Curriculum Misgivings For Young People

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Do we anticipate all pupils to meet an English Baccalaureate curriculum?

Last week, the Department for Education published a “list of mainstream state-funded schools and their 2018 English Baccalaureate (EBacc) language entry.”

We have a national curriculum to specify, not only consistency across our schools but to ensure an education for every pupil regardless of background. What still confuses me, is the apparent freedom to veer away from the national curriculum by becoming an academy or free school, but still be EBacc compliant.

Once upon a Secretary of State …

Nicky Morgan, remember her?  In November 2015, she announced the government’s plans to tackle failure, raise standards and improve the quality of teaching. Apparently, the English Baccalaureate was the silver bullet secondary schools needed. Earlier this month, Ofsted launched their consultation before its inspection framework becomes statutory in September 2019. Even if it is as radical as they promise, and does conduct itself differently, if thousands complain about one thing that needs to be changed in the consultation, government policy can do little to change pre-destined plans.

The evidence is clear what impact EBacc design has on a timetable within the school for all pupils. Many curriculum deputy headteachers will marvel at ‘how well they have engineered a curriculum’ to suit particular pathways, yet the consequences on individual pupils are sometimes the last thing to be considered. Talk to any key stage 4 pupils about what they are studying GCSE level, and one by one in return, they will repeat a list of feedback subjects followed by one option. Over the past 18 months, I have been sampling pupil views, asking every 15 and 16-year-old I meet what they are studying. Individuality at curriculum level has now become a sad state of affairs.

Increasing accountability

Despite 87 per cent of school leaders opposing the English Baccalaureate, it is still being used by the government to measure school performance – the current dialogue is whether this is having a profound effect on the number of children studying the arts. The government says it isn’t, creative organisations say that it is. Someone has to be wrong …

In 2016 and 2017, I spent the large part of my social media work tweeting every day, asking for the government to publish its EBacc consultation document. It was one of the longest consultations the Department for Education waited to publish, exceeding 500 days. What an embarrassment to analyse just 2,755 responses.


My best friend (who is Jewish and married to a front-bencher Conservative MP) frequently uses the word ‘davka‘ to describe something ironic. Over the years I have found myself using the same term in conversations. Davka can also imply a paradox, something unexpected, whether for the good or the bad. In this case, Ofsted’s draft framework is full of ‘davka contradictions’. Here’s one thought: If planning needs to match learning but shouldn’t be asked for, how does an inspector believe the can assess curriculum reliably – without seeing any plans?

Here’s another. Ofsted promise from September 2019 they will not have a preferred curriculum. Last week, a well-respected headteacher on social media  told me that they presented at an Ofsted curriculum conference last term, and as they stepped down off the stage, an Ofsted senior leader whispered into their ear: “We have no preferred curriculum, but if you’re not offering the EBacc, you’re screwed!”

How can a school offer a five-year curriculum and expect anyone with some form of intelligence or authority, believe that they can inspect a school and evaluate the quality of its curriculum in two days? This notion baffles my intelligence. Davka! I wouldn’t attempt to do something at work that I didn’t believe in. Maybe you the reader believe that it is possible?

Naming and Shaming

Maybe I am naïve – perhaps this is a calculated plan to disenfranchise power at a local government level in order to save costs? After the separation from the national curriculum and local authority control, the Department for Education ranks schools in their annual league tables to name and shame them all – apparently, this is what parents want – and then the DfE only visit their favourites.

I’ve yet to hear from one parent who is not a teacher or a journalist, who can understand this data and tell me what value it serves. Please get in touch if that’s you …

The Department for Education is now ranking schools in an EBacc compliance table – 75% of pupils to study EBacc subjects at GCSE by 2022; 90% by 2025. I’ve pulled out the EBacc data for all secondary state schools in England.

  1. Only 221 schools from 3,084 secondary schools currently meet the Department for Education’s EBacc target of 90 per cent; a goal set for 2025.
  2. At the time of publication, 517 schools currently meet the 75 per cent threshold required by 2020.

Download a copy here and understand where your school currently resides.

For some schools, the EBacc will limit the possible options of our young people and the DfE must support routes to all post-18 options, not just those in the realms of EBacc subjects. Political curriculum needs a government ‘appointed curriculum police’ to make sure it happens – this is what Ofsted are now moving towards to support its long-term viability.

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