Teachers worried over new award

A RETHINK James Priory, the Headmaster of Portsmouth Grammar School, centre, with students.
A RETHINK James Priory, the Headmaster of Portsmouth Grammar School, centre, with students.
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HEADTEACHERS have expressed grave concerns about a new GCSE award they say could damage students’ education.

The English Baccalaureate (E Bacc) – for A* to Cs in English, maths, science, a language, and a humanities subject – is the creation of education secretary Michael Gove who wants it to become the new benchmark.

But while many schools have already taken steps to adapt their staffing in line with the E Bacc, some local heads want it to be revised.

They worry the award’s limited set of subjects could penalise students whose schools feel pressured into signing up to it.

James Priory, headmaster of Portsmouth Grammar School, criticised the E Bacc’s narrow definition of the humanities as either geography or history, and the lack of creative arts.

A third of his students take religious studies (RS) and 84 per cent of them achieve A* to As.

He said: ‘The exclusion of RS suggests a lack of understanding about its value – that it is somehow associated with some of the religious extremism we’ve seen in the world, or that it is a narrow study of religious belief.

‘It is in fact a subject that opens up debate and supports moral reflection and critical thinking, things universities do value.

‘The absence of creative subjects like music and the arts is also regrettable.

‘The roundedness those subjects offer for the development of students is to be discontinued at our peril.

‘What’s very sad is seeing schools rushing to align resources with what the government edict is rather than challenging it.

‘If the E Bacc remains as it is now, there’s a real danger the bright and hard-working pupils could be penalised as a result.’

Currently, GCSE students are measured by the ‘gold standard’ result of five A* to C passes with English and maths. But this could soon change as Mr Gove sets out to create a more academic measure.

Six Portsmouth state school heads refused to release their E Bacc pass rates on GCSE results day last Thursday in protest.

One of them, Steve Labedz, of Admiral Lord Nelson School, said: ‘It is ridiculous that RS GCSE does not count towards the E Bacc and I hope Mr Gove will change his mind.

‘I fear for the future of arts, technology and ICT in schools which don’t believe in a truly broad and balanced curriculum.’

Lynn Evans, head of Springfield, whose record-smashing 70 per cent ‘gold standard’ pass rate compared with a 23 per cent E Bacc result, said: ‘The E Bacc is a nonsense. Children who have 10 A*s and As including RS, or an NVQ (vocational) qualification in languages, don’t get the award.

‘The yawning gap between gold standard which I endorse and the new measure shows the current make-up of the E Bacc is not the most useful combination.’