At the start of the year, Michael Gove was the guest on a Radio 5 Live phone-in, when a call came in from a parent wanting to take Mr Gove to task on what he called his “laughable” English Baccalaureate (EBac).
As Mr Gove tried to defend both himself and the EBac - the accolade awarded to pupils achieving at least a grade C in GCSEs or IGCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, a foreign language and geography or history - this parent remained incredulous. “It doesn’t reflect our children’s experience of life. You’re creating an artificial hierarchy,” he said.
Devalued subjects, reduced job prospects
Across the country, teachers of non-EBac subjects were no doubt cheering this parent who had Mr Gove scrambling for a comeback. It was a small moment of celebration, however, for these teachers, who are now increasingly concerned that the EBac will not only devalue their subject, but also significantly reduce their future job prospects.
Associations representing teachers of music, art and design & technology - the subjects that have provisionally been left out of the new qualification - are concerned that schools are already making dramatic changes to ensure that more pupils reach the EBac benchmark, meaning less time and resources allocated to non-EBac subjects.
First in the firing line
With less time devoted to their subject, and potentially fewer pupils and funding, there are fears about job losses in non-EBac subjects. A third of calls to the 24-hour helpline in March run by heads’ union the ASCL were related to redundancies in general, with some headteachers planning to make a fifth of their staff redundant. The ASCL has warned that EBac staff could be first in the firing line.
At Jane Kirby’s* school, a large specialist technology college, the D&T teachers are worried about their jobs. Because their specialist funding has been dropped, the headteacher has completely revamped the curriculum, with EBac subjects prioritised.
“For the first time, D&T has come out of the core subjects and all our students have to follow an EBac curriculum,” says Ms Kirby, head of D&T faculty. “We’re staffed to deliver D&T as a core subject, and if we’re downsizing that will impact on our staffing levels. There are so many uncertainties, but I think it’s only a matter of time before people get made redundant.”
Ms Kirby may have reason to be concerned. Although it was only introduced in November, the EBac has already contributed to a fall in recruitment for non-EBac subjects. There was a 48 per cent drop in adverts for D&T teachers between February 2010 and 2011, and a 54 per cent fall in adverts for ICT teachers. For music, drama and religion, there was a 36 per cent drop, and the number of adverts for art teachers fell by 33 per cent. During the same period, adverts for modern foreign languages teachers, one of the five core EBac subjects, fell by only one per cent.
A new hierarchy
The idea of the EBac is to encourage schools to focus on more traditionally academic subjects. Those subjects left out of the EBac are often by their nature more creative and practical. And rating schools according to the results of the EBac subjects will automatically create a hierarchy with non-EBac subjects at the bottom of the heap, says James Garnett, vice-chair of the National Association of Music Educators.
Uncertainty for PGCE places
Despite having only three PGCE places, Bath Spa University has pledged to keep its course open, partly in the hope that the situation will change. “There is a huge uncertainty about everything connected to education - universities are still watching this space,” says Denise Cush, professor of religion and education at the university.
Some of Professor Cush’s students were keen to go into teaching after graduation. “Right up until March they thought they had a place for PGCE, but many found out that they didn’t,” she says. “Teaching is one of the most popular careers for theology and religious studies graduates.”
The fight for recognition
Many of the teachers campaigning against the EBac feel the battle is against more than a new assessment measure. It is a matter of fighting for recognition of their subject’s worth and the value it gives to the children who study it. But it is also a declaration to schools, society and the Government that the jobs and expertise of those who teach non-EBac subjects are worth saving.
* Names have been changed
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