Tom Bennett

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Everybody be cool. Why the EBC is nothing to be scared of.

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‘We feel the Ebc is both a good and a bad thing.’

I have noticed that whenever things change, my pupils often resent it: a new teacher; a different room; a new pupil in the class. Then people get used to it and everyone calms down until things change again, and then we all get upset and pine for the good old days. It’s like when they change the layout of Facebook.

In a different league, now we have EBCs. Man, people are lining up like Swap Shop presenters in mufti at the ticket counter of Heathrow to have a pop. It’s the most fashionable piñata in town. Anything that unites the NUT, Ofqual, Graham Stuart, Michael Rosen and Tory backbench unspectaculars has to be something special. But behind the light of the unhappiness, is there any heat? I’m not so sure there’s anything to fret over.
1. Having one exam board might destabilise the industry. Frankly, I’m not too bothered that Ofqual worries about this, because I’m left wondering why examining students needs to be an industry, rather than an enterprise for the common good.This is one of those areas where you don’t want competition, where you don’t want a Darwinian race of survival based on self promotion. The gory sight of exam boards pimping out their syllabuses for the love of money should have turned your stomach by now on this matter. Oddly enough, I hear many left wing commentators worrying about this absence of competition.
2. Some have complained that the EBC will kill creativity. This seems an odd proposition, given that English, one of the core subjects, is an incredibly creative, critical, analytical subject, and that creativity can be learned through any subject. Are we saying that maths can’t be creative? Plus, when schools actually stop teaching art and PE and Drama, instead having timetables full of nothing EBC subjects, I’ll believe the claim that schools will drop them. People are naturally creative. You can hardly stop people being creative. It’s in everything, everywhere.
Oh, and forgive me for not really giving a monkeys what Stella McCartney or David Puttnam have to say about education.People often complain about non-educators sticking their oar in, but become suspiciously supportive of it when it’s a sleb with whom they share an opinion. 

Is this what you want? IS IT?
3. This is a return to the 1950s. Give. Me Strength. For a start this isn’t an argument, and I’m still perplexed as to what people actually mean when they say this. But then it isn’t an argument; it’s a sound bite, and people should be ashamed of making it.  Empty of content, it sounds like it might have something plausible underneath it, but it doesn’t. It’s rhetoric, sophistry.There is a good deal in education since the 60s that needs a long walk from a short plank: Brain Gym; Thinking Hats and so on. Because education isn’t a science, improvements are neither incrementally guaranteed not linear. These reforms aren’t a return to the 50s, and even if they were, I have no problem with men wearing hats again, or films by Alfred Hitchcock. Modernity isn’t the womb of quality, nor is innovation a guarantee of improvement. See: onesies for details.
4. Others have problems with linear exams, with fewer options of retakes. I’ve always seen modules and resits as the snooze alarms of assessment. ‘Five more minutes’ the students say. ‘Then I’ll properly start revising.’ If everyone gets the same opportunity, then everyone has the same chance at the outcome. Allowing successive bites of the cherry simply skews the benefit towards other groups, for example ‘People who don’t fancy coming into their lessons on Monday morning.’
But the best argument of all is to look at the state of GCSEs. They are, as they stand the walking wounded. 30 years of grade inflation. Years of lunatic BTEC equivalence. Successive, incremental, Darwinian dilution of content in favour of vapid, vague skills that rely on content to exist but ironically are starved of it. Reform or replace, the outcome is the same. The system needs to change. The venom directed at certificate reform is what we could expect of any change in the system. 
You wait. If it gets a chance to bed in, give it fifteen years and people will be out on the streets with placards campaigning for its preservation if anyone dares to meddle with it.The EBC might be fantastic. It might be the Ragnarok of civilisation. But the arguments levelled against it don’t convince.
Plus ça change.  Everybody, be cool.

13 Comments

  1. Dr Dav says:

    One concern you haven't addressed is the lack of tiering. It would be very difficult to produce an exam which is both harder, and yet allows 80% of the population to take it and be graded using it.

  2. Kris says:

    I'm not sure myself yet how a maths exam will look without tiering; how we'll fit everything G-A* into a neat little 105 minute package. But, that's not to say I think it's a bad idea, and it's certainly not to say it can't be done, and therefore we shouldn't try!

