Norfolk heads rage at government’s ‘flawed’ new qualification

Thousand of young people could be put off learning because the government's new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) will force them to study subjects that they are not suited to, Norfolk headteachers claim.

The headteachers rounded on education secretary Michael Gove as the EDP learnt that just 15.5pc - fewer than one in six - of this year's GCSE students in the county would have achieved the new qualification.

The EBacc, which is set to be included in next month's GCSE performance tables, will be gained by students who get at least a C grade in English, maths, double science, a humanity (geography or history) and a foreign language.

It is the government's attempt to encourage more young people to take traditional subjects, and to squeeze out subjects that are considered to carry less weight.

But the fact that it will be in the league tables without prior warning, and the narrow range of qualifying subjects, has triggered anger in Norfolk.

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There is particular concern that subjects including law, music, religious studies and philosophy have at the moment been left out of the list of qualifying humanities subjects. Just history and geography make the cut.

Michael Rose, head of Wayland High at Watton, said: 'This is an indicator we had no idea was coming up until a few weeks ago and to include it in performance tables is simply a way of undermining how schools are currently improving.

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'Young people learn in many ways and a significant number will find that if they are forced to complete this then they will struggle to succeed. Motivation and aspiration will fall. Schools will feel less successful and under pressure to conform because of league tables giving an unbalanced view.'

Alistair Ogle, headteacher at Alderman Peel High in Wells, said: 'Using the English Baccalaureate as a performance indicator is a retrograde step in providing a personalised curriculum for students.

'It will force schools to making students study subjects where they may not have a particular strength or interest in or be relevant to the type of employment or further training they are interested in.'

Melvyn Roffe, principal of Wymondham College, said: 'From one point of view it is welcome - it does mean that there is a yardstick to try to get some detail on what actually constitutes the GCSE success rates in performance tables.

'But the definition of humanities, in particular, is woefully rigid. No RE, for example, let alone business studies, sociology or any of the other good things students do. And if you don't happen to be a humanities person (or you are an able linguist and do three languages instead) does that make you any the less worthy?'

He added: 'This is collection of subjects with a rationale which stems from the secretary of state's personal views and educational experience.'

Ron Munson, headteacher at Taverham High, said his school would not give the EBacc the 'time of day', adding: 'I won't have performance of this school judged on criteria not set.'

Jeremy Nicholls, headteacher at Litcham High, said the subject composition had 'merit', but added: 'Let us not neglect or give lower status to the creative and artistic subjects in which some students excel and many enjoy.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services at Norfolk County Council, said the 15.5pc Norfolk average for EBacc achievement in this year's GCSEs was in line with the national average.

She said: 'The publication of these statistics in January comes a year ahead of the EBacc's implementation, and a year before schools have been able to make any changes to address this new measure. GCSEs are usually two year courses, so it will be some time before a significant adjustment of the curriculum for 15 and 16 year olds is made.'

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