Daily Politics Soapbox: MG Harris on Baccalaureate plan

Author and school governor MG Harris: English Baccalaureate not good enough

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Each week, the Daily Politics offers a platform to a famous person to make a film with their personal views on a subject, before debating them in the studio. Here, children's author MG Harris argues that the planned English Baccalaureate, with its focus on core subjects, risks marginalising less academic pupils.

I've been a governor at St Gregory the Great, a Catholic school in Oxford, for the past seven years.

It is an inner city school with a huge range of ability in the intake - a faith school, and truly comprehensive.

Being a children's author means that I visit many schools across the country. Being a governor gives me an extra insight into what's happening in our secondary schools.

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There is already evidence that RE, music and art may suffer next year when GCSE options are chosen”

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I am concerned about the government's introduction of a new performance measure for schools in England.

I think it's half-baked and hasn't been thought through properly. Getting 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C is what every school wants every child to achieve.

But a new measure - the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) means that children will need to get those five A*-C grades in specific subjects now: maths, English, science, a foreign language and a humanity - either geography or history.

But what about other humanities like religious education (RE), economics or law? And why not creative or practical subjects like music or art?

I worry that the law of unintended consequences could mean that in some schools, students who are not academic will be encouraged to do just the core subjects - which will narrow their education.

DfE explanation of EBacc

  • It is not a qualification, although we are developing a mechanism for issuing certificates to recognise where individual pupils have secured a relevant combination of GCSEs or accredited iGCSEs.
  • The measure recognises where pupils have secured a C grade or better across a core of academic subjects - English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.
  • EBacc will encourage schools to teach modern languages. Only 44% of pupils studied for a modern language GCSE in 2009 compared to 79% in 2000
  • Schools will retain the freedom to innovate and offer subjects outside the Ebacc which will be only one measure of performance, and should not be the limit of schools' ambitions for their pupils.

After all, schools are always going to want to get the best performance results.

St Gregory's is a Catholic school and like most faith schools, RE is taught as a compulsory GCSE subject. But RE won't be included as one of the six subjects included in the English Baccalaureate.

One glitch in education secretary Michael Gove's plan is that faith schools will appear not to do as well as other schools. Even though RE is definitely a humanity subject - a highly academic one at that.

In fact, there is already evidence that RE, music and art may suffer next year when GCSE options are chosen.

In a poll of 800 secondary schools, almost a third said they would expect a drop in time spent teaching RE. And 60% of music and art departments polled said their schools plan to reduce opportunities to study those subjects.

Then there's the name: the EBacc is in no way comparable to the similarly named International Baccalaureate (IB).

Michael Gove Michael Gove's EBacc is the 'beginning of a good idea' says MG Harris

Even the International Baccalaureate Middle Years programme - respected around the world as a balanced curriculum - encompasses languages, mathematics, sciences, humanities as well as the study of the arts, physical education and technology.

There's also a community service aspect to the IB. The EBacc is thinner and weaker than IB. So why give it such a similar name?

The EBacc in the Government's White Paper on Education has been thought up in haste and is being retrospectively applied - to the great annoyance of head teachers across England.

It is the beginning of a good idea - but it is not yet good enough.

* MG Harris will debate her ideas on the Daily Politics on BBC Two around 1240 BST on Wednesday with MPs Andy Burnham and Chris Grayling after he video is shown on air.

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