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The extreme liberal approach to parenting, which contributed towards these riots, has implications in the classroom too. In the same way that morality is best taught by restricting choice, skills and knowledge are best taught at school in a choice-restricted atmosphere. But just as some parents can misjudge how much direction or guidance is needed when teaching a child morality, some people don't recognise that restriction of choice in terms of subjects at school ensures that a child will learn basic attitudes that will equip him with the instinctive knowledge and skills required to lead a successful life.

Not only do we think that giving children unbridled choice is good, we also believe that spending fleeting moments on topics is entertaining and interesting, that intensive commitment to one subject is too much for our children's short attention spans. As Aristotle explains, constancy is crucial: repetition leads to mastery. Malcolm Gladwell says this as well: to be an expert at something, one needs to do it for 10,000 hours. While we don't need our children to be experts in all subjects, certainly we would like them to be knowledgeable in the basics. Yet we often don't understand that to do this, revisiting topics over and over is absolutely necessary. 

This is precisely what the English Baccalaureate (EBac) does, by encouraging children to stick with difficult academic subjects until they are 16, allowing them the opportunity to revisit algebra and Shakespeare time and time again. Yet the EBac has come under the firing line because it is said to restrict choice. The EBac is what Michael Gove calls a "4x4" qualification that can take you anywhere. To get the EBac, one must get five C grades in maths, English, science, a language, and either history or geography. It is academic and balanced, giving a broad understanding of important areas.  As such, Michael Gove is correct: it will keep doors open, since academic subjects are what universities are looking for in prospective pupils, as are employers. When you consider that 84 per cent of our country's children do not currently achieve the 5 C grades required for the Ebac, you begin to realise the severity of the situation. After all, the subjects above are pretty ordinary, are they not? Most families assume, when they send their children to school that this is what their children are learning: maths, English, science, a language, history or geography. They may be learning other subjects as well, but most families would assume these subjects are core.

What most families don't realise, though, is that so many schools participate in what I like to call "gaming" their way through the system. Until Michael Gove introduced the EBac, schools were only measured by the number of children getting five GCSEs including English and maths; in other words, English, maths, plus any other three GCSEs they wished, including the less demanding Btecs.

It is worth noting that this is still the benchmark by which schools will be judged to be failing or succeeding by Ofsted. The EBac results simply provide more information for parents and are not a judgment tool. They tell parents whether any given school is providing the opportunity for its pupils to learn these academic subjects. No single indicator can sum up a school's performance, so isn't it preferable that parents have access to as much information about the school as possible?

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John Kent
September 5th, 2011
4:09 PM
Spot on. Could not agree more. Children need a challenge and because a subject is "difficult" does not mean that it should be avoided. Give children a chance and TEACH them how to succeed in these subjects.

September 3rd, 2011
11:09 AM
Broaden the Bacc. The Humanities option needs to be broader which is also in line with other European nations and our established traditions here.

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