Comment: Labour wants a true baccalaureate approach in education

Stephen Twigg MP, Shadow Education Secretary

Labour has today called a debate in Parliament on the Government’s shambolic plan for changes to exams at 16. We do need to reform our education system so that it equips young people with the skills, knowledge and resilience that they need to play their part in the economy and society of the future.

Whilst we have made progress in improving education, as reported by Pearson in November, there is much to do as we strive to compete with the highest performing jurisdictions. Our future economic competitiveness relies on this.

But Michael Gove’s planned EBacc Certificates risk undermining our economic strengths as a nation – innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. His narrow and backward looking plans have united a broad coalition of opposition.

Former Conservative Education Secretary Lord Baker has said the plans are a ‘huge mistake’. Following on from the GCSE English fiasco, Michael Gove has once again succeeded in uniting the unlikely bedfellows of the private schools and the teaching unions. Louise Robinson, a leading private school headteacher said the Education Secretary was hankering after “a bygone era”. Warnings have also been sounded by business leaders like the CBI which said the plans risk leaving young people in a:

“holding pattern…when they should be striving for a high standard at 18.”

Sir Jonathan Ive, a leading voice in Britain’s creative industries and the design guru behind the iPod has said the Government’s plan:

‘“will fail to provide students with the skills that UK employers need and its impact on the UK’s economy will be catastrophic.”

The Education Secretary’s plans for changes to assessment and qualifications fall short because they are narrow, out-of-date and risk taking us back to a two tier O-Level and CSE style system.

He is limiting the curriculum in schools. We are seeing a decline in creative subjects such as art, design, drama and music and no value placed on practical subjects like engineering, computing and construction, all of which are crucial for Britain’s future economic competitiveness.

In addition, we have seen from Michael Gove a Grade A lesson in bad policy making. He has drawn up on the back of envelope plans for changing the exam system, without having decided on what we need from the curriculum. In putting the cart before the horse, he has shown again that he has no interest in building consensus on lasting reforms in education that are in this country’s best interests. It’s no wonder even his own exams chief, the head of Ofqual warned that “the classroom experience is likely to be more limited…the system would lose a large amount of subject expertise”, which risks undermining A Levels.

His plans for a two-tier exam system are guilty of the “upstairs downstairs” culture that the former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, says pervades Michael Gove’s department. The Education Secretary says that those who don’t get one of his new English Baccalaureate Certificates will instead leave school with a ‘Statement of Achievement’. What value will employers or universities place on these statements? Limiting the chance to take EBCs will place a cap on aspiration for young people in this country. Michael Gove wants to write off a generation of teenagers.

This plan is both socially regressive and will take our education system backwards.

In contrast, Labour has set out a clear plan for reforming secondary education, establishing a clear vocational route that will have the trust of pupils, parents, schools and businesses alike. We want to see a new gold standard vocational qualification at 18 – a Tech Bacc, with businesses accrediting high quality vocational courses. We are the only party which would ensure that all young people continue to study Maths and English to 18 and get a rigorous programme of work experience to ensure they are ready to play their part in the world of work.

Only a true baccalaureate approach – one that promotes breadth and depth of learning across the curriculum – will strengthen Britain’s educational and economic standing in the world.

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