The English Baccalaureate: A Blessing In Disguise?

23rd January 2011

Speaking on Radio 5 to an angry caller, Michael Gove clearly stated:  “You are free to use the information published today to make your own judgements and, indeed, to publish your own performance tables” (approx ‘4:10)

If true, this statement presents the possibility that schools can create Baccalaureates suitable to their own purpose.  Unsure if Gove’s outburst was correct, I contacted the Department for Education to check that this was possible and they quickly responded explaining that all data behind the School Performance Tables is available for download on their website.  Sadly, the current information only provides aggregate scores for schools (e.g. number of 5 A-Cs, etc).  BUT the ‘Access to Further Data’ document clearly states the intention to provide greater data.  I can only assume from Gove’s comments that this data will then allow an individual to create their own tables.

The document says that ‘as information comes available’ the following data will be available for download:

  • School level breakdown of individual GCSE subjects by number of pupils entered for each subject  and grades achieved, and
  • School level breakdown of the number and percentage of pupils who took the required subjects for the English Baccalaureate.

In the meantime I have also emailed the Department to see if this information will give a Unique Learner Number for each set of results so that it is possible to give aggregate measures, like the EBacc, for any combination of subjects.

If information is released in the way that Gove and his Department are suggesting it will, then stats-geeks like me will be able to work out what each school’s percentage would be for a variety of ‘broad and academic’ subject groupings.  This will help answer important questions.  For example, if RE was included as a Humanity subject what would each school’s EBacc be?  Is it significantly higher?  It will also ensure that ‘fiddling of the figures’ by government is less likely as we will be able to ensure that alternative views of the data are also shared with the media and with the expanding number of educators using Twitter to review policy.

This openness of data is incredibly exciting and allows for the possibility that all kinds of ‘Baccalaureate’ might be created.  Sentamu Academy have already published their ideas for Baccs including a ‘Classics’, ‘Arts’ and ‘Literary’ Bacc. By using the freely opened data they will be able to benchmark the usual rate of success in these subjects across the country and provide their own ‘published’ table each year to show how they are faring nationally.  In doing so, each school can make Baccs that perhaps incorporate the subjects most appropriate for their community.  For example, our school has children speaking 38 languages and practicing all major world religions.  Given this diversity a Bacc including RE, Citizenship and iGCSE English as an Additional Language might provide the most important knowledge our students need to traverse their world, while still providing the critical thinking and discursive language skills needed in future careers and for social integration.  As always, we could benchmark our achievement nationally against schools and mark our progress over the years in published tables.

In fact, I am so enthused about this idea I wonder if open access to data is really what the Conservatives meant when they talk about a new ‘Big Society’. Volunteering is useful, but hardly new.  But the idea that the public can have full access to useful data from which they can ‘crowd-source’ their own policy solutions is genuinely innovative and will, I hope, lead to the downfall of this ‘first go’ at  grouping subjects into a Baccalaureate and instead be replaced by many Baccs, each reflecting the talents of individuals and the preferences of communities. I am not at all sure this was the Coalition intention, but if Gove delivers on his promise to full open up datasets so they can be manipulated to allow everyone to ‘publish their own performance tables’ there is the real possibility of teachers and school leaders taking back power and creating an excellent and personalised education for all.


About the Author: Laura is an LKM Policy Development Partner.  She also works as a full–time teacher in a school in East London.