Towards a Proper English Baccalaureate

Before joining KEGS as Head, I used to work as Head of Secondary at the British International School in Jakarta.  It was an extraordinary experience on many levels.  One of the features of the school that gave us confidence that we were delivering an extremely strong educational product was that we ran the English Curriculum at KS3, GCSEs / iGCSEs at KS4 and then the International Baccalaureate Diploma.

Those people familiar with the IB will not need any convincing  – it is a superb programme in many respects. There is built-in breadth of learning, the opportunity to complete an extended essay, an element of Theory of Knowledge interwoven with every subject and value given to Creativity, Action and Service – the ethos-defining CAS programme.  We also felt that the GCSEs gave students a superb preparation for the IB in a way that the IB Middle Years Programme didn’t – at least not at the time.

The IB Diploma
The IB Diploma

In Jakarta, CAS permeated the entire school ethos and we also adopted the IB Learner Profile as a whole-school tool for shaping our thinking on teaching and learning.  These components have far greater significance than their points value on the IB, where only 3 points are given beyond the 6 x7 points for the three Higher and three Standard subjects.

However, the IB is not perfect or universal. The rigid subject groups make it difficult for students to undertake a specialised programme – say three sciences and certainly not two arts subjects.  It is also too demanding overall for a large proportion of learners; at least it was before the introduction of the new IBCCs –  Career-related Certificates.  There are also some inherent inconsistencies in standards – some languages and maths courses have points parity despite representing different levels of attainment. Interestingly, IB schools are expected to work with integrity in terms of putting students in for appropriately challenging courses instead of the easiest ones.  They also have responsibility for verifying completion of the CAS component and ensuring that the content is of high quality.  Despite these issues, and reliance on centres to act in certain ways, the IB has credibility worldwide, allowing students to enter almost any profession or university course.

Arriving in the UK to take on the Headship at KEGS, the IB was being hotly debated. I was clear that the IB represented a superior framework to the standard 3 A level package.  We undertook a thorough feasibility study into the possibility of running the IB.  A number of things became clear immediately:

1) There was a deep commitment to the flexibility offered by A Levels in my school.  Many students take three sciences and maths;  many take multiple humanities subjects – History, Economics and Philosophy, for example; the possibility of taking both Art and Theatre Studies is important to some.  In general there is a feeling that the IB can squeeze out the arts.

2) Given the commitment to A levels, the only option would be to run IB and A levels in parallel and, by our calculations, this would be unsustainable in terms of staffing and costs. It would  have to be all or nothing.

3) We felt that we matched the IB in our general provision anyway:  most students at KEGS engage in a wide range of CAS-type activities, they all take General Studies and almost all take at least four  A Levels in addition to that; in fact many take five. So – why bother?

It was an easy decision, therefore, to stick with A Levels. For other reasons, we have introduced Pre-U English, the excellent Global Perspectives and Research course and increasingly, students are taking the Extended Project alongside General Studies.  Despite the quality of provision overall, there is still a piecemeal feel to our curriculum; we pack it out with activities and rigour; we offer a very broad and challenging education and have our own distinctive ethos rich in international perspectives – but it doesn’t all hang together quite like the IB.

When Michael Gove announced the EBacc as a new performance measure, I was incensed. I have no objection to incentivising schools to offer a broad KS4 curriculum including the chance to take a GCSE in Languages and Humanities – but the EBacc measure is so crude,  so rigid and was introduced in such a crass manner – it was infuriating.   We have wasted the concept of an English Baccalaurate – the EBacc – on something utterly pathetic compared to the IB.  The lack of vision inherent in this decision still galls me.

When the EBacc Certificates were being mooted, prior to being abandoned  after what must have been one of the most one-sided, negative DFE consultation responses, I felt it was time to suggest something better and was determined to reclaim English Baccalaureate as the title of something with meaning and substance.  The key thinking in my initial model was this:

  • We need one system for the country; a system that is inclusive, allowing different levels of success at Levels below Level 3.
  • We need to match the IB for rigour and breadth – but introduce flexibility to specialise in the way that three A levels allows.
  • We need to ensure that we give value to elements of education that go beyond subjects and exams.
  • We need to find a way to give technical learning a home alongside academic learning.
  • We need to think about a model with terminal qualifications aged 18, not 16.

I wrote this up in this post  EBacc for All; Excellence for All

Then things moved on:  The Headteachers’ Roundtable formed, ran an alternative  consultation on the EBC issue and then held a conference.  I presented my ideas alongside other people’s and we then started to work on an alternative together.  I think the solution we came up with is very powerful.  It includes the idea of progressive grades, along the lines of Piano Grades, to measure attainment.  With input from Special and Primary Heads, we devised a model that could be a universal framework for assessment across the system.  It is recorded on the Headteachers’ Roundtable site here.

The Headteachers' Roundtable Bacc Framework
The Headteachers’ Roundtable Bacc Framework

The potential for this system is immense. However, just now, we’re not in a position to put it into practice because it would require us to redefine all existing qualifications to fit the 1-8 Grading system.  It is a vision for the future.

Following this piece of work, we were approached by members of the organisation Whole Education who were looking for a model to roll out via a set of Pathfinder Schools, signed up to the ‘Better Bacc’ principles that they had been putting together.  Their values line up very closely with ours at HTRT:

The Whole Education organisation's values
The Whole Education organisation’s values

Working with Whole Education, supported with input from City&Guilds – for their knowledge of technical/vocational qualifications, we’ve come up with an exciting model that could be implemented straight away.  It is detailed on the HTRT site here:  The English Baccalaureate Pathfinder Model

I love it.  We’ve managed to find a proper way to include technical learning within the overall framework so it is not a separate ‘Tech Bacc’.  We’ve also created a points system that might pave the way to removing grades from our qualifications altogether.  No more cliff edges.  Below is the Advanced Bacc in detail. It provides an A level/BTEC framework to match the IB; it would allow the IB to line up with A levels in a  very integrated way, to the point where the IB might not even be needed it the Personal Development Programme contained a TOK course and CAS for all.

The Advanced Baccalaureate: A representation of a rounded education.
The Advanced Baccalaureate: A representation of a rounded education.

I am going to sign my school up to be a pathfinder. I want to evaluate this idea alongside the others, feeding in our experiences and working towards an genuine alternative; an IB for England.  The full document on the HTRT site has a page of questions that we want to answer.  The idea is to shadow the implementation of the Bacc framework, looking to see how it fits and what additional provision might be required.

Working with various people at HTRT, Whole-Education and locally in Essex I’m looking forward to exploring how various learners could fit into this system; does it work for everyone? A student on a L2 or L3 Apprenticeship attending college on day-release? A student with a mixed bag of GCSEs doing a mix of BTECs and an A Level? A student taking 12 GCSEs and 5 A levels? A student with special needs for whom L1 is a challenge?

I think it could work well at KEGS.  To make it look simple for my students it could be represented like this:

How the KEGS version of the English Bacc might look.
How the KEGS version of the English Bacc might look.

The Personal Development Programme we would put together would be brilliant – and we’d have a framework for it to fit into that would allow us to ensure all students are included, not just those who opt in. The PRP would be our CAS – permeating throughout the school.  There is more detail on this on the HTRT website and more to follow. The idea of a centre-devised element to the Bacc framework is very powerful.

The overarching accreditation is an area we are exploring.  John Tomsett and I are talking to various university contacts to see if they will act as an accrediting body for the purposes of the pathfinding process. That will give the Bacc some credibility with students even while it is in a trial phase.  Nothing has been confirmed yet but I’m sure someone will offer!

We’re not there yet, but I am starting to believe that the tide is turning in our favour.  There is still too much fiddling and tinkering with GCSEs and Alevels without a broader vision… but the case for a proper English Bacc is very strong and I think we’ll get there in the end; we just need schools to show it can work and politicians with a bit of steel and genuine vision.  Once we have this in place, we can then concentrate on all the things that will really raise the bar in our system -improving teaching and learning and raising aspirations.

Come on people – it is there for the taking.


  1. Thank heavens for your final diagram Tom. I didn’t want to comment on the detail of the latest HTRT model until I had seen something simpler that everyone could understand, