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Chalk Talk: Hard luck, Leonardo, no art lessons for you

Imagine what Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Leonardo da Vinci would have been studying if they had grown up under Education Secretary Michael Gove's English Baccalaureate, the conference held to discuss exam reforms was asked.

They would, a headteacher argued, be deciding which to choose between history and geography for their humanities subject – and the door to engineering or art would have been closed to them.

Schools, the conference – organised by the Westminster Education Forum – was told, are anxious to follow the Baccalaureate agenda as they assume it will become the new panacea for measuring school performance now that the five A* to C grades including maths and English has been so widely discredited by the exams regulator Ofqual.

Not that the assembled crew of headteachers, exam board personnel and education bods were against the idea of a Baccalaureate – it was just that this one wasn't really a Baccalaureate. In foreign parts, the International Baccalaureate qualification symbolises a curriculum that is broad and varied.

"There should be a proper Baccalaureate, which recognises a whole range of achievement in arts, technology and volunteering as well," argued Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

"The only thing wrong with the Baccalaureate is that it really must get its act together on arts and classical civilisation," added Philip Britton, head teacher of the independent Bolton Boys' Division school. "It is barmy having to decide just between history and geography for a humanities subject."

There are signs beginning to emerge, though, from the Department for Education that it is prepared to be a little more flexible about what can be included under the Baccalaureate umbrella. On a recent school visit, Mr Gove let it be known he was prepared to consider the case for computer science.

I have always like the idea of a Baccalaureate and indeed welcome the English one for the good that it has done in halting the decline in the take-up of modern languages. Just a few more pushes and we could be there with just the kind of qualification we need for the era we are in.