Towards A National Baccalaureate for England

Building confidence in an alternative to the current examination system

Tom Sherrington Trustee, National Baccalaureate Trust

The debate that this superb Rethinking Assessment website is dedicated to is supremely important.  As we return to some kind of normality post-Covid, the role that exams and teacher assessment play in our qualifications systems continues to come under scrutiny with different voices arguing from a perspective of ‘what we learned about assessment during the pandemic’.  However, the desire for something much broader, fairer and more holistic than our current examination system has been there for decades.

Numerous challenges persist: too many young people, particularly those with Grades 1-3 at GCSE, leave school without a fair record of what they’ve achieved; there are deep divides between technical/vocational and academic routes and there are many areas of learning that have value in life, work and society, not given sufficient weight within our overall system of qualifications and school-based accountability.  The current system is very assessment heavy for 16 year olds despite the aspiration for education for all to 18.

The challenge in the debate is not, however, simply to rehearse critiques.  We need solutions; solutions that go far beyond calls to ‘scrap GCSEs’, far beyond tinkering with the number of exam papers students should sit or technicalities of moderating teacher assessment.  We need an approach to curriculum and assessment that can be scaled up to a national level providing a framework allowing a range of specific qualification reforms to take place whilst retaining the confidence of parents, students, teachers and, yes, voters.  All of this has to attend to issues of reliability, credibility, teacher workload and the scope of the curriculum in its widest sense.  To date, proposals for reform have not come close enough to achieving this; they offer critique without attending to the need to scale up or build confidence in an alternative.

The National Baccalaureate Trust was set up to explore the possibility of establishing a broader means of recognising the full range of student achievement via a baccalaureate-style curriculum and qualifications framework for England; a unifying award that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Learning from past reform attempts, we have borrowed ideas from the world-renowned International Baccalaureate and some of the issues around the 2004 Tomlinson Report. We have also piloted various models in schools in England.  In May 2021 we launched a consultation process around some specific proposals and we are now delighted to be able to present our recommendations.  We’re grateful to Rethinking Assessment for hosting our proposals on their site as a contribution to the wider debate.

The proposals would provide a universal qualification and assessment framework for all learners, encompassing both technical and academic learning, embracing extended projects and personal development in all its forms under one holistic National Baccalaureate for England award.  Each young person would leave their school or college at 18 with a full transcript of their achievements, assessed via a range of curriculum-appropriate mechanisms: exams, portfolios, teacher assessments, performances and more.

The report sets out the concept in detail with worked examples designed to illustrate how the Baccalaureate model could work.  Our view is that this kind of fully-worked reform is needed if we are going to make a significant change to our system, based on the consensus needed to get reforms implemented in practice beyond a few niche pioneer schools.  Our proposals are exciting as well as workable and realistic as they build around ideas that are well established and do not require a full re-organisation of schools and colleges.

Please take time to read the report in full and then please also let us know what you think either by leaving comments on this page or by emailing the National Baccalaureate Trust at [email protected].

Read: “Proposals for A National Baccalaureate for England”.

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