Democratic Life submission to the EBacc inquiry: summary

Molly Kearney
Monday 7 March 2011

We have submitted evidence to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into the EBacc to argue that Citizenship Studies, with its requirement for active citizenship, should be an essential inclusion in any broad and balanced measure of student attainment.

Our evidence: IB, Welsh Bacc and England’s standing in the ICCS

A ‘Baccalaureate’ is respected for a philosophy of breadth and balance that values a well rounded education. Both the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the Welsh Baccalaureate (Welsh Bacc), have a requirement for civic/community action or active citizenship, which underpins the qualification and enables students to see themselves as active participants in a wider community.

The IB Diploma consists of six subjects (two languages, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics and computer sciences and the arts) and three core requirements. The three core requirements are an extended essay, theory of knowledge and creativity, action and service (CAS), with the ‘service’ component of CAS being a volunteering placement. These core requirements are intended to ‘broaden the educational experience and challenge students to apply their knowledge and understanding’ and CAS is considered by the IB to be ‘at the heart of the Diploma programme’.

The Welsh Bacc, which was launched in 2003, is similar to the IB in aspiring to a breadth and balance between skills and subject knowledge and consists of a core and options. The core is made up of: key skills; Wales, Europe and the World; work-related education; personal and social education (PSE); and an individual investigation. Options comprise courses and programmes currently offered at GCSE, Vocational GCSE, AS/A levels and Vocational Qualifications (NVQ, BTEC). The combination of a core and options means the Welsh approach offers different levels of achievement, breadth and student choice.

The PSE core component of the Welsh Bacc consists of five elements: positive relationships; health and emotional well-being; active citizenship; sustainable development and global citizenship; and activity in a local community. This fifth element requires that candidates spend 15 hours on activity in their community at the Foundation and Intermediate levels and 30 hours at Advanced level.

It should also be noted that citizenship education is an internationally recognised and respected subject. The recent IEA International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) shows that 20 out of 38 countries surveyed include a specific subject for civic or citizenship education in their national curricula. Finland, the country who tops the international comparison tables for reading and science in PISA 2009, also had the highest country civic knowledge scores (along with Denmark). England was 13th in the ICCS civic knowledge country scores (behind Finland, Denmark, Korea, Sweden, Ireland and Italy).

The EBacc in its current form fails to recognise the breadth and balance that define both the IB and the Welsh Bacc. Incorporating the GCSE Citizenship Studies, which includes an active citizenship project, would ensure the EBacc recognises attainment in important political, legal and economic knowledge and values an education that promotes positive and democratic participation in society. It will furthermore signal a commitment to increasing civic knowledge amongst young people, which must surely be an aspiration following England’s performance in the ICCS.

Further points of concern

We also raised these further points of concern in our submission:

• We feel that introducing the EBacc retrospectively was an unfair decision, especially as the Department for Education did not first consult with the teaching profession, parents and other stakeholders;

• The use of the term ‘Baccalaureate’ can lead to confusion about the EBacc. ‘Baccalaureate’ is more usually associated with qualifications, but the EBacc is not a qualification or qualification ‘wrapper’ – it is being used by government as an additional measure of attainment;

• The new EBacc measure is potentially exclusive as it only recognises a small range of subjects at GCSE – particularly in the ‘Humanities’ category, which should include other social sciences, including Citizenship Studies – and therefore does not acknowledge children’s achievement in other rigorous qualification subjects. This could have a number of consequences: a hierarchy of subjects with some valued more than others; the curriculum in key stage 3 being narrowed to focus on attainment in EBacc subjects; and many children feeling excluded or devalued if they don’t achieve the EBacc even though they do achieve in other subjects and equivalent qualifications.

• The EBacc as a measurement of performance for annual league tables is unfair to students and schools. Qualifications may be taken over a period of years. It is not clear how the EBacc measure accommodates students who for a range of reasons, take qualifications early or late and do not take the subjects required in the same year.

• Finally, the announcement of the EBacc before launching, let alone concluding, the National Curriculum review presents questions about the relationship between the two and whether the National Curriculum review’s outcomes will be prejudiced by the Government’s preferences for the subjects in the EBacc. It is essential that the Government makes clear that the EBacc will be reviewed once the National Curriculum review has concluded in order to ensure that the two compliment one another.

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