there will be winners and losers-there is this unfortunate term "collateral damage-but I think it’s necessary, at least in the short term.
Q39 Craig Whittaker: I’m sorry, Hugh, I know you haven’t answered yet, but could I just ask Matt Brady what those positives are?
Matt Brady: In terms of languages, they are raising the profile of languages and making sure that our young people are more internationally competitive. It goes some way to redressing the benchmark that was set in the Barcelona agreement of 2002, which talked about the mother tongue plus two. In this country, we are nowhere near the benchmark of mother tongue plus two, but I believe, again, that the narrowing of focus will enable us to get near that measure, although not to achieve it. As a linguist, I think that it would be great to achieve that measure, but we are nowhere near it. Again, it’s about closing the gap, at least in the short term.
Q40 Craig Whittaker: Will it help our NEETs?
Matt Brady: I think so. You can look at the children targeted by the Aimhigher programme, for example. We do a lot of work in our school with a group of socially disadvantaged children who want to gain access to higher education. With this range of subjects, you’re looking at a suite of subjects that is recognised by the Russell group as its preferred cohort, if you like. I think there’s scope to look at a group of students who are currently underachieving and there’s the ability to raise their aspirations.
Hugh O’Neill: As I said, in my estimation, no more than 50% of the student population would be able to aspire to get the EBac as it is. I really think it’s the ones left behind, outside the EBac, who are going to be the NEETs of the future. I don’t think anyone who is able to get the EBac is going to be a NEET the following year. It is most unlikely that anyone would progress from having that sort of GCSE pass rate in that way. The NEETs in my area are the ones who get zero qualifications.
Q41 Craig Whittaker: In your opinion, will the EBac make the figure for NEETs higher than it currently is?
Hugh O’Neill: No, I just don’t think it can do anything to improve it.
Q42 Craig Whittaker: I want to turn your attention to religious education. I know we’ve touched on it very briefly. The Secretary of State has said that RE is not included as a qualifying subject in the EBac "because it is already a compulsory subject". This argument has been described in submissions as "disingenuous" and "illogical". What’s your view?
Hugh O’Neill: I’ve read the submissions, so I’m aware of the arguments and I think they’re quite right. It seems to me that if the argument was that a subject that is core should not necessarily be in the EBac, it would take out English, maths and science. Either you want an EBac that represents optional subjects and students having a set of choices, or it can include core subjects, as it does at the moment. As I said before, I don’t believe that the profile of religious studies has been anything other than badly damaged by being left outside the EBac, if it stands as the measure it is.
Q43 Craig Whittaker: Even though it’s a compulsory subject?
Hugh O'Neill: It is not compulsory to do it at GCSE and most schools, apart from faith schools, only offer it as an option and only within a humanities block. That is the general pattern.
Caroline Jordan: I think it’s a statutory subject, but there is no statutory content. What happens in reality is that when it’s not offered as a GCSE, it is offered through PSHE and there are a lot of other calls on that time as well, and the timetable allocation is not equal to GCSE. So the sort of rigour that you would get in a RS GCSE you will not get in a general RS lesson that will also be done with "sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll", if you know what I mean. All these things are really important and it’s delivered in a completely different way. I don’t think that it’s a good argument at all.
Andrew Chubb: I would agree. It is disingenuous to say that’s the reason for leaving it out. We already know that schools across the country are dropping RE or significantly reducing the amount of RE being taught, at precisely the time that we need more RE and not less of it. I say that irrespective of the fact that our own academy is a Church of England academy. It is quite clear from picking up any newspaper that we need to be able to understand people of other cultures, other religions and other faiths, and just to drop, or effectively marginalise, a subject as crucial as RE, by revaluing other subjects, is foolish.
Matt Brady: I would agree as well. I believe that RE should gain parity in terms of its relationship with history and geography, and I totally support that view.
Q44 Craig Whittaker: I have a final question on RE. It has also been missed out on the curriculum review going forward, because it is a statutory responsibility. Is that a mistake or not?
Hugh O'Neill: To continue to have it as a statutory-?
Craig Whittaker: No, to leave it out of the curriculum review that is going on. Is that a mistake?
Hugh O'Neill: Yes.
Chair: Is that four nods? Yes.
Q45 Charlotte Leslie: I will start with a very basic and rather blunt question. My apologies if it has already been asked and my apologies too for being late. I just thought it might help me to contextualise what we are talking about. It is a simple question. Do the members of panel feel that children from less advantaged backgrounds are by their very nature, by virtue of being from a less advantaged background, less suited or less able to take part in an academic curriculum?
Hugh O'Neill: No.
Q46 Charlotte Leslie: Following on from that, how do the members of the panel explain the very large difference between children on free school meals at schools from less advantaged areas when measured up against schools from better-off areas with advantaged children in them who perform much better on the EBac standard retrospectively?
Andrew Chubb: Of course, there is nothing intrinsic in somebody from an area that faces significant deprivation that makes them less able to achieve academically. We have to be ever so careful with this notion of what is "academic" and what isn’t. I come back to the point that there seems to be this false link that geography, history and science are academic, and that music and whatever are not academic. You also have to look at how you build on students’ experiences, because when we learn we are relating information that is given to us to what we already know and understand. That whole process takes a lot of time to construct and it needs to be carefully constructed. People have different starting points.
Q47 Charlotte Leslie: Let us look at, say, the top universities-the Russell group universities. I think that we would all agree that any child from any background should have equal opportunity to go to them. There is probably a section of subjects that those universities would look at, see them on a CV and say, "Yes". If we were to call "academic", for the sake of it, the kind of subjects that would be a child’s ticket to go to a Russell group university-if we can keep the concept of "academic" at that level-perhaps that will help.
Andrew Chubb: For me, it comes down to personal choice. Our academy is in an area of very high deprivation and there are students there who love languages, history, geography, English, maths, science, RE and so on and so forth. There are also students whose interests lie with music, art and drama. There are students whose interests lie in health and social care.
Q48 Charlotte Leslie: Do you feel that that is income-based or deprivation-based? Are children’s natural propensities across any demographic dictated or influenced by their background? If they are influenced by their background does that explain why there is less retrospective interest in the EBac in deprived schools? If not, how can that difference be right? I know it is a difficult question.
Andrew Chubb: It is difficult. I can only answer by saying that our academy looks at the individual and where their interests lie. We have an extensive programme of information, advice and guidance on what the implications of particular subject choices are and how various options can lead to various paths. Then we support our students and give them high levels of challenge on the path they choose to follow. I would no more advise someone down an EBac path than I would say that what they really need to do is music, art, drama and plumbing. What is really important is that we have excellent information, advice and guidance. If that is well delivered and students are given good opportunities to reflect on what their choices are and where they lead, it should be an issue of personal choice. Another aim of the Secretary of State seems to be that now everybody has to go to university. That is great. I am not decrying that all. There was the recent announcement that schools will be judged on the number of students who go to university, but that is not necessarily the best place for all people.
Q49 Charlotte Leslie: That is very interesting. The increase in apprenticeships is also interesting in that context. Something I really grapple with is the reason why in schools-you run a good academy-across the board there is such a link between deprivation and equivalence. Some schools have retrospectively performed well on an EBac that they did not know existed.
Hugh O'Neill: In a sense social deprivation has its impact on all aspects of people’s lives, including their educational attainment, their aspirations, their average income and their life expectancy. Those are huge social issues which you grapple with as politicians all the time. I would be very sorry to hear that schools somehow made an assumption of low expectation based on the fact that they served a deprived area. I am sure that in Andrew’s case that is exactly the opposite of what happened. I am sure there are the highest expectations. Nevertheless, you cannot but recognise that people will die younger if they come from deprived backgrounds because that is the nature of social deprivation. They will achieve less and we will do everything we can within the school sector to give them the best opportunities, but we cannot fight against inequalities.
Q50 Charlotte Leslie: In that sense would you say that if they are achieving less, subjects outside the EBac are achieving less? That seems an implication that it would be easy to draw from what you have just said.
Hugh O'Neill: Possibly. I would place less value on what the retrospective EBac figures tell you. My own experience is in a school that is high achieving and was top of the county on all the other measures, yet it is bottom for this. There are probably some very serious blips in what the figures tell you. If it averages out that schools that on the whole have promoted a more vocational curriculum have scored less on EBac it hardly surprises me.
Q51 Charlotte Leslie: Secondly, to what extent do you feel that the EBac is a response to something that may lie with the concept and the value of equivalence? To what extent is the EBac a response to something that lies with equivalence and how many GSCEs it is worth rather than the merits of an EBac itself?
Andrew Chubb: On that one, without wishing to be flippant, we are being asked to read the Secretary of State’s mind. I can see how it could be construed as that. I can understand why that would be the case. Undoubtedly there have been some qualifications that would seem to have too much equivalence, for whatever reason they were given that equivalence. But the answer is not to introduce the EBac. If that is the problem, the solution is to look at those qualifications that had too much equivalence and say, "Actually, this isn’t right." We need either to remove or revalue those qualifications in some way, so that they have the correct equivalence. The answer is not to introduce something else which will lead to a different type of gaming.
Matt Brady: I think the two are intrinsically linked, and it would be false to assume that they are not. However, the EBac sets out to achieve something slightly different, and that is not a resetting of the standard in terms of equivalence; it is looking at broadening the core curriculum in our schools. On that basis it is valuable. Clearly the debate about equivalence will rumble on, and obviously that’s another story, but in terms of the two measures, I believe that they set out to achieve slightly different things.
Andrew Chubb: The other point worth making is that in language colleges nationally I think 30% of students have achieved the EBac, whereas across everybody else nationally it was 15%, so there is an element of misleading information there. Are language colleges on average twice as high-performing as other schools? I would suggest not. It just so happens that that was the choice that was made-I speak as somebody who took a school into language college status many years ago. Past curriculum choices now seem to be having an impact that says something about choice, but not necessarily about quality. It could be misleading.
Matt Brady: I would hasten to add that our language college achieved 17% in the EBac measure, and I believe the national average is 15% so we are very much in line.
Q52 Chair: Andrew, you said earlier that you thought the introduction of the English Baccalaureate would lead to an increase in the number of young people not in education, employment or training. I can see how you don’t like the English Baccalaureate because it goes against the personalised education that you have come up with, and which you think is really delivering for your young people. However, I don’t see how, in itself, it will drive more people into being NEET. As I think Hugh said, anyone who gets the Baccalaureate is not going to be NEET, and it is unlikely to affect those who have no chance of getting it.
Andrew Chubb: It won’t in our academy because I am not going to alter things as a result of this. I think the risk is that-I say this non-judgmentally-when head teachers feel constrained to make curriculum choices for the sake of a perceived position in a potential performance table, students’ interests are damaged in some way or other. Particularly at the lower-attaining end, where there is an especially high risk of disengagement if the choice isn’t good, those students are going to be much more at risk of disengagement through the curriculum being distorted to meet this new metric. It is those students, who are most at risk of exclusion anyway, who will potentially become more likely to be NEET, in my view.
Q53 Chair: But surely schools will seek to maximise the percentage of their pupils who get the Baccalaureate? The people who become NEET will, for the most part, never be considered by heads as being in the group likely to get the Baccalaureate, so they will not really be the focus of attention. Is it that the whole of the school curriculum for all pupils will be so distorted by the Baccalaureate that it will lead to completely inappropriate provision? Are schools not flexible enough to provide appropriate education? Surely the Secretary of State’s idea is that there are those who, for the institution’s interest, are shoved on to courses that the school knows they’ll pass, when they could actually be challenged and brought up to doing more rigorous courses if the school put in enough effort and support? That is the Secretary of State’s rationale for the Baccalaureate, as I read it. I still don’t see how it leads to more NEETs.
Caroline Jordan: You’re making a decision at 14 about which route they’re going to go down-that’s what you’re saying. They can either go down the English Baccalaureate route or not. Suddenly all of their choices will be limited by that. It comes back to your question about a 14-to-19 advanced Baccalaureate, which you mentioned at the beginning and which has suddenly appeared. I worry that we are suddenly going to end up with an advanced Baccalaureate and we’re going to have to do English and maths in it. Before we do that, we need to make sure that we take on the views of the head teachers, among many others.
Hugh O'Neill: I think I would also bring the question back to the concept of equivalence. I return to the point that I am wary of the idea that equivalence is an evil that needs to be stamped upon, or that people are getting too many qualifications. All that we know of assessment that has come out in the last 15 years suggests that if students cannot get a sense of achievement, their effort, involvement and engagement with education will go down. So the idea that there are easy courses that students must be stopped from getting because they provide a false picture is a route to increasing NEETs.
Chair: Alison Wolf said that 350,000 young people were shoved on the course to give them a sense of achievement. Great-the school does well, ticks the box for performance and they end up unable to get anywhere. They cannot get a job and they cannot go on to progress in education, which would suggest the exact opposite conclusion to the one that you have just given.
Hugh O'Neill: Possibly. If they had left without the qualification, I do not see how that would improve their lot. They may be more disappointed, I suppose, but I can’t see how that has made their life chances worse.
Andrew Chubb: When I read the Wolf report, I was interested to see that an awful lot of the criticism appeared to be directed at training providers who were coming in and giving courses which did not lead anywhere. It was actually a lot less critical of schools than I was led to believe it was going to be. So you can’t necessarily surmise that it is schools that are putting lots of students through courses that don’t lead anywhere-it was particularly training providers.
Q54 Nic Dakin: I have had lots of correspondence from people about music. Do they protest too much, or will music be damaged by the EBac proposals?
Andrew Chubb: The evidence is that it is already being cut. In my own submission, 60 out of 95 schools polled by the National Association of Music Educators found that students were being discouraged from taking a music option for EBac. That was two thirds of that particular group of schools-not a particularly scientific study-but, no, I don’t think they do protest too much.
Q55 Damian Hinds: Of the respondents?
Andrew Chubb: Yes.
Damian Hinds: To be clear, not even of the group of students polled but the respondents, who presumably are going to be the ones who are most motivated to talk about music?
Andrew Chubb: Yes.
Chair: It is always good to have evidence not only from such a distinguished panel but also from members of the Committee. Thank you for giving evidence to us today.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Les Ebdon CBE, Chair, Students, Quality and Participation Policy Network, Universities UK, and Vice Chancellor, University of Bedfordshire, Chris Morecroft, President, Association of Colleges, David Bell, Chief Corporate Development Officer, JC Bamford Excavators Ltd, and Susan Anderson, Director of Public Services and Skills, Confederation of British Industry, gave evidence.
Q56 Chair: Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us today to discuss the English Baccalaureate. I will start with a question for Chris and the others may or may not want to come in on this one.
Will the English Baccalaureate contribute to an increase or a decrease in the number of young people who end up NEET-not in education, employment or training-or is it largely an irrelevance to the people in that group?
Chris Morecroft: Talking on behalf of the Association of Colleges, which includes sixth-form colleges and general further education colleges and some specialist colleges in England, the general consensus is that it may have some impact on driving up the numbers of NEET young people. That is purely around the number of people who are not engaged in the subjects that are deemed to be appropriate for an English Baccalaureate. Therefore those who may have their eyes set on a career as an apprentice or as a painter and decorator or in construction would not see the relevance. To start that range of qualifications therefore in English Baccalaureate as a compulsory element of their programme would be seen as an irrelevance and they would drift away and increase truancy. That is not the case for all young people but we would expect to see a marginal increase in the NEETs.
Chair: Susan, have you any thoughts on that?
Susan Anderson: From a business perspective, EBac is an unknown quantity at the moment. We see it as a useful wrapper, not as a new qualification.
We are busy consulting our members at the moment. We represent all businesses, large and small, and we are busy consulting them. I am giving you a provisional perspective. At the moment, the view we are getting from businesses is that to the extent that the EBac cements literacy and numeracy-English and maths-and to the extent that it requires the study of three separate sciences, leading to three separate GCSEs, there is a lot of value in it. Personally, off the cuff, I don’t see why it would lead to any increase in the number of NEETs, but it depends what is included in the EBac. At the moment, our view is that that should be English, maths and three separate sciences, rather than the two separate sciences presently included.
The curriculum review is a separate exercise, and as part of that review we would certainly wish to see the use of IT, and the creativity that comes from studying subjects such as art, music and humanities. We would like to see them there as options, but when it comes to the core of what the EBac should do, to be frank, English, maths and three separate sciences would deliver a lot of delight to the business community. That doesn’t quite answer your question, but it was a good opening statement.
Q57 Chair: One can always identify a problem and come up with an attempted solution to it, but one of our jobs is to try and work out the perverse or unforeseen consequences, possibly negative ones. Most of the time, hopefully, Government initiatives deliver vaguely in the direction intended, but it is about working out what was not intended but might ensue. David, any thoughts?
David Bell: Only that we struggle to get apprentices. I am principally okay with the English Baccalaureate, but I still think it’s a bit too narrow and I would like to see a technical or an engineering element. We need high-level people to be apprentices. Since yesterday’s meeting, we have 57 engineering vacancies. We could employ more people, but I don’t think the English Baccalaureate will help us do that. Whether it will lead directly to more NEETs I would not know, but it doesn’t help a manufacturing company in terms of the qualifications we are looking for to take people on.
Q58 Pat Glass: Do you think that the English Baccalaureate will be useful to you as employers as a measure against which to measure potential employees? Is it going to help you at all?
David Bell: Not me-I don’t see it at all. We look at the subjects that people take. My point is that if this is what good looks like, I’m going to have fewer people doing the subjects that I want them to be doing. Hugh, I think, said that people are going to drop out of doing D and T and engineering courses because they are going to focus on this. That would be my issue. I don’t have enough people today and I could have fewer in the future. But I don’t think whether they’ve got the English Baccalaureate or not is going to matter. I’m looking at whether they have physics, maths and English. I would like them to have some engineering qualification.
Susan Anderson: As would be expected, there is a great degree of agreement between us. This is not a new qualification, it is a wrapper that wraps up existing qualifications. We would expect students to have good literacy and numeracy as indicated by an A to C grade in English and maths. That is already there. We are concerned that too many pupils do double science, which is leading to fewer students going on to do A-level physics, chemistry or biology. That is why we are concerned about having only two separate sciences. Our concern is that schools would deliver chemistry and biology but not physics.
Chair: Sorry, but if you do two separate sciences you cannot pass two and qualify for the English Baccalaureate. It is a requirement of the Baccalaureate that you have to take all three separate sciences. It is a bit confusing because of double science and the rest, but you have to take all three and get two of them in order to fulfil requirements if you do separate sciences.
Susan Anderson: That will be great. The key thing for us is that more state schools are offering three separate sciences. At the moment, too many of them only offer double science, which is not a good preparation for A-level. To the extent to which it drives school behaviour-it should do if there are three separate sciences-we in business would think that is a good thing, because we do not think that enough schools are offering three separate sciences. Double science just isn’t good enough. To the extent to which the well rounded pupil will also have a modern language, Greek and Hebrew are all very well, but we would like them to be able to converse in the BRIC countries. To the extent to which there are some good vocational qualifications particularly around engineering, or art and design, we think the well rounded student should be making some sensible choices around that. We think that will be covered through the curriculum review. We don’t think there is a need to shoehorn so much into the EBac that, for example, you couldn’t do the very good engineering vocational diploma.
Q59 Pat Glass: Would it be useful to employers to have an alternative technical baccalaureate; something that had three good sciences, ICT, engineering, business studies and that kind of thing?
