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Gove performs dramatic U-turn on EBacc

7 February 2013, Christopher Walters

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has this morning announced a dramatic U-turn on his widely condemned English Baccalaureate (EBacc) policy. This means that the coalition government’s proposed English Baccalaureate Certificates (EBCs), which were due to replace GCSEs in ‘core’ subjects from 2017, will now no longer be developed.

Recent days have seen Gove respond increasingly angrily to critics of the EBacc, claiming that the Labour party and other opponents of the policy believed that children from poor families should ‘stick to the station in life they were born into’. But it has now emerged that the education secretary’s aggressive defence has in part been fuelled by behind-the-scenes pressure from the Liberal Democrats to scrap the policy, in addition to the barrage of publicly voiced opposition from teaching unions and organisations representing the arts, sport and religious education.

Introduced 18 months ago on an agenda of bringing rigour back into secondary education, the EBacc has been popular with the Tory faithful and some parts of the right-wing press, but universally unpopular with education experts and arts organisations. Much of the criticism has been to do with the confusing nature of the policy, which was initially introduced 18 months ago as a league table performance measure – rather than a qualification – and given to students who score a C or above at GCSE in maths, English, two sciences, a language and history or geography.

Then, last year, Gove announced plans to make the EBacc into the backbone of his secondary education policy. GCSEs in the EBacc subjects would be replaced by more rigorous EBCs, with less coursework and more emphasis on end-of-course exams. The EBacc itself would remain a performance measure, but tabulated from EBC rather than GCSE scores.

With a drive to raise the profile of the EBacc and a raft of new EBC qualifications promised, Gove hoped that the EBacc would force schools to prioritise what he saw as the ‘core’ subjects of secondary education. But the education community bit back, claiming that there had been little or no consultation before the implementation of the policy and arguing that non-EBacc subjects and learners with special needs would be marginalised.

Soon there was widespread opposition among arts organisations, curated by an effective ‘Bacc for the Future’ campaign set up by the Incorporated Society of Musicians. And while Gove countered that there would still be room for arts and technical subjects to be taken alongside the core EBCs, teachers responded that schools would be likely to enter students for more EBCs and fewer non-EBacc subjects in order to maximise their chances of each student achieving the EBacc.

Nor has there been much support for Gove’s vision of what constitutes ‘core’ subjects. The education secretary’s list has been slammed by education experts for being entirely backward looking, with much criticism for the exclusion of the arts and technical subjects such as design and technology and computing. Last week’s hurried inclusion of computer science in the science category did little to convince critics that the EBacc subjects were being chosen on a rational basis or that the original list had been properly thought through.

Today’s announcement may represent the result of successful lobbying from the EBacc’s opponents, but it remains unclear whether the non-EBacc subjects are likely to fare any better under the new arrangements. The EBacc as a performance measure is likely to remain, despite the fact that GCSEs will now no longer be replaced by EBCs, and schools could still be pushed towards driving numbers of candidates for subjects which fall into a contentious category of ‘core’ subjects.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and coordinator of the Bacc for the Future campaign, said: ‘This is good news for children and good news for education. We must learn from the last six months of consultation and ensure we work together to create high quality and rigorous GCSEs and A levels with appropriate assessment fit for the 21st Century. Creative subjects such as art, music and design and technology need to stay at the heart of education so that we can develop talented youngsters to feed our creative industries and generate growth.

She added: ‘The voices of the creative industries and education sectors have been listened to, and we welcome this. We will now be looking closely at the new proposed national curriculum for music and work with the government to ensure that we have a national curriculum, GCSEs and A levels fit for the future.’

Virginia Haworth-Galt, chief executive of the Federation of Music Services, said: 'FMS welcomes the government’s decision not to replace GCSEs with EBCs at this point in time. While it is vital for young people to achieve qualifications in core subjects like English, maths and science, there has been concern amongst some music educators that the EBacc was too narrow in focus, at the expense of other more creative subjects. The government’s National Plan for Music, along with protected funding for music over three years, is recognition of the key role music can play in children’s academic, social and cultural development.'

Cardiff and Newport music services face savage cuts

5 February 2013, Rhian Morgan

Cardiff City Council is proposing to end its subsidy of music lessons in schools by cutting its £151,000 grant to the Cardiff County and Vale of Glamorgan Music Service. The move is part of plans to save £22m in the next financial year.

Councillor Russell Goodway, cabinet member for finance, said the Labour administration had to make 'difficult decisions' as a consequence of the UK government’s austerity measures. The move will mean the music service increasing its music tuition fees by 11% to make up the shortfall.

Emma Coulthard, a music development officer with the music service, says it has become a challenge for music services to deliver what is being asked of them on dwindling funding. 'In Wales, where there was no Wider Opps money, no In Harmony and no Youth Music, Cardiff’s music service has had to be particularly creative and forge strong alliances with schools and others,' she said.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Gwent is facing similar cutbacks, with Newport City Council proposing to withdraw its funding for Gwent Music Support Service. Many hundreds of people have signed petitions against the plans. Protestors in both areas say that it is children from the poorest families, many of whom currently receive free lessons, who are most likely to suffer.

Newport-based Emma Archer, a student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, said she found the situation 'abhorrent'. 'Times are very hard for councils,' she said. 'However, there is a complete dearth of creative thinking at the moment. If we cut all creative outlets for the next generation and offer them little prospect of easy access to further education and very little certainty of a job at the other end, just what kind of society does the current government expect will be created?'

The two petitions can be found here:

Computer science added to EBacc but still no arts

31 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

Arts organisations are to intensify their lobbying of the government for the inclusion of creative subjects in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) following the announcement that computer science is to be included as one of the science options which count towards the EBacc.

The change has been made following lobbying by technology companies who have been calling for a bigger role for computing in education. The Department for Education says the change is intended to reflect the 'importance of computer science to both education and the economy'.

The EBacc is currently awarded to pupils who get A* to C grades at GCSE in English, maths, sciences, history or geography and a language. From 2017, new English Baccalaureate Certificates will replace GCSEs for these subjects. There’s been extensive lobbying to add further subjects including music, the arts and religious education, with concerns that excluded subjects could be marginalised.

Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), called on the government to address 'the needs of the creative economy and introduce rigorous creative subjects'. Stephen Twigg, Labour's education spokesman, said 'Gove's exams still place no value on creative subjects like art, music and drama, and no value on practical subjects like engineering, design and technology and construction.'

Meanwhile, the EBacc proposals have been heavily criticised in two parliamentary debates for omitting creative subjects, while Bacc for the Future, a campaign coordinated by the ISM, was praised by the Liberal Democrat Lord Clement-Jones for bringing strong voices together to save creativity in schools by calling for a sixth pillar of creative subjects to be included.

Bacc for the Future now has more than 44,000 signatories on its petition and the support of more than 100 organisations across the cultural, industry and education sectors. The petition can be signed here:

Ofsted announces new programme of music inspections

14 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

Mark Phillips HMI, Ofsted’s national adviser for music, has ordered a series of school visits in the next few months, focusing on 'the effectiveness of music subject leadership by subject' and 'the extent to which the leadership of the local music hub is supporting and augmenting musical teaching and learning in that school'.

Visits will take place in primary, secondary and special schools, including academies, and schools will be given up to five days’ notice of a visit so that arrangements can be made with the music hub or partner organisation. A report on the visits will be published in autumn.

The aim is to follow up the findings of the 2012 Ofsted music reports Wider Still and Wider and Sound Partnerships, and to monitor the early impact of the music hubs. Phillips says inspectors will not be reporting individual judgments on the overall quality of achievement, teaching and the curriculum in each school.

'We acknowledge that it might be too soon to see significant progress with some of the priorities that we’ve set out in our 2012 reports, such as substantial changes in participation rates between different groups of pupils and significantly better musical teaching,' said Phillips. 'But we believe also that we should expect, already, to see noticeable improvements in the way that music is managed in schools, particularly by senior leaders and through partnerships with the music hubs.'

Fiona Pendreigh, chair of the National Association of Music Educators, agrees that improvements should already be evident: 'Although it is too soon to see progress with some of the outcomes expected from hub work, there is no doubt that with the wealth of reports and case studies to draw on, improvement in the way music is being managed within schools should be evident.

She added: 'It would be encouraging if schools, including the teachers, saw themselves more as partners within the hubs than previously, when they were perhaps more of a client of the music service. The integration of schools within the hubs is key to the provision of high quality music education for all children.'

Schools warned to comply with new rules on wireless microphones

10 January 2013, Rhian Morgan

One of the country’s leading suppliers of professional audio and video equipment is warning schools and colleges to ensure they comply with new rules in relation to the use of wireless microphones.

Following the digital TV switchover, some radio frequencies currently used by wireless microphones have been re-allocated to allow the broadcast of Freeview television signals and new 4G mobile technologies. 'The knock-on effect is that many wireless microphones in use may now conflict with these signals and are therefore illegal to use,' says Glyn Chapman, the managing director of EAV.

Not all equipment is affected by the changes but the technicalities can be complicated by the number of microphones in use and their location and frequency settings. The rule is that the operation of wireless equipment in the 800MHz band is illegal as of 31 December 2012.

'We’re shocked by just how little awareness there is amongst schools, colleges and universities about the changes in the law,' added Chapman. 'In our experience, up to three-quarters of education users don’t understand the changes, let alone know if their equipment is compliant.'

EAV is offering free advice on wireless microphones, with a free checking tool at or for more help, ring 0845 125 9409.

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