    Currently, I'm already sick of seeing kids confined to a 'C grade at best', and it's disruptive when they *necessarily* have to move groups, because their current group is doing the Foundation paper, and now they've finally got their school-coveted C in one of the many exam sittings throughout the year.

    If we can do it, bring on a single paper, and a single exam.

  3. Anonymous says:

    1. This, the latest in the perpetual, ideological, evidence-free, quasi- religious interfering 'reforms' is, this time round, ruled by selective application of claimed 'individual choice' and competition dogma. So, on its own terms, reducing to one exam board is inconsistent. The 'freedom', 'choice' ideology works, except where it doesn't.

    Why is the heavily weighted pseudo-Darwinian struggle good for Academies vs LAs and bad for exam boards? Either we have a Battle Royale or we don't. Picking and choosing where to apply your ideology should, if you're being intellectually honest about, it force you to admit that may be your ideology is not so ideol, ok, ideal.

    “This is one of those areas where you don't want competition.” Does that go for the whole of education (or even society) or just this teeny part of it?

    2. “You can hardly stop people being creative. It's in everything, everywhere.”

    Jaw hits floor. Bump. Ouch.

    How much creativity does teaching to the test bc your job, career, mortgage, home, life depend on it, engender? TBH, like the existence of God, or fairies, if this assertion is going to be made there seems little point disputing it. Either you’ve seen teachers, departments, schools, and systems furiously stamping out creativity wherever they see it, or you haven’t. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t survive. Like the hopes of freedom in the wrongfully convicted.

    3. “This is a return to the 1950s. Give. Me Strength. For a start this isn't an argument, and I'm still perplexed as to what people actually mean when they say this.”

    So, “I don't know what they're saying, but I know it's wrong.”

    Another Ken (Baker) puts flesh on the bones so you can pick at the meat http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/goves-exam-reforms-are-throwback-1950s-says-former-tory-education-secretary

    Have a go. Baker v Gove. “If it wasn't so serious it'd be funny.”

    4. “If everyone gets the same opportunity, then everyone has the same chance at the outcome.”

    How do you get past the Equal Opps question in interviews? If everyone sits modular exams then people who benefit from modular exams benefit. If everyone sits single exams then…you get the picture, and it’s not a picture of equality.

    Again: “We need choice,” apart from when we don't.
    And for the final straw man: “EBC is bad” doesn't equate to “GCSEs are good.” If we've got reforming zeal, why not reform things for the better rather than for the worser?

  4. smcoles says:

    The arguments against the EBC don't convince you ? Then there are two you in the country. The other one being Head Prefect Mr Gove. You are not presenting an argument FOR the EBC either. Exams do need reform but the DFE should consult and then act on consultation instead of it's current approach which is pretence of being a benevolent dictatorship. The 5,000 responses to the EBC consultation require a public audience, it may well be that you remain in the minority. Creativity can be in every subject but teaching to the test often denies students creative approaches. The Arts are equally valuable within the school curriculum in their own right and that entitlement is being taken away in some schools who are minimising option choices to push students into EBC subjects. There are also schools who will protect children's right to a broad and balanced curriculum. But, why should we have an untried and unpopular qualification thrust upon us?

  5. Anonymous says:

    You also fail to highlight the sheer lack of provision for the Arts, subjects which are far and away more creative than a straight English subject will ever be.

    Yay for drones, which is clearly what you have become and will be happy to churn out.

  6. N Allen says:

    The reality is that non EBC subjects will be pushed to the side and i know from first hand experience that this is happening already. It is a cynical perspective that school leaders play the league table game, but it is reality for many schools, teachers and most unfortunately students. Choices and subjects are defined by what how they effect how a school is perceived through its league table position. So much rides on this that few headteachers will risk their position (and ultimately their own jobs) by allowing students to choose subjects which are 'meaningless' in this way.
    In the ideal world, yes English is a creative subject, but creative writing is increasingly being sidelined. Art & Design and related subjects are not just valuable as a creative outlet, something 'hands-on' and 'easy' to provide relaxation for busy students, but are vigorous and intellectually challenging fields that are responsible for much that is valued in society. Students deserve to be able to see these subject areas on equal footing with other EBC subjects because they are as important to a balanced view of the world, and understanding and skills in these areas represent intelligence in the same way that understanding of maths and science do.
    But ultimately, the question is about how one person can have so much power to change so much in so short a period of time, and how he can possibly justify ignoring the knowledge and experience of so many people who know more than he does about education. It is a worrying state of affairs.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Disappointing to read a blog which is makes so many assertions but does not draw upon the Government's own evidence and surveys. Arts subjects have been dropped in England, this is fact, 17 per cent of schools have withdrawn art and design at key stage 4. This is no 'claim'.

  8. AWilliamz says:

    Why are those kids confined to a C at best. Can they not remain in the same group and attempt a higher paper, plenty of overlap of questions. If they are substantially better than that, then are there issues with setting in the first place?Otherwise is it the issue that it is better to allow themselves to believe they can pass when none of their attainment or understanding suggests it is possible? Unless the assessment can differentiate by task we will have a problem. Maths is an obvious area where this would be difficult. One solution is to use open ended questions, but these become more challenging to mark. I think Gove's plan may be that you only 'enter them when ready' how that works? No idea. My guess is there will be a fudge and some kind of overlapping papers will be used, or even better you could have a 'prequalifiying' test which you have to pass before the real thing. Think driving test, needing the theory test first!

  9. AWilliamz says:

    What I find myself scratching my head about the competition dogma in education, is what are we competing for (what is the prize?) and then the even more taxing is what are we actually competing over? Both of these never make sense to me in the context of educational bodies. I think M Sandel has a lot to say about this which is quite interesting. Market forces are great for some things but are they really what we want them to decide things like education. Especially when to answer my original question all manner of bizarre and misleading structures are created to provide the answer.

  10. Anonymous says:

    My issue with having one exam board isn't one of a lack of competition, it's to do with logistics. One exam sat by all students in the country is going to be a much larger workload than our exam boards currently handle; even if they are examining fewer subjects it will mean enormous change for them and this will undoubtedly take time to bed in. The impact of a mishap – a leaked paper, for example – will thus be much greater. In the meantime, those first clutches of students will be disadvantaged.

    Moreover, I don't think it will solve the problem. Edexcel is slowly morphing into Pearson and Pearson are a multinational profit-making publishing business. They are the largest and richest of the boards. To me and my leftie sensibilities, this does not scream “We have the best interests of the pupils at heart”. Additionally, they will still be subject to the same media pressure to maintain a not-too-considerable improvement year on year while schools are faced with the same pressure to achieve the exact opposite.

    I think that a lot of the issues could be solved by (a) making the exam boards not-for-profit again and (b) legally limiting the number of resits allowed. Modular works well, especially for boys (I hear) and especially post-16, but the system is devalued by the endless resits that it enables.

  11. Mary says:

    What is a 'straight English subject'?

  12. Igloobabe says:

    ''Plus, when schools actually stop teaching art and PE and Drama, instead having timetables full of nothing EBC subjects, I'll believe the claim that schools will drop them. ''

    I can regretfully inform you that my daughter's school, in their haste to curry favour with the government, have already forced the EBC on their current year 10s. This has had the direct result of both Drama and Music being removed from the curriculum, because after being forced to take RE as well (it's a Cof E school), each child was only allowed ONE free choice and not enough children chose Drama or Music. A mish mash or the two ' Performing Arts GCSE has been brought in, but this is proving unsatisfactory to both pure drama and pure music students. Why should a keen violinist with a potential career in the music industry have any interest or ability in acting or dance? Why should a budding dancer be a proficient musician? Why should a singer songwriter be forced to study dance?

    This is PROOF that the EBC is killing creativity in schools, unless Townsend C of E in ST Albans is the only school in England to have done this! Would love to know if any other parents are in this situation.

  13. Igloobabe says:

    Absolutely!
    Last year the year 9s at my daughter's C of E school were told that the EBC would be coming in for ALL schools and that they were going to start early – ie this year. They were given option forms to complete which effectively allowed each child only ONE choice of subjects after the mandatory EBC subjects and RE.
    The result of this was that Music and Drama were both removed from the curriculum! Both these are subjects my daughter wished to study for a career in the music/theatre industry. A watered down version of these subjects, Performing Arts GCSE has been introduced as a compromise, but it is made up of a group of students who actually wish to only study music, or only study drama!
    I fought this decision from last March, writing to the Head of year, Headteacher, Governors, and my MP but to no avail.

    So believe it, it's happening, and the wretched EBC is now about to be shelved anyway, so where does that leave my daughter?

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