Susan Anderson: I don’t think we see the need. We already have a good suite of qualifications, and we have some good vocational qualifications now; I would say the engineering diploma was one of the better ones. We are not interested in having new qualifications. The EBac is a wrapper. We don’t want a whole new set of qualifications. BTECs, for example, are good qualifications.
Q60 Chair: I think it is a technical wrapper that was being suggested. Can we go to Chris? I think the Association of Colleges is a proponent of this idea.
Chris Morecroft: Yes, we would like to see a technical baccalaureate, in the sense that we think it is more motivating for quite a number of individuals. There is a discussion to be had also in terms of what employers need. It is not just about the content of the curriculum; there is a great danger of teaching to the test and making sure you get the qualifications. There needs to be a debate on the content of any qualification. If you talk to the CBI, they often talk about the need for young people to have the right attitude; to get up in the morning; to be able to work in teams; and to know their place in an organisation. That debate is not here in the English Baccalaureate. There needs to be a discussion about how we assess young people within whatever qualifications they do to ensure they have the behaviours that are required for young people to operate effectively in the employers’ market.
Q61 Charlotte Leslie: The debate about employability and employability skills always fascinates me. I wonder whether the panel sees employability and all those right attitudes-teamworking, discipline and all that-as something that gets taught primarily through the school environment and cultural expectations within the ethos of the school, which we always say is very important, or whether it is something they put on like add-ons on each subject in the curriculum. Is it culture or curriculum that teaches you how to do that?
David Bell: Certainly, at the JCB Academy, which I am not actually representing today, all of that will be built into the core curriculum. The children are working in teams; they have a team leader; they are team members; and they have different roles in those teams. We see that as essential to turning out young people who have employability skills.
Q62 Charlotte Leslie: It’s a kind of culture that comes out of the school and covers everyone, whatever subject they are doing, that’s within the school and the way it works.
Professor Ebdon: I think universities discovered years ago the importance of integrating employability skills into the curriculum. If you have it as an add-on, students ask the question, "Is it for me?" If it is among the lecturers, the professors and the teachers whom they respect, they will see it as an important part of what they have come to learn.
Susan Anderson: Can I just make a contribution on that? It is absolutely about integrating it into the schools. Part of the problem, though, is that the language that schools sometimes use is not employers’ language. They talk about personal thinking and learning skills. If a young person, or indeed an older person, came along to a business and said, "I have personal thinking and learning skills," an employer would not be terribly impressed. If you say, "I am a good teamworker; I am a problem-solver; I have some business awareness,"-we are not asking for a qualification in it, but we are asking schools and indeed universities to be a bit savvy and give them the right language to use. Good schools are embedding teamworking and problem solving. You get it from the academic qualifications and you get it from the vocational qualifications. We are certainly not looking for new ones, but use employers’ language.
David Bell: The TechBac is better than nothing, in my view. My only fear is this deep culture that we have in this country that the EBac will be for the bright kids, and the TechBac will be for the less bright kids. We need bright engineers to solve the problems of the future. We have huge problems and we want the brightest kids doing those qualifications. That is my only fear, that it might be seen as second rate to the EBac. I would rather have a technical element in the EBac.
Chris Morecroft: I don’t think the AOC would go against that. Essentially, we also believe that English, maths and science form the important core to the EBac. After that, there is great merit in defining the rigorous qualifications-vocational, technical and academic-that would apply to creating an EBac. It is important that we don’t reject the importance of art and design, music, the arts, science and technology. They hold equal importance because they motivate young people.
Q63 Nic Dakin: I am hearing a lot of common ground about what the core should be, in terms of maths, English and science.
David Bell: And language.
Q64 Nic Dakin: So, we are saying we also want language in the core. I hadn’t heard that before.
Susan Anderson: I think it should be part of the core curriculum. We should recognise that if you are setting this for a test for schools, given that they have not been funded and they are not staffed to deliver a modern language, we would have to accept that there will be competencies around teachers at the moment. It has disappeared from the core curriculum; it needs to be put back and then maybe added to the EBac.
Q65 Tessa Munt: I want you to explain what you meant about language. What does language mean to you?
David Bell: Language to me is a modern language. I do not see Latin and Greek. However, the BRIC country languages are important: Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish. Clearly French and English are important subjects. From an employer’s point of view, if I were employing somebody who had those languages, that would be a big tick in the box for me. If they had Latin and Greek it would probably be a big negative tick in the box.
Chris Morecroft: We would support that but we would also like to see rigorous but applied language. It could be business language for travel and tourism. It would not necessarily have to be rigorous GCSE French or German or Mandarin. It could be an applied language, and there are plenty of examples of that.
Q66 Damian Hinds: Don’t they do a version of English that is not quite as hard in Germany and China?
Chris Morecroft: Yes, but it’s useful.
Q67 Nic Dakin: You seem to be saying that the EBac is likely to produce fewer people to take on as apprentices.
David Bell: I think it will.
Q68 Nic Dakin: Can you explain why?
