Michael Gove has announced that controversial plans to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate will be abandoned, in an embarrassing climbdown following pressure from business groups, the creative industries and education professionals.
In a statement to the commons this morning, Gove introduced his ideas for a new curriculum, mentioning music in one sentence: ‘In music, a balance between performance and appreciation’.
The EBacc measure is currently published in parallel with league tables, but the secretary of state had planned to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate from 2015 in a narrow band of subjects including English, maths and sciences ‒ with an extension later to history, geography and languages.
In English literature, Gove outlined an increased emphasis on ‘the literary canon’ and in foreign languages more emphasis on correct grammar and translation ‒ a traditional emphasis which some commentators have described as reactionary.
‘Surely their future is too important to be subject to this party political gameplaying,’ said Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary. ‘We have to focus on standards and move beyond this shambles,’ he said, calling for cross-party consensus on any future changes and for these to be based on evidence rather than Gove ‘getting the fag packet out’ again.
The EBacc’s exclusion of arts subjects ‒ including music ‒ had drawn criticism from a wide range of sources: from the Confederation of British Industry, which said it would leave British teenagers ‘in a holding pattern, when they should be striving for a high standard at 18’, to the Incorporated Society of Musicians, which organised the ‘Bacc For the Future’ campaign to include arts subjects in any future arrangements.
Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber said of the EBacc plans: ‘The absence of creative subjects like music from the EBacc makes no sense at all. Creativity is vital to every child and it is also essential to our economy. The government must now listen to the overwhelming support for creative subjects and for the creative industries and create a sixth pillar for creative subjects.’
Nevertheless, the ideological force of his reforms may not be much curbed
Another of Gove’s plans ‒ to end competition between exam boards in core academic qualifications ‒ was also ‘a bridge too far’, he said, reportedly because advisers believed such an arrangement would be in breach of EU regulations.
GCSEs will now be reformed in a similar fashion to Gove’s A-level plans, with courses assessed ‘in a linear fashion’ by examinations which will test extended writing and problem solving. Internal assessments will be kept to a minimum. ‘Importantly they will be universal qualifications,’ said Gove.
Gove’s abandoned plans for an EBacc were replaced by a direction to exams boards regulator Ofqual to ensure new GCSEs in the subjects which the Ebacc was to include ‒ English, Maths, the sciences, History and Geography (Gove did not mention foreign languages). Nevertheless, the ideological force of his reforms may not be much curbed as control of the curriculum itself remains in Gove’s purview at the Department for Education.
Sources at the Bacc for the Future campaign told CM that they would now be looking at the new curriculum and monitoring the progress of EBacc subject league tables at A-level.
Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the ISM and coordinator of the Bacc for the Future campaign, welcomed the announcement as ‘good news for children and good news for education’.
‘We must learn from the last six months of consultation and ensure we work together to create high quality and rigorous GCSEs and A-levels with appropriate assessment fit for the 21st century. Creative subjects such as art, music and design and technology need to stay at the heart of education so that we can develop talented youngsters to feed our creative industries and generate growth.
‘The voices of the creative industries and education sectors have been listened to, and we welcome this. We will now be looking closely at the new proposed National Curriculum for music and work with the government to ensure that we have a National Curriculum, GCSEs and A-levels fit for the future.’
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