EBacc Alternative: One System for All; Excellence for All

An Alternative EBacc Framework v1 (v2 is below)

In order to contribute to the debate about the assessment framework that might replace GCSEs and A levels,  I would like to put forward an alternative. Here is the pdf:  The English Baccalaureate Framework. I envisage a system where the vast majority of students graduate from school at 18 with an English Baccalaureate qualification of one kind or another, with each one being regarded as a Gold Standard; a measure of a high quality education by any international measure.  I have deliberately used the English Baccalaureate term.  My feeling is that this concept has been stolen for something rather flimsy; it needs to be re-captured to stand alongside the International Baccalaureate.  (Mr Gove’s EBacc should wither away.. but the name is strong and I like it!)

Overall I have tried to take the most effective elements of existing systems to produce a framework that would suit my most able students (ie Oxbridge bound with 6 A levels and 13 GCSEs at A/A*); more standard-path students ( 8-10 GCSEs and 3 A Levels); students who achieve below the 5 A*-C EM threshold and everyone in between.  Rather than a piecemeal attempt to morph existing qualifications into a new framework, I am proposing that all the units are newly configured. They may originate from a GCSE or an A Level or a BTEC but they would essentially be new units of assessment, tailored to fit this framework.  I am also deliberately trying to echo the ideas expressed by all parties; anything too radical has no hope of gaining acceptance.  This model builds on ideas from Adonis/Gove/Twigg – it isn’t far off what we have now;  I am hopefully adding coherence, breadth and depth.

This EBacc Framework proposal has the following characteristics:

  • it is a single coherent, unified and inclusive system, catering for students of all abilities
  • it provides rigour and challenge at all levels, including allowing flexibility in both depth and breadth of study to meet the needs of all learners
  • it provides incremental measures of success and achievement for all students
  • it would be made up of assessments that are referenced to absolute standards
  • it would provide data that could be used to hold schools to account for performance allowing all schools to show improvement over time, without introducing artificial barriers or perverse incentives.
  • it would provide universities and employers with detailed information about every student’s terminal outcomes at 18 to inform recruitment
  • it embraces a strong core curriculum alongside the flexibility for a wide range of academic and technical options
  • it rewards learning that can be assessed through extended individual study as well as through written examinations.
  • it includes a core of Personal Development and Service for all students at all levels.  This recognises that some learning needs to be experienced rather than measured.  The assessment of this component would need further exploration.

The core concept is to create a system with a flexible GCSE-style foundation coupled with a top-level that would be a structured multi-component framework similar to the IB or Pre-U but with more subject flexibility.  The framework allows for Six distinct qualification outcomes:

Advanced, Intermediate and Foundation Baccalaureate and Technical Baccalaureate at Advanced, Intermediate and Foundation Levels.  These could be A-Bacc, I-Bacc, F-Bacc and T-Bacc A/I/F – for argument’s sake.  Crucially, whilst these elements are part of one system, there is no suggestion or any need to make spurious equivalences between A-Bacc and T-Bacc Advanced.  They are different, valued in their own terms. Similarly there are no GCSE to A level equivalences.  The scores only have meaning within the separate qualifications.

The assessment outcome of each unit is expressed as a score. As I have argued elsewhere, grading is massively flawed as it creates meaningless divisions in a continuum of achievement.  Scores are much more subtle and truthful about attainment. The task of the Exam Board (s) would be to generate assessments that could yield outcomes with this numerical scale.  The scale would be the basis of securing consistency in standards from year to year but would not become a ceiling on achievement; ie it is not norm-referenced;  all students could achieve about say 60/100 in theory.  However,  in practice we might expect a normal distribution of outcomes in general and the top 10% of marks should be very hard to achieve from the outset; this would require assessments to be designed with real rigour, beyond current A* at both GCSE and A level – the Intermediate and Advanced levels. Over time, we’d expect the average scores to increase as schools improve.

Crucially, there is scope for any student to study beyond the core of 8 intermediate units and three advanced units.  Students could add additional points to their total score by taking further courses.  However, all students – and all schools – would need to include their core scores as one of the key measured outcomes.   A student may gain a Standard I-Bacc score of 712/1000 but a total of 950 because they took additional courses.  All students would receive a standard EBacc Transcript detailing their performance in every element.  This would become a standardised document that all employers and universities would understand immediately.

