Gove has today proposed an English baccalaureate qualification to recognise the achievements of GCSE students who complete a broad course of studies. Not a separate qualification or set of exams, but a special recognition of those who have taken a wide range of subjects.
If the motivation really were to promote a broader education then I would be all for it. A broader education not only gives a better understanding of society, our history, the way things work and the way things fit together, but also provides a greater wealth of opportunity. Things that are at the heart of Whole Education’s mission, and that of their partners – the RSA’s Opening Minds, for instance.
Yet my suspicion - and given the subjects cited by Gove as ‘qualifying’ as a broad range, I think I am right – is that it is not really the breadth of subjects, but more exactly what those subjects are. English, Mathematics, Science, languages, are all important. But would, for example, a language GCSE; design – important transferable skills; drama - communication skills; a mechanics or engineering course – practical and theoretical science; and art or music – good scope for cultural awareness and creativity; be considered by Gove as equally broad and valuable?
In fact, Gove’s selection doesn’t appear to be all that broad in any case. Broad within an academic scope, maybe, but still arguably a ‘narrow’ education on many accounts.
The Sixth Form Colleges’ Forum has been developing a Sixth Form baccalaureate (SFBac) designed to recognise a well rounded and balanced post-16 education, awarded to students who are volunteering, involved in music, drama, or sport, or receiving an education that extend beyond the A-level syllabus. While only for sixth forms at the moment, it does seem that this is a much more meaningful exemplar of a broad education.
By all means recognise (and celebrate) where young people have received a broad education, but isn’t this a pretty narrow view as to what a broad education is?