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Education: English Baccalaureate Certificate

Volume 742: debated on Monday 14 January 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the potential benefits to pupils of all ranges of abilities of the English Baccalaureate Certificate; and how they will measure those benefits.

My Lords, the Government are committed to providing pupils with new qualifications which match the best in the world, providing the strongest possible basis for further and higher education and for employment. These will be universal qualifications sat by all those who currently sit GCSEs. The introduction of these new qualifications, in tandem with other reforms, will benefit all pupils. This will be evidenced by our performance in international tests and in the wider economic benefits that will arise from setting expectations which match those of our highest-performing competitors.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can she assure me that there will be provision within the English baccalaureate certificate for those young people who are less academically motivated but who have very strong talents in the technical and vocational sphere?

I can indeed assure my noble friend of that. Nothing on the academic side should detract from the value we place on vocational education. In response to the Wolf review of vocational education, the Government have accepted the recommendations made, which will ensure that pupils whose talents and motivations are more on the vocational and practical side can be catered for within the school curriculum.

My Lords, is it not the case that, over the years, Labour and Conservative Governments have chosen to congratulate themselves on the much higher proportion of passes at various kinds of examinations? Is it not the case, as has been recognised on both sides, that this has been detrimental to both the most talented and the least talented? Therefore, should we not be welcoming something like the EBacc if it will help us to restore our international reputation and build up our schools to something approaching the best of northern Europe?

The noble Lord has great expertise in these areas. Yes, it appears to be a fact that there has been some form of grade inflation within examinations. We are intent on making sure that the qualifications which our young people acquire through school fit them properly for further and higher education or employment. One factor worth mentioning about the EBacc is that it is encouraging social mobility. The proportion of children on free school meals in schools who are now attaining the basis standards in English and maths is far higher than it was under the previous regime.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness sure that the English baccalaureate is inclusive enough with regard to design, which is one of our great, national traditional strengths?

Design is of key importance but the English baccalaureate is not compulsory. It is quite possible for schools to offer other provision and design will feature strongly in the alternative provision that schools can offer.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the UK music industry contributes nearly £4 billion to the UK economy. Sadly, since the introduction of the EBacc in 2010, we have seen the number of people studying and teaching music declining. How can we reverse that decline? Does the Minister think that having an arts pillar as part of the EBacc may be the solution?

My noble friend again speaks with the expertise of a head teacher. The Government certainly recognise the valuable contribution that music makes, not just to the economy but to the quality of life as well. We have published the national plan for music, which should enable all children to learn a musical instrument, to make music with others in an orchestra or band, to learn to sing and generally to have the opportunity to progress. We certainly hope that that will encourage more young people and give them the opportunity to pursue music.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify what proposals are being considered for the accreditation of subjects that are not to be included in the English baccalaureate? Will it be through a continuation of GCSEs or some other form? What assessment is being made of the impact of this uncertainty on the teaching of these subjects to those pupils who may opt to study them?

The right reverend Prelate makes a valid point. At the moment, GCSEs will be superseded by English baccalaureate certificates. They, in turn, will make up an English baccalaureate if pupils have attained the right standard in the five main subject areas. There should, we hope, be a time of discussion as to the transition between the exam systems. We hope that this will not be too big a hurdle for teachers and pupils to accommodate because it is important that we do not lose that flow of continuity for teaching and learning.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s intentions with regard to strengthening and increasing the credibility of examinations, but will the Minister take this opportunity to reiterate the Government’s commitment to raising the status of teaching and perhaps acknowledge that recruiting and retaining the best teachers, and giving them the best support, will be the most important factor in improving educational outcomes and keeping us internationally competitive into the future?

My Lords, the Government are committed to getting the brightest and best people into teaching. In that way, you end up in a virtuous circle with enthusiastic, motivated and bright teachers transmitting that enthusiasm to their pupils. The Government have gone a long way to ensure that teachers have the opportunity for proper training. Under programmes such as Teach First, which has been a great success and was introduced by the previous Administration, we get bright graduates choosing to go into teaching, which has had an immense impact on schools.

My Lords, following on from the earlier question about the advisability of having an art strand within the EBacc, what are the Government planning to do to ensure that schools continue to offer these subjects that are not included in the EBacc, and not only continue to include them but actively encourage them to take up all the opportunities that the Government have created through, for instance, the work of the Darren Henley review for people to benefit from the arts, which will otherwise, I fear, be lost?

As the noble Baroness will be aware, we have a debate on this later today. The EBacc is designed to leave at least 20% to 30% of the curriculum for other subjects within it. We have had reviews from Darren Henley on music and culture in schools, and we are taking forward his recommendations on such things as art, design, music, dance and so on. We hope that there is every opportunity for young people to be able to take advantage of those sorts of activities within the school day.

My Lords, will the Government undertake that they will allow schools to continue to offer the IGCSE and will they continue to report the results of that examination in the annual performance tables?

My Lords, as far as I am aware, that is still under discussion, as is the key stage 4 curriculum. Perhaps I may come back to my noble friend if that is an incorrect answer.