Gove’s revolution: pupils return to traditional subjects in huge numbers


Education Editor

One fact emerges clearly from yesterday’s government exam league tables - Michael Gove has already achieved a revolution in what is taught in schools.

The figures speak for themselves - a massive swing towards pupils taking the traditional academic subjects the Education Secretary clearly indicated he wanted to be at the centre of the school curriculum.

The past year has seen an extra 72,000 students eligible for his new English Baccalaureate, or EBacc as it has been dubbed; a rise of more than 50 per cent, bringing the total figure to 202,000.

More to the point, growing numbers of students are passing it - 237 schools saw more than 50 per cent of their pupils getting it this year compared to 174 last year.

This year is the first time its impact can really be measured - as the students who sat their GCSEs last summer were the first to have spent their entire two years of GCSE studies with the EBacc in place.

Of course, there are critics who claim that Mr Gove’s baccalaureate is too narrow - to achieve it, a student needs at least a C grade pass in English, maths, the sciences, a humanities subject (history or geography) and a language, ancient or modern. They argue it has downgraded the arts - since creative subjects do not qualify for the EBacc.

Interestingly enough, Chelmsford County High School for Girls in Essex, one of only two schools in the country to get 100 per cent of its pupils to qualify for the EBacc in this year’s tables, also insists they should study an arts subject (art, music and drama) and religious studies, another subject controversially omitted from the EBacc.

This, its headteacher Nicole Chapman argues, prepares them for the much broader International Baccalaureate - which the school is now offering its sixth-formers alongside A-levels.

There is also a simmering row over the status of vocational qualifications in Mr Gove’s new-style league tables. Their results are now recorded separately prompting some teachers’ leaders to argue they have been downgraded. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “It sends the wrong message to pupils, parents and pupils about what is important.

“Academic and vocational qualifications are of equal value, should be held in equally high esteem and treated as equal in a unified reporting system.”

Neil Carberry, director of employment and skills at the CBI, added: “It is critical that young people see vocational courses as a route to success but this will only become a reality when they are as highly regarded as more traditional academic pathways.

“Tweaking the structure of league tables is not the answer.”

On the introduction of the EBacc, though, the good certainly outweighs the bad. When Mr Gove came to power he inherited a chronic state of affairs in the teaching of modern foreign languages - largely as a result of Labour’s decision to axe compulsory language lessons for 14 to 16-year-olds a decade ago. It has been described by former Schools Minister Andrew Adonis as Labour’s biggest education mistake in office and presaged a decade long slump in the number of students taking the subject at GCSE and A-level - a slide which has only now been halted under Mr Gove. Science take-up has also improved in the past three years.

As to the point made by critics that the EBacc is too narrow, Mr Gove would argue that he is lifting the straitjacket of the exam league tables measuring all schools on the percentage of pupils achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE and inserting a measure which looks at their performance across eight subject areas.

On vocational education, too, he can look to the Government decision announced yesterday to approve six more University Technical Colleges - which offer top-class vocational education to 14 to 18-year-olds, bringing the total approved up to 50.

The Department for Education was stressing yesterday how the shift back to a traditional curriculum had coincided with a reduction in the number of schools failing to achieve minimum GCSE targets, a sign that better exam results have come at a time when students are opting for tougher subject options.

Yesterday’s figures showed that a total of 154 secondary schools failed to reach the Government’s minimum target of 40 per cent of pupils obtaining five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English, and could thus face the prospect of enforced academy status with a new sponsor moving in to take over the running of the school.

The Government raised the floor target from 35 per cent for last summer’s exams and, if the new minimum had been in place last year, 195 schools would have failed to meet it.

In addition, almost 250,000 fewer pupils are now taught in failing secondary schools than was the case three years ago.

The figures also show that the numbers achieving five top grade GCSEs including maths and English were rising faster in the sponsored academies (2.3 per cent) than local authority schools (1.8 per cent) - although some of the credit here should go to the previous Labour government whose academy programme largely consisted of promoting sponsored academies in the inner cities. The bulk of Mr Gove’s new academies have come from his decision to expand the programme to allow good or outstanding schools throughout the country to convert to academy status.

Yesterday Mr Gove said the reduction in failing schools had been achieved at a time when the EBacc “has ensured many young people are taking the core subjects which will most help them find a job or go on to university".

He added: “These figures are a credit to the professionalism and hard work of teachers.”

Modest with it, too, then - and a contrast to the line he has often taken in the past with those who have often appeared beleaguered by the pace of his reforms.

The two schools scoring 100% in EBacc

Two state schools achieved a 100 per cent success story in this year’s league tables - by getting all their pupils to qualify for the Government’s new English Baccalaureate.

The two - Chelmsford County High School for Girls in Essex and Queen Elizabeth’s Boys’ School in Barnet, north London - are both grammar schools.

In the case of the Chelmsford school, headteacher Nicole Chapman, said it had tailored girls’ GCSE options to prepare them for the option of taking the International Baccalaureate rather than A-levels in the sixth-form.

She said she felt it was important to stress the need for breadth in the curriculum - to keep girls’ options open.

As a result its compulsory GCSE curriculum was broader than the Government’s requirement - demanding that every pupil study an arts subject and religious studies as well as the five core subjects of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s EBacc - English, maths, the sciences, a language and history or geography.

At Queen Elizabeth’s, headteacher Neil Enwright said it had not changed its curriculum offer, adding:  “Our boys study for what they aspire to do at A-level and university.  The school’s pupils have received 37 Oxbridge offers between them this year,

It has, though, strengthened its language provision with compulsory Latin for all pupils for the first three years of secondary school and enrichment classes in both Mandarin and Spanish.  “We’re thinking about bringing in ancient Greek,” said Mr Enwright.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

Year 2 Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Bognor Regis!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 2 Teacher currently need...

Primary Supply Teachers needed in Cambridge

£21552 - £22552 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

DT Teacher - Graphics

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Part time Design and Technology...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits