EBacc Penalises Special Needs Children, say Experts

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The English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which replaced the GCSE examination system last year, could damage prospects for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) or dyslexia.

Since the introduction of voluntary EBacc in January 2011, twice as many students are now taking core academic subjects, according to new figures from the Department of Education (DoE).

An Ipsos Mori poll of over 600 state teachers between June and July 2012 found that 49% of Year 9 pupils have opted this year to study key EBacc subjects, such as English, mathematics, a foreign language, history or geography and 1 of 2 sciences. The Government is arguing that we need to focus on this system in order to help "compete with leading nations such as Canada and Germany".

Following the problems with the marking of English GCSE, the Government has now announced that the EBacc will be revised and will replace the existing GCSE system for all pupils. In addition, all subjects will be tested by an exam at the end of the two year study period and there will be no modular or coursework elements although field trips for geography will remain. In order to get the full EBacc certificate a pupil will have to pass exams in English, maths, all three sciences and a foreign language.

However, critics of EBacc have cautioned that the new regime does not account for the circumstances of more vulnerable students, such as children with special educational needs (SEN) and those with dyslexia.

"Clearly something went wrong with the GCSE system this summer, and there has been too much teaching to the test. But this is a function of the realisation by schools of the importance of exams results not just for individual pupils but also for the school's position in league tables. It does not mean that the essential concept of an exam system which can cater for virtually all pupils had to be scrapped, although there may be something to be said for abolishing exams at 16 in any event as the school leaving age is due to be raised," said one of our specialist education solicitors.

"The inclusion of a modern foreign language will hit bright students with dyslexia very hard. Many of them do not currently take a modern foreign language because of the need to bring up skills in English. But to date this has not prevented many from going on to study at university doing a wide range of important subjects. The EBC as it is to be known will hit very hard. In addition, the requirement of one exam at the end of a two year course, is doing not much more than testing memory skills, particularly as the Government is also proposing that students will not have access to such aids as periodic tables in chemistry exams. GCSE's inclusion of coursework meant that pupils who did not fit into the standard academic model did not have to effectively rely on an old-fashioned memory test when they came to sit the year-end examination."

"Forcing some students to rely on memory alone could lead to huge inequalities, putting children with SEN and dyslexia at an immediate disadvantage. The DoE has even admitted as such."

In September, Education Secretary Michael Gove confirmed that a "sizeable proportion" of students would have no qualifications on leaving school.

Mr Gove added that those students who find the new exams "difficult" will receive a "detailed record of their achievement" from their schools. This will be sent on to FE colleges, which will then encourage the students to sit the exams later, when they are 17 or 18. This is still going to add to the cycle of deprivation that many students suffer.

The National Union of Teachers has said that in making the EBacc compulsory, the DoE is creating a 2-tier system.


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