A curriculum for the times
A grassroots movement, currently being promoted in partnership with RSA Education, is turning political polemic into a vibrant reality, observes Joe Hallgarten and Marius Frank
The term 'baccalaureate' is in danger of being jaundiced and maligned through a process of political one-upmanship. First there was Michael Gove's English Baccalaureate (EBacc), designed to nudge schools towards concentrating on so-called academic GCSEs. Ed Miliband countered with a TechBacc. Gove, not to be out-Bacced, introduced an Ad-Bacc. Lord Adonis has counter-punched with Academic and Vocational Baccs.
In response to EBacc pressures, many schools have changed options without regard for students' interests and various groups are campaigning for their subject to be included, rather than challenging the legitimacy of a flawed concept. The EBacc may have a reasonable rationale, but it is misapplied. It is true that some academically able students are given poor advice about course options that hugely reduce their chances of a place at a Russell Group university. But they are not the only
ones. The Wolf Report, a recent review of vocational education, argues that many young people choosing vocational routes are being guided towards qualifications that nobody values. The EBacc, therefore, is a partial solution to a much bigger problem.
At its best, assessment is a wonderful part of the creative process we call learning. It enables reflection and critical analysis, offers an external eye and can help students to understand where they are and how to progress. Despite teachers' best intentions, various political and managerial forces have turned assessment into a reductive shell of what it could be.
The Modern Baccalaureate (ModBac) is a grassroots attempt to address these problems, driven by the new imperatives of a turbulent and rapidly changing society and workplace. Teachers, learners and employers – not politicians – are shaping the movement, which joins up young people's learning experience as they strive for the best qualifications possible.
The ModBac movement began at Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull, situated in one of the most deprived wards in the country. Principal Andrew Chubb was concerned that the proposed English Baccalaureate could assign 70 percent of his students to fail, despite demonstrable and sustained school improvement by any other measure. He decided to create an accreditation framework that went beyond subject grades and addressed the needs of modern learners. ModBac was born.
It is based on the principle that, to thrive in both childhood and adulthood, young people will need to be literate and numerate, highly self-motivated and flexible. They must also be excellent at working in a team, fluent in the creation and use of digital resources, capable of independent study and able to appreciate the importance of being part of a global community and serving others.
The Modern Baccalaureate Award bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical experience by dividing assessment into three broad study programmes: Core, Honours and the Skills Passport. The Core programme assesses students' academic and vocational abilities in a broad range of subjects and certifies pupils' GCSE-level qualifications. Work experience and practical activities constitute the Honours programme. Finally, pupils' additional skills and awards are showcased in the Skills Passport, which demonstrates their readiness to enter the world of work. The three-part profile allows employers and institutions to assess pupils' capabilities not merely through the acquisition of knowledge, but also the application of it. It also provides an opportunity to record other crucial aspects of pupils' educational development.
The ModBac empowers learners to take personal ownership of these three areas and empowers schools, colleges, parents, teachers and employers to address all three. Above all, it offers a platform for meaningful conversations about pupil learning, aspirations and future ambitions. Although it has been developed nationally, it is flexible enough to align with local priorities. It is crucial, however, for employers to be on board. The Institute of Directors has already been involved in the ModBac's pilot phases and further support is being sought from the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses.
An innovative design feature is a QR code unique to every certificate. When scanned, it will hyperlink to a website that holds all the details of the learner's qualifications, skills and wider accomplishments. This can be updated throughout the journey to the workplace.
"Our students at Sentamu Academy are working harder than ever to succeed in their exams," says Chubb. "When putting in all this effort, they really appreciate the fact that they can work for an award that brings together all of their achievements."
In 2011 at Sentamu Academy, not only did students achieve the school's best results for the fourth year in succession (61 percent 5+ A* to C including English and Maths, compared with 29 percent in 2009), but, thanks to ModBac, they also were able to demonstrate that they had acquired the sorts of skills and broader experiences valued by employers. "By offering our students the ModBac award, they know that we value their whole development," Chubb says. "This commitment has really paid off in terms of their exam results."
This year, the ModBac will be introduced in 20 schools across the country. The aim is to work with 200 schools from 2013, including all the schools in specific local authorities. It offers schools and academies the rocks on which the foundations of 21st-century learning and achievement can be built, foundations that can withstand the buffeting of political winds and whims.
Joe Hallgarten is the RSA's director of education. Marius Frank is the chief executive of Asdan, an education social enterprise
|A transition Bac for Suffolk|
As part of the Education Inquiry the RSA is leading in Suffolk, it plans to work with a number of primary and secondary schools to pilot a baccalaureate for children aged nine to 14. Built on the same design principles as the ModBac, it will enable younger pupils to record their academic achievements, wider skills and experiences, building a profile from years five to nine that will help motivate them at an often tricky time in their schooling and development. The skills element of ModBac is likely to incorporate Suffolk's 'Employability for Life' framework, which has been piloted successfully in the west of the county.
Grand curriculum designs
In partnership with the Institute of Education and the Curriculum Foundation – and with financial support from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the National Association of Head Teachers and the awarding body OCR – the RSA has devised a professional development programme for teachers. Grand Curriculum Designs will foster a new generation of skilled and sensitive curriculum designers. The programme will be informed by both Opening Minds and the RSA's curriculum projects in Manchester and Peterborough, and will encourage schools to use the ModBac as a framework to accredit their curricula.