Senior Head's Blog: Baccalaureate Qualifications

A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister stated his wish that all students in the UK should continue their study of Maths until the age of 18. This announcement appeared to come out of the blue and caught even the Education Secretary on the hop somewhat, unsure whether to support the PM, or urge caution in subsequent media interviews.  In the last week, the Prime Minister has gone further with a wish to introduce a new Baccalaureate type approach to sixth form qualifications.  The relative lack of impact of the English Baccalaureate (a name that was given to a particular combination of GCSE subjects by the coalition government back in 2010) is such that the original target (that 100% of all 16 year olds would complete the E-Bacc) looks almost laughable (entries nationally have never been higher than 40%, according to the data that I have been able to find), and even revised targets of 75% appear hopelessly optimistic.  

Perhaps in light of that, you would expect me to say that a Baccalaureate for sixth form students is equally flawed, given my dismissal of the Prime Minister's Maths strategy, or the failure of the GCSE E-Bacc.  On the contrary, I think that he is mostly right in his suggestion.  We are fortunate at Felsted to have the choice of both A Level route and the International Baccalaureate (as well as a couple of BTEC options for those who want something that is a little more practical in nature).  Other options are also available for study at sixth form level, including going out to start an apprenticeship, or studying the new T Levels (we are not going to be offering these at Felsted in the near future, in case you were wondering, because of their highly specialist nature).  The International Baccalaureate (or more properly the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, or IBDP) provides an outstanding global option built upon a strong philosophical approach to education.  

If you read the claims of the IBO (IB Organisation), which runs the IB as an independent organisation, not influenced by any governmental input, it is hard not to be impressed.  Who would not want young people to be caring and to create a better and more peaceful world!  I accept that is quite a claim to make, but in developing lifelong learners who show all of the following characteristics - Inquirers, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced, Reflective (the IB Learner Profile) - the lofty ambitions might actually be realised, if not in all, then at least in some.  Surely that is a better goal than just making young people better at sitting exams, which seems to be a large focus for both GCSE and A Level routes.

So, is there a place for a Baccalaureate style education for sixth formers?  Absolutely there is.  For the right students, it is a superb route through sixth form study that can inspire a more global outlook and a breadth of interest in learning. BUT, we don't need to create something new to achieve this, and it would be much more beneficial for education in the UK for more opportunity to be created to study the IB Diploma in a wide range of settings than to make the assumption that we need something new and (crucially) that everyone should be following the same pathway, regardless of strengths and intended destinations.

Chris Townsend,
Head, Felsted School