Initial thoughts on the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc)

So, Michael Gove’s announcement that the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) courses will begin in 2015 under a single examination board has signalled a major shift in government policy on the middle years curriculum – the biggest since O Levels were binned. Modularity at GCSE, already shooed to the sidelines, is definitely out; coursework is gone and a single, terminal paper will be sat in Maths, English and Science by all students at the end of Year 11 (Block 5). June 2017 will be the first sitting – so that makes students currently in Year 7 (Block 1) the first takers. With consultation and a general election to come before the courses start, there is much distance to travel, but here are a few initial thoughts.  
As a citizen, I am glad that someone is giving these forlorn middle years of the curriculum their due attention. I am also pleased that a whiff of international competition is being brought in – and that the waste of teaching time, teaching to the test and endless fudges allowed by modularity have been curtailed. 
From an independent school point of view, the Ebacc looks like a strong endorsement for what we as a sector have been doing; in fact Michael Gove is encouraging maintained schools to switch to the IGCSEs that now comprise the core of our middle years curriculum. But as a citizen, the line that these new exams provide something for the bottom third of students nationally simply doesn’t wash. In that respect, in spite of the reassurances of Nick Clegg, the one size fits all element of these exams looks like a profoundly illiberal dress. For those who disparage the independent sector, although the most extreme may see this move as yet another attempt by the maintained sector to ape what we do, many will have to acknowledge that without many of us using our independence to move away from the mess that the state supplied middle years had become, the government would have no domestic model to follow. As for Bedales, we are happy with our mix, but will keep a careful eye on what the Ebacc will look like.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.