By VICTORIA LEGGETT Education correspondent
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Headteachers are refusing to force their students to take the limited range of subjects deemed most important by the government – despite plans to introduce a new qualification based around them.
The English Baccalaureate Certificate will be taught from 2015 in place of GCSEs and will require students to take English, maths, science, a modern foreign language and either history or geography.
But the secondary school league tables published today show Norfolk headteachers have yet to embrace those restrictions.
Across the county, just 13.4pc of students met the requirements for the English Baccalaureate performance measure which most closely reflects the new qualification – with just 20.7pc being entered into the relevant subjects in the first place.
Last night headteachers said they were not willing to force students to study courses which may not be suitable for them as individuals.
Gerry Batty, headteacher at Hellesdon High School in Norwich, said the options available to his pupils remained the same. “I’m not sure what this is trying to achieve,” he said. “I don’t think it address the needs of many pupils at all.
“I know the curriculum that best suits the needs of the students that come here. I think we will have an increasing number of kids doing the EBacc – maybe 50pc of a year group might think that could be right for them – but it’s just another path for students to choose. It’s no greater than any other.”
Much of the concern surrounding the EBacc subjects focuses on the limited choices available to students when it comes to humanities subjects and the absence of any creative courses like art or music.
Duncan Spalding, headteacher at Aylsham High School, said he feared the limited choice of subjects in the EBacc could impact on students’ enjoyment. He said: “I am concerned by the lack of emphasis on creative and practical subjects and the arts. For many students these are what make them love learning and, therefore, thrive at school.”
Peter Whear, headteacher at Old Buckenham High School, near Attleborough, said like many education leaders he agreed that identifying a selection of “core” subjects made “an awful lot of sense”.
But the headteacher said he had real concerns about “the threat to the arts” adding: “It’s not right to try to force all students down the same route.”
Nationally, enthusiasm for the EBacc also remained low with just 23.1pc of students being entered into all the subjects and just 16.2pc of students achieving at least a C grade in each.
At Norwich School, 88pc of its pupils met the criteria. But headmaster Stefan Griffiths said he did not pay any attention to the measure. He said: “Our view is that we have a relatively narrow traditional curriculum involving rigorous academic subjects. We value all of them. I couldn’t tell you what our EBacc scores are. That’s not how we measure them.”
But Tim Roderick, headteacher at Sheringham High School, said he expected the number of students achieving the EBacc to increase significantly over the next couple of years. Governors at the north Norfolk school have chosen to alter their curriculum to require students to take English, maths, science, a language and a humanity.
Last summer just 12pc of pupils achieved the EBacc, with 14pc eligible for it. But Mr Roderick said that was because the changes were still making their way through, with far more students set to be eligible in future year groups.
He added: “We feel it’s not too constraining and consider it to be giving a broad balanced education to students – although for some students it’s not suitable.”
All headteachers contacted by the EDP yesterday said they were explaining to their students what the EBacc subjects were and stressed that, for those students hoping to go on to study at the top universities, they would be a sensible route.
Russell Group universities, including Cambridge, Oxford and Nottingham, are expected to look for those core subjects when it comes to offering learners places to study with them.
But Rachel de Souza, headteacher at Ormiston Victory Academy, who expects many more of her pupils to be taking the EBacc subjects in future years, said schools did not want to “put square pegs in round holes” and would only recommend the EBacc route for those who were suited to it.
A department for education spokesman said the introduction of “rigorous, robust and relevant exams” would raise standards and give all pupils the chance to reach their full potential. They said other subjects were still considered valuable and no school would be prevented from offering qualifications in the arts.
To see this year’s league tables for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, see today’s EDP