David Bell: A school has a restricted budget. If this EBac gains legs and momentum, you will be thinking about where to put your students. There is a danger. It does not bother me in terms of the academy; we all score zero as well. I am not bothered about scoring zero. I am bothered about other schools changing their curriculum. We have heard the head teachers talking about changing curriculum. If they do that and subjects such as D&T and the engineering diploma-which is a superb qualification-are dropped and count for nothing, that worries me. We need engineers.
Q69 Nic Dakin: In your judgment, not good for engineering, not good for manufacturing.
David Bell: In my judgment, it is not good. It is more about what it says: what is good is good. Clearly if it is not there, I can only assume it is not good. Maybe that’s narrow but that’s how I see it.
Q70 Nic Dakin: We are interested in your evidence. I would like to move on to asking Les about university admissions. Parents and young people are obviously concerned about whether this will become part of the template of university admissions. What is your view?
Professor Ebdon: Universities welcome a broad qualification at this level. They really see this-in the expression that has been used-as a wrapper. It is an award not a qualification. Universities are nearly always going to look inside the wrapper for what is there. The component parts will be looked at. I know that parents and students have expressed some concern that universities might start to use the EBac without giving them a chance to make decisions ahead of time at school. The answer is, "No, we won’t." We appreciate the importance of not destroying opportunity for young people by retrospectively introducing a qualification. Each university makes its own autonomous decisions about admission, and universities will continue to look in the wrapper for the qualities they particularly want. If people are worried about that, there is something called the UCAS course profiles, and if they look there they can see exactly what qualifications-what GCSEs, what A-levels-particular universities prefer for particular courses. I would advise any worried parents to do that.
Q71 Nic Dakin: I’m a young person in year 8, so by the time I come to do my options next year the EBac will have its legs, won’t it? My parents are keen for me to go to a Russell group university; would it be wisest to take an EBac choice to maximise my chances of going to one?
Professor Ebdon: It would be wisest to look at the course profiles on UCAS and see what those courses ask you to take. The Russell group, and indeed the 1994 group-the two most selecting university groups-have indicated that they won’t particularly use the EBac qualification. They are very challenged to be more socially inclusive in their selection, and it may well be that many schools to which disadvantaged young people go are unable to offer the EBAC or to achieve as much in it as other schools.
Q72 Nic Dakin: One of the measures of their social inclusion, to please the Government, might be to take more people who haven’t got the EBac is what you’re suggesting.
Professor Ebdon: That’s quite possible. In terms of a measure of the performance of schools, universities and the National Council for Educational Excellence have advocated a measure that looks at the progression of students into higher education. Why go for surrogates if we can measure the real thing?
Q73 Nic Dakin: Chris, what about at 16? Will EBac be helpful?
Chris Morecroft: We’re not saying it’s not a helpful guide, but essentially both sixth-form colleges and general further education colleges assess all young people who are leaving school, to determine what is the most appropriate programme for them. A good example is that I used to teach A-level sciences, and in my last school, Worcester college, we determined that anyone who wanted to do A-level physics who didn’t have a B in maths at GCSE was probably going to struggle with it. It’s a wrapper again, and you’ve got to go inside it. If you want to do A-level law, a better than grade C in English is probably required to do well, because of the use of language and the technicalities of language and so on. Although we’re not completely dismissing it, the English Bac might not be sufficient to get into some sixth-form colleges. The colleges are so competitive in terms of people trying to get in that Cs across the board in an English Bac possibly wouldn’t get you into some of them.
Q74 Nic Dakin: Are you saying that the English Bac is helpful or irrelevant? I’m trying to work out where you are on that.
Chris Morecroft: It’s less relevant than doing individual benchmarking of young people when they come in to make sure that they’re going for the right things.
Q75 Nic Dakin: So, back to independent advice and guidance, really.
Chris Morecroft: Yes.
Q76 Chair: A lot of criticism. The predecessor Committee in its report on testing and assessment looked at teaching to the test and at focusing on those on the C/D border. We’ve got a different border now, haven’t we? We’ve got people whom schools will look at and think, "Can they get the EBac, or can’t they?" The Government have suggested that that might become the key measure. They have said that for now they’re not getting rid of the A to C measures, suggesting that they might in the future. If that is the key determinant of success as a head, isn’t there a danger that schools will pour all their effort into those people and thus lose focus, and interest in the progression of others?
It is not a problem with our system that we’re not good at educating our elite; it’s the rest who we have historically been pretty poor at educating. Is there a risk that the English Baccalaureate will focus attention on those who need it least, and take it away from those who need it most? Susan, before you go-I know that you might have to go any minute.
Susan Anderson: I can stay.
It depends on the proportion of the time that the EBac takes up. Under our preferred option, EBac would probably take up just less than half the time, because it would be English, maths and three sciences. That would give students the time to do, for example, the engineering vocational diploma. So we don’t see it as driving and that may be at the advanced level, or they may be getting the lower level. So we don’t see it as an "either/or".
Q77 Chair: I think you are answering a slightly different question, Susan. I was not asking so much about the subject space, although that is a fascinating area. It is more about the pupils who schools will evaluate as having no chance whatsoever of getting the English Baccalaureate. Is there a risk that focus, attention, best staff and even resource might be concentrated on those pupils that will allow schools to reach the performance measure that makes them look good, and are taken away from those who historically we have been weakest at serving?
David Bell: It’s a danger, isn’t it? If there is a measure and that measure is going to be what your school is judged on, there is a danger. In business, we always say, "You get what you measure." If you measure certain things, that’s what drives behaviour. If this is the measure, it is bound to drive behaviour. I cannot see why it won’t.
Professor Ebdon: One assumes that it was introduced to drive behaviour-that that was the intention of introducing it. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised. One often talks about "unintended consequences." Perhaps these consequences are intended. One intended consequence is to broaden the base. I think that’s a good thing. An unintended consequence is clearly to damage a number of subjects that are not included in the English Bac. We have heard evidence about applied sciences. I’m sure you had evidence earlier about religious studies, music, performing arts, the creative industries and design. Those subjects that are not included will feel in some ways devalued and indeed we will probably see fewer students advancing to university to study those subjects.
Q78 Chair: Yes. That’s about the subject as opposed to the pupil. There are organisations, from the top, driving and focusing on things-we all know that. We have seen it in policy. In education, if you turn a spotlight-this Committee has historically turned the Government’s spotlight-on a group of pupils and everybody starts looking at that group, magically it seems that their performance starts to improve. Will the EBac put the focus on exactly the wrong part of our education system and let down those who most need help? That’s the kind of perverse consequence that I’m interested in.
Chris Morecroft: I will try to answer that. There is a danger, because league scores are always based on getting more pupils above the threshold, that you will concentrate on those who are at the threshold. However, if you want more people to study medicine, getting grade Cs at GCSE in sciences isn’t good enough; you’ve got to get Bs and As. So, you’ve got to make sure there is an equal concentration on young people to maximise their performance, because they will need those skills when they get to those higher levels. So there is a danger if schools concentrate a lot on trying to get more scores.
Q79 Craig Whittaker: We have had a plethora of things coming out. We have had the Wolf report about things such as apprenticeships and the Government have said that the 14 to 19 agenda will be transformed, with a massive investment in that area. We know that there will be a curriculum review. We have talked about university technical colleges. Shouldn’t the English Baccalaureate then be taken in the context of the whole agenda rather than just being a single focus, which everybody seems to be doing?
Susan Anderson: I would say that they should absolutely be taken together. If we look at some of the things that are presently in the EBac, for example studying one humanity, it would be an adverse unintended consequence if we ended up with fewer students having the ability to do design and technology or one of the other more creative subjects, whether it is music, art or whatever. We would like students to do one creative option and you can get that through history and geography. However, we are saying that there is an irredeemable core that needs to be there-three sciences, English and maths. There are other things where there can be some options. We would put in a humanity; an art and design subject-design and technology is another option-and a modern language, which we think should probably be part of the compulsory core. This debate needs to take place as part of the curriculum review. As others have said, it would not be a good result if we end up with more students doing humanities and not doing, for example, the engineering diploma.
David Bell: My overall fear is how these things are perceived. If the UTCs and the technical side are perceived as they were before-if you passed your 11-plus you went to grammar school, if you didn’t quite make it you might go to technical school and if you didn’t make that, you went to secondary modern-that is an unintended consequence we really do have to be against.
Chris Morecroft: I am most concerned about EBac being part of the league table system. Schools should not be measured on the basis of the number of young people who get the EBac qualification. If we are going to measure schools at all, it is about progression on to appropriate programmes. That is how we should measure it. Some 15% to 20% of young people have learning difficulties, depending on which school you go to. How would you feel as a parent if you are basically written off because your kid is never going to be able to get an EBac? Those young people are just as important. It is a major achievement for Down’s syndrome young people, with supported learning in the workplace, eventually to get employment. We should not go away from that. It is about progression. To put it simply, the number of NEETs that your school has allowed to happen would be a better measure of how successful the education system is. It is not about how many get the EBac.
Chair: That’s my favourite crude proxy for a successful education system. It shows that it is not doing as well as it should.
Q80 Damian Hinds: A number of times this Committee has tried to address the question of how you ensure that you measure the progress of every child, rather than just any particular subset. David, you mentioned a moment ago the old maxim, "What gets measured gets done." In business terms, you will recognise that when you focus on one particular key performance indicator, others tend to suffer. If you go for sales, your profit margins drop; if you then say, "We need to work on the average profit margin," you’ll abandon potential profitable markets. If you say, "I want to bring the sales forward," quality will start to suffer and you won’t invest enough in training and so on. That is why businesses came up with the idea of a balanced scorecard so that you measure people on the lead indicator of their performance tempered by making sure that other things are moving along nicely, too.
