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Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT writes about education policy, with a focus on how the profession can take back ownership of its own destiny

A narrow vision of academic excellence and a recruitment crisis make the imposition of the EBacc on schools a risky step

This week, we have more detail on the government's plans to make the EBacc 'compulsory' for all students via Ofsted enforcement. To be clear: it isn’t that every school should offer any student who wants it the EBacc suite of subjects, but that all students must do the EBacc suite if the school is to get the top grades via Ofsted. 

Let's first of all dismiss the wrong arguments against this heavy-handed measure. It isn’t that some students are not capable of an academic curriculum - like many school leaders we support a strong academic curriculum up to 16 and do not believe that disadvantage or low prior attainment make some students less suited to an academic curriculum. The EBacc type subjects must be available to all.

We have two more serious concerns. 

Firstly, that the EBacc offered by the government is far too narrow to lay exclusive claim to the description of rigorous or academic. The current selection is a relatively arbitrary choice. There are other rigorous subjects available that offer students a stretching education. The government should widen the EBacc suite if it is to proceed on this path. Tom Sherrington has spoken eloquently on this matter in his blog.

Secondly, that poor planning on supply, low pay and constant change have created a growing crisis in recruitment that will make preparing for new subjects or changing the curriculum challenging for many schools. We are not sure where the new teachers are to be found. Five years seems like a long time but when it comes to curriculum change, staffing and recruitment it is not. The new course must begin in three years’ time; and staffing changes in the year before that. We will likely spend the next three years on redundancies and radical changes at a time of budget cuts. We will also likely see narrowed curriculums and reduced options to cope. Becky Allen has shown the significant curriculum and staffing changes that might be required to meet this demand in her blog here.

The government should consider a better way to achieve otherwise laudable aims. In the meantime, we hope that heads will put the interests of their students ahead of the need to pursue Ofsted's plaudits. The highest Ofsted ratings are not worth the sacrifice of principles and these measures will only cause damage if we let them.

16 June 2015