There is some debate about whether an intermediate level is required – ie why not simply have one set of post-18 qualifications?  In my model, there is no limit to the age of students when the various units are studied.  However, my experience of a British International School was that iGCSEs were highly valued as preparation for the IB compared to the less rigorous Middle Years Programme at that time. However, only the core I-Bacc components are a strict requirement for the A-Bacc in my model.

I fully acknowledge that I do not currently have my finger on the pulse of every Technical/Vocational qualification on the market.  Work needs to be done to map existing courses across or design new ones that would be compatible with each other such that Tech Bacc standards were equivalent for different fields of study at the same level.  However, I feel that this model allows us to resolve the Academic-Vocation divide.   There are separate pathways but everyone is part of the system; everyone has a common core.  All pathways are equally valued – if not strictly equivalent.

Parameters for Debate:

  • How many subjects should be in the core.?   I’ve gone for three Advanced and a total of 8 Intermediate.  Should it be more or less?
  • Which subject combinations should be compulsory or optional for the I-Bacc? I’ve suggested some flexibility here – so the Arts are on a par with MFL and Humanities.  I am tempted to make an Intermediate Language unit a compulsory component of the A-Bacc?  It already is at my school (ie all Y12s have to have a C in a Language GCSE).
  • Are the suggested hours in the Personal Development and Service units realistic?
  • Do the suggested scores give an appropriate weighting to the various components of each qualification?
  • Should the overall A-Bacc score depend to any degree on the I-Bacc score?

There are lots more.  At this early stage of this model, I am open to suggestions on all fronts.  I hope the key concept comes across – I don’t want to write too much more because it could all change.  However, please do make suggestions or ask for clarifications if this diagram is not clear enough.  As I always say in these situations… you are not allowed to say you don’t like it unless you are prepared to make a specific suggestion that is better!  That is my challenge to any reader:  I know this isn’t perfect but can you suggest a model even better than this?  Let’s see….

 UPDATE: January 2013

I’m delighted by the response to these ideas.  I’ve been challenged on various fronts and have adjusted the framework slightly.  Here is an updated model, with some notes:

Alternative English Baccalaureate Model v2 January 2013
Alternative English Baccalaureate Model v2 January 2013

Here is a pdf version to download:

The English Baccalaureate Framework v2

Further thinking: Apologies if it is repetitive:

The underlying principles of my model are as follows:

  • It should be a universal framework that allows all students an opportunity to gain recognition for their achievements at different levels: “one system for all; excellence for all”
  • It should embrace both rigour and breadth and give value to a wide range of curriculum areas, with Arts, Humanities and Languages on an equal footing.
  • It should embrace both technical and academic learning, including a blend of both as required without seeking artificial equivalence; they are different but equally important.
  • Extended individual study should be given value alongside assessment by examination as part of the overarching framework for all students.
  • Personal Development and Community Service should be given value as part of the overarching framework.
  • There should be a strong core and a broad range of options defining a standard EBacc qualification, but no limit to the breath of the curriculum for an individual.

I think my model delivers these goals.  Depending on the level of ability of a student, there is a set of assessment units (broadly equivalent to GCSEs and A Levels) that would provide an appropriate level of challenge for all learners in the system, allowing a detailed, formally accredited transcript to be drawn up representing a full picture of every young person’s achievements.

In addition to the overarching structure, I am also proposing that the component units should be approached in a different way:

  • The level of challenge for the top end should be increased; there is no benefit to having a ceiling and an A* is a ceiling for our highest attainers.
  • We should replace grades that create completely artificial ‘cliff effects’ at the boundaries with a numerical scale.  There will be a margin of error in the precision of awarding these points but we’d be free from the distortions inherent in an accountability–driven system that focuses on narrow grade boundaries.
  • The mode of assessment should be devised by professional assessment experts; in all likelihood there would be a mixture of exams, coursework and controlled assessments of various kinds, depending on the needs of each curriculum area and the level of difficulty.

The Foundation, Intermediate, Technical and Advanced ‘Bacc’s provide four different general umbrellas that allow just enough variation to cater for all needs, within with appropriate, challenging assessment scales are used to give recognition the level of attainment.


Please keep the comments coming.


  1. By Jove, I think he’s cracked it!

    For goodness sake, get somebody in power to listen to this. It seems to me to combine the best of all the systems from abroad that we keep admiring, but fail to emulate, whilst properly valuing technical options in the way they were respected in my parents’ generation, and letting the most academic fly.


  2. I think this is an extremely commendable initiative on your part. Many of us remember how long it took Mike Tomlinson to come up with his diploma model and that after he had rejected a baccalaureate or matriculation model – of course it was all rejected by Tony Blair prior to a General Election, which is the problem with politics and education. I would be interested how the Tech Bacc project team under Chris Husbands respond to your approach to their strand – my impression is that many schools and colleges go with a BTEC, a vocational diploma (now disappearing) or a apprenticeship route to solve the vocational/technical problem we have in England. Heseltine has advocated much more employer involvement, DfE is hoping on UTCs and Studio Schools to solve this.

    I have 1 question: are you saying in some cases that 100 points at one level is worth more/less than 100 points at another level of the baccalaureate e.g. under PDS you have 150 hours service at Advanced level but the same points as Intermediate and Foundation? Also in the Advanced compulsory you have an ICore sitting there in brackets at 200 points, which I assume is there as an entry tariff and for HE information as it appears to have an actual value of 0 points? I realise this is being a bit picky at this stage but really only trying to understand what is a great diagram.


    • Well spotted! Thanks for the detailed response. I’m saying that at each level, the PDS element could be rated differently for the respective Bacc qualification. That was really to try to get them in proportion with the other elements. The 200 points for ICore is an entry requirement – yes. Should it then also count toward the ABacc? I’ve suggested that is shouldn’t but, again, that could change. If this was rigorous enough the IBacc scores could replace AS scores as a university predictor.


  3. I really merit this with one exception. I would focus on the foundation having three of three subjects to allow breadth. Likewise the intermediate would be four of five rather than three. For the Sciences would it be a core science + Additional or would the science in the extra column be for the triple?


  4. Dear Tom
    This is really interesting thinking. I would love to have a chat with you about how we could align our thinking.
    ASDAN supports the Modern Baccalaureate framework. It’s a grass roots movement with a framework not a million miles away from your thinking.
    Do please get in touch! mariusfrank@asdan.org.uk


  5. On way to Arundel, Tom, but in case we don’t get a chance to speak…. The emerging hierarchy of subjects in current thinking (EB vs those that don’t matter; except some of those that don’t matter – technology, sports, arts – matter more than others eg Engineering, computer science) is a worry and I like the equal weighting given to all curricular components. This should address the issue.
    On the subject of Technical: I think it would be an idea to avoid the use of ‘Diploma’ and use ‘Bacc’ instead. I think it would be useful to have a clarification if what is understood by technical and vocational (there is a wider need for this, it seems). Thirdly, my experience of a voc option compulsory for learners of ALL abilities was a very positive one. Finally, do you intend that, of the three advanced units, one or more might be vocational? I think it is important to provide opportunities to blend the academic and the vocational.
    A really interesting model – I would love to get into the retail! Thank you very much.


    • Yes but I think you should still get into retail … :). Thanks Tom for clarifying in response to my query and I think you should consider whether the ICore does contribute as universities I suspect would want it to?


  6. I would agree with most of this and it is very clearly laid out. Seems to build nicely on Tomlinson and possibly offers the compromise of being able to use existing iGCSE, GCSE, BTEC courses as optional / Core units with a potential change in how marks are presented.

    I disagree with the Technical Diploma being stuck on the end. I would rather see Technical Units as an equal part of the optional ones and not see the restrictive 5 from 3 areas approach in the options (Maybe a minimum of 2 from different options). I think there is a real danger with the idea of a Tech Bacc or Diploma that however you dress it up it will be a poor relation. I also question how widely available it would potentially be to students as most schools without the facility to deliver high quality technical diplomas / Tech Bacc try to keep students and shoe horn them inappropriately into the more conventional pathway which they are equipped to deliver. Some will say UTCs and Technical Colleges will offer these courses but in rural areas is this providing equality of opportunity? Good to see a positive viable alternative proposed in the debate rather than just the negative commentary that seems to prevail.


  7. I would like to see further definition of technical and vocational. They should be clearly separated, and for schools to offer technical courses in arts, music, sciences and technology that are of equal status and demand to traditional academic courses. Vocational courses also have a role but over the years the purpose has become obscured as various diploma programmes have stretched expectations.
    The above EBacc framework provides a realistic opportunity for such courses to develop and provide a breadth of educational opportunity which is currently missing from English education.


    • Thanks Richard. I am no expert on Tech/Vocational qualifications and to be honest I do morph them into one concept for the sake of this debate . I do know that schools can’t do it all in their current configurations. eg a decent Vehicle Maintenance, Music Tech or Health and Social Care course requires specialist provision that schools often don’t have. However, a National Framework should include all these things. We need to move away from Equivalence – towards parity of esteem. eg Physics A level has no Tech/Voc ‘equivalent’…in my view. hence the Tech Bacc concept stands aside on its own merits, within one framework. This avoids people making meaningless attempts to say one is better or more important than the other.