I wonder whether so much of the debate that we have had today, with both this panel and the earlier panel, is really a product of focusing and whether the overall plan is for the system to do the same-to focus on one measure. If you had a suite of measures, as Alison Wolf recommends, part of which is traditional, straightforward GCSE results and part of which is this English Baccalaureate, we could measure how many children are doing what most of us would recognise as an academic core. We could also ensure that the bottom quintile are being progressed, challenged and pushed, as well as those at the very top. If a child’s EBac was effectively in the bag at age 11, you still want that school to be pushing and pushing that kid to do the best they can do. Is the answer to have a range of measures?
David Bell: It could be, as long as there is not the perception, "This is the elite measure, and these others are not as good." That to me is the danger. If you have a range, very quickly people will think, "That’s the one that counts." That is why I am with Susan. For most of us here maths, English and sciences are key for the future. I think a language is quite helpful for the future. It is just whether underneath we can have a bit more choice, rather than this very restrictive system. Humanities has just three subjects. There are languages and there are also some surprising subjects in there from my point of view. If it could be broadened out, I think we would have general consensus.
We all want children to come out with proper qualifications that have rigour. I have been the victim at work of the so-called level 2 qualifications provided by training providers. They’re a load of rubbish. We know they’re not level 2. I want some proper qualifications that have rigour, but I am worried that we’ll have an elitist old grammar school type qualification and then some others that are seen as lesser qualifications.
I’ll come back to it. At JCB we have to design engines that meet tier 5 and we have to design hybrid transmissions. We have to design challenging things for the future, and we need people with skills. Right now we have 57 vacancies. We are looking at putting programmes-honestly-in India and China, because what is the point of doing a programme here if we can’t get engineers? That is a real issue today. Yesterday’s debate was, "Can we do these programmes?" Can we do them?
Q81 Chair: We conduct inquiries, take evidence-written and oral-and then write reports, with recommendations for the Government. I always ask my witnesses-normally earlier in the meeting than this-to bear that in mind and to help us with recommendations and messages that we should be giving to the Government.
The key question is, will the English Baccalaureate help or hinder our education system, and will it ensure that, as Damian rightly and often says, we focus on metrics so that we value every child’s progress throughout the system? Just to finish-is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Professor Ebdon: I don’t think it will contribute very much, other than it is yet another initiative that education has to chase after. It has a confusing name, because it is a level 2 qualification, at GCSE level, whereas the other Baccalaureates-we have a Welsh Baccalaureate, a Scottish Baccalaureate, a European Baccalaureate and an International Baccalaureate-are all at level 3, which is the same level as A-levels. It is very confusing, if not dumbing down, to have an English Baccalaureate at a level below everybody else.
Q82 Chair: It’s dumbed down. Is it a gimmick?
Professor Ebdon: It has some sense of that. It is of little value to universities, because we will look-
Q83 Chair: I can’t quote you in our report if you don’t let me put words in your mouth. Sorry-carry on.
Professor Ebdon: Universities will look in the box. You can put as shiny a box around people’s GCSEs as you like, but we will open the box and see what’s inside.
Chris Morecroft: While we don’t think it’s massively damaging, we don’t think it’s hugely helpful. Again, we will look in the box. It’s important that all young people at 16 are given the proper opportunities for progression-progression into colleges or sixth-form colleges, or staying on in a school sixth form. Whatever is appropriate and right for them is the important thing. There’s a danger that the wrapper may take the focus off. Again, employers-"You’ve got the wrapper; therefore you must be okay"-have got to look inside the wrapper, too. So, I am not sure how useful the wrapper is.
David Bell: I think it is potentially damaging for the needs of rebalancing the economy, if we value engineering and manufacturing.
Susan Anderson: From a business perspective, we care about outcomes. At the moment, we are not getting enough young people getting to good standards of English and maths, which is A to C. We have another cohort that does not even get to literacy and numeracy, so we need to teach it and we need to give it a qualification. Too often, if people haven’t got a GCSE in English and maths they are regarded as a failure, so we need to teach them literacy and numeracy.
If this were to lead to more schools studying three separate sciences at GCSE, we think that would be a good outcome. Not enough schools are delivering three separate sciences at GCSE; if this leads to that, it would be a good thing. We are not convinced it needs to cover quite as many subjects as it does at present.
Q84 Chair: But you are a businesswoman, Susan. If your key measure was delivering the English Baccalaureate, would you devote your best resources and greatest focus to trying to get those kids, who are in that cohort of not having numeracy and literacy, up to that level, even though you knew they were not going to contribute to your key measure, which is the Baccalaureate? Or would you focus on those who could help you increase your percentage for the Baccalaureate? In other words, could this have the perverse outcome of doing the exact opposite of what you most want, which is to give basic skills to those at risk of leaving 11 years of full-time education-for now-without them?
Susan Anderson: We have just over 50% of students currently achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths. That is an unacceptable situation for the UK. We are an advanced economy. If the Baccalaureate delivers more students who achieve a good GCSE in English, maths and three separate sciences, that would be a good result.
Chair: Thank you very much to all four of you for giving evidence to us today.
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