August 2011
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E Baccalaureate and history: gift horse or Trojan horse?

As a history teacher you might well ask what is not to like about the EBacc. After all, it means more students studying history at GCSE . Apparently, the move should widen access to history in the spirit of OFSTED’s recent report entitled History For All. It should mean headteachers providing a stronger foundation at Key Stage 3 if success is to be achieved in GCSE. With Gove’s ruling on a ‘two-year GCSE with a terminal examination’, we should see more 3-year , as opposed to 2-year,Key Stage 3 history curricula, as was always intended. So far so good. More history lessons, more teaching time, more history teachers? Well, not necessarily. Whilst the TES has reported a dwindling number of adverts for new jobs in Music and Technology, are we absolutely sure that some of the non-specialist teachers will not be redeployed to teach KS3 history, without much re-training?  OFSTED’s recent report History for All claimed that one of the important reasons why history teaching was strong was the fact that the teachers were so well-qualified . How long with this remain?

Another key concern is in fact already happening. Students are actually jumping horses during courses, giving up their chosen subject to take on one on the EBacc list. Not only does this smack of putting the school’s interests before the students’, it also makes you wonder what sort of experience some of these later-arriving students will have. I’ve already seen schools where history GCSE is being taught in twilight catch-up classes, just for the E-Bacc. I really don’t understand why headteachers are willing to surrender control over the curriculum in this way. After all, E-Bacc is only one performance measure and one that has little relevance for one in three students.

But of course the greatest reservation regarding E-Bacc is reserved for the fraudulent claim that it will open an opportunity to study history for all; that it is all about improving choice and access.Sounds great, but if that was its real intention, why is the focus on A*-C only. During a week in which Gove has downgraded multiple GCSE ‘soft-subject’ vocational qualifications, is it assumed that headteachers will now steer them to history? I don’t think so. Why are these students more likely to get a ‘good GCSE pass’ (how I hate that phrase) in history now ,when they haven’t necessarily chosen it, than they were before when they chose it from a long list of options. It simply doesn’t make sense. Headteachers may well want a higher proportion of students  to study history now, but only those likely to achieve an A*-C grade, I fear. Anything below that will not appear in the E-Bacc League tables.

A further unintended consequence of the E-Bacc might be taking the lid off the Pandora’s box of subject residuals. It won’t be long before headteachers are thumping the table demanding to know why all subject residuals aren’t equal. Students studying art and drama, with a strong positive residual , may now find themselves encouraged into history where the residual has been stubbornly negative for 15 years.

So, is this a sincere attempt by Gove to get more students to study history? If it was why, not go the whole hog and make it compulsory for all. How can studying geography be an equivalent experience when Gove’s view of history is so content-driven? So history for all? Well not if you take geography instead Only when he  recognizes achievement in the grades below C, as being really worthwhile can really talk about History For All.

Regrettably, one is left wondering whether the motives for this are political not educational. At the time of the next election Gove will look back at how the E-Bacc results have improved on his watch and use them as a by-word for achievement. Its so cynical, so hypocritical, and potentially more damaging to history’s cause than we first predicted.

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