      • You’ve got exactly the right workings but unfortunately managed to come to the wrong answer here! Having 2 Baccs will automatically invite comparison – there’s no difference between saying Bacc vs Tech Bacc than between GCSE/AS/A2 vs Btec. The parity of esteem (which is spot on) can only come when they’re all in the same mix – whether that means some expertise needs to be ceded to industry to deliver (for the moment) or not.


      • I think we’ll get bogged down here if we’re not careful. A Gold Standard Tech Bacc should and could stand on its own terms. This model provides common elements so they are in the same mix… but still distinct. I actually feel the distinctiveness of the Tech Bacc idea is important. But if we have to have an argument about whether Physics and Maths at A Level count for more than an Engineering Diploma or are ‘equivalent’ we won’t get anywhere. That’s the thinking….


  8. Hi

    There are some good ideas here. 🙂

    I always considered the term Baccalaureate to have been stolen from the IBO ( it underlined the flakiness of the Ebac in my mind), and that a more creative title might be used – CE, for example – a Certificate of Education. (I’m not wedded to it).

    I like your idea of a score rather than grades too. And different levels within subjects.

    I’m pleased to see that you recognise the importance of developing skills as well as knowledge, and that coursework, or whatever, absolutely must be a component.

    And I’m with you wholeheartedly on Community Service and Personal Improvement elements.

    I’m not entirely convinced that secondary education needs to go up to 18 for everyone though. Arguably, there are still jobs that could be done by a 14 year old!

    It’s time that all subjects were treated in exactly the same way: carpentry for example, having the same score scope and weight as a more academic subject.

    I’ve been thinking that there’s a place for a serious Foundation: English, Maths, Cookery, Life Skills etc., (distinct from academic courses), where all students have to reach and demonstrate that they can maintain a certain Level. It doesn’t necessarily need to be examined – a selection of marked pieces could be sent away for moderation – but the student would have to demonstrate competence before getting the Certificate of Education. That way, perhaps the general public won’t be able to say “Youngsters today don’t know write a letter” or “they can’t understand their payslip or a bank statement”.


  9. I am interested in views on using a points based system versus traditional grades in GCSEs and A-levels. What are the advantages of this? Clearly it links better to the UCAS points based approach to HE entry, which I believe is under review, but is this what universities want? What about other stakeholders? Will we miss grades? Sorry more Qs than answers but perhaps you can tackle some of them ….


    • I don’t have firm evidence on this – it is just something I would like explored. The ‘cliff effect’ created by grades has toxic consequences, with excessive pressure placed upon a tipping point that is actually very shaky. Measuring attainment is flawed – and yet we feel we can divide C from D and load that with meaning ie pass/fail, when, in fact, the differences can be marginal. In any case, grades originate from scores; these are morphed into grades and original measures are lost. I think that points would be more useful and would remove cliff edges. However, we’d need to accept a margin or error and educate all stakeholders. It would mean scores of 61 and 59 have the same differential as 52 and 50… whereas, currently, 50, 52, and 59 might all be Cs, with 61 a B. Then total scores can be added up to give an overall measure..etc etc. I’ve written more about it elsewhere on my blog.

      Can we measure to the accuracy of 61 and 59/100? Well, that is a good question. Currently raw scores are turned into UMS and I think UMS marks can be adjusted to give parity across subjects in a meaningful way… so really it is UMS points I am talking about. After a while, people would soon learn the language. In the US everyone knows what it means if you score XXX on the SATs, for example.


    • There is precedence: the IBO DP is a score based system, and Universities are comfortably dealing with that. The NZQA is also points based. Interestingly enough, with a points based system, students can enrich their marks and reflect their talents at the same time, for example by doing an instrumental recital even if they haven’t chosen to study Music formally.


      • I worked for a decade under the NZQA points-based system, and as a teacher it was enormously exciting to be able to devise programmes of learning around any set of achievement standards we wished. We had courses, that were gaining the students credits towards their national qualification, that were a combination of English, Drama and Media studies. Students could be assessed in triathlon and then I could assess their report and analysis in English as a piece of non-fiction writing. We could go on a trip into the outdoors and everything they were doing could be assessed, from devising the safety action plan, writing the parent letter or an appeal to a potential sponsor to rolling a kayak.

        Learning was vital, enriched and a lot of fun. This relied on levels of confidence in the professionalism of teachers that I simply haven’t seen here in the UK. We devised our own assessment tools and these were moderated nationally, along with the students’ work. The process was serious and rigorous, but we had to be trusted to tell the truth.

        In my department (English, Media and Drama) we had redeveloped all senior learning (years 11-13) to revolve around lines of enquiry. At the beginning of each year the teachers would present their programmes, themes, texts and approaches to learning and the students would choose their own course and their own teacher.

        Imagine that!

        The main element that prevents this level of innovation in the UK system is the oppressive accountability processes and the draconian league tables that keep our state schools suppressed and scared. I keep asking myself, and those around me: “What is the need for it all?”

        Chris Waugh


      • Gosh, it sounds excellent. We have such a low-trust system now that I can’t see that approach being accepted here just yet. However, we need to put forward ideas that take us in that direction and I hope my model does that. The bitter irony is that the supposed rigour of an exam-only system is an illusion. There are just as many variables and flaws with the machinery that leads to all those rows of exam desks as with teacher-assessed projects in terms of actual learning… This campaign is like reversing a tanker.. it will take a while!


      • Yes, that is right. I like the idea of ‘credits’ for enrichment activities as part of a package. If it is all laid out, employers and Universities can choose to look at the points or not, but they would be there.


      • Assessment is a real issue though. A friend of mine spent 4 days over the Christmas break marking 20 WJEC Physics practicals (a similar amount of time as other colleagues at the school). You have to wonder what the point is, when any of them could tell you the students’ grades (even broken down into various components) off the top of their heads: what a colossal waste of time. Why not just have the teacher submit the grades, and examples of work for moderation purposes? As Chris said, it’s high time we started trusting teachers to do the job they do so well.


  10. Dear Tom
    If we have to have an EBacc then this is the type of model that makes sense to me.
    It is inclusive, uses current qualifications, appreciates arts and technology, has a degree of flexibility and also brings in service and other activities that enrich the curriculum and develops social responsibility. I still believe strongly in the personalisation agenda and this model enables that approach while maintaining a strong core.
    I am not keen on a mix of EBC’s and GCSE’s. Core GCSE’s have been tinkered with enough lately and new science GCSE’s are certainly harder. So your model works for me but can we get anyone to listen?
    Where does RE come within your model, is it classified as a humanity (unlike the current EBacc)?


    • Thanks for the comment. I don’t like the narrow definitions of subjects. For me, schools should decide what Humanities options to include. RE should certainly be offered alongside other Humanities – although my feeling is that the current RE GCSE papers are perhaps not as challenging as History and that needs to be looked at as a separate issue.


  11. Tom, so glad that your model now has wider coverage via Headteachers Roundtable as it certainly deserves fuller consideration.

    You have 2 Pingbacks from posts by me, but a third post to look at is here: http://behrfacts.com/2012/06/30/assessment-should-we-keep-the-public-in-the-dark/

    This was written last June after Gove leaked his ‘return to O-level’ proposals and tackles the issue of how much the public needs to know about the ‘dark art’ of assessment. At the time I was rather hesitant about what to expect, but I am beginning to move back towards ‘the more they know the better’. This means creating a virtuous circle of more statistically proficient students who in turn become adults who can handle the mysteries of error bars, confidence limits etc. and the general concept of uncertainty that dominates everything we know.


  12. A very interesting and thoughtful proposal.

    Given the highly-politicized nature of education in the UK (and not only here), it is very important to try to get the broadest possible support across the political spectrum for this approach. (Stating the bleeding obvious, I suppose.)

    As I see it, this is logically orthogonal to the “standards” issue, which is the usual battlefield of Left and Right.

    It should be able to accomodate everyone.

    One small point: there will never be “parity of esteem” between “vocational” and “academic” awards, for the same reason there will never be “parity of esteem” between, say, coal miners and surgeons. This may reflect badly on human nature, but it’s just true. Rather, we should just ignore this issue, the way we ignore a lot of other unpleasant social realities.


  13. […] The Ebacc (90% goal) doesn’t add up for me and I will not advocate this policy at all during my career. Two other headteachers fully in support of this madness, are @LeadingLearner who has written, The F-Bacc is On It’s Way! and @headguruteacher, who has also written and proposed a real alternative; EBacc Alternative: One System for All; Excellence for All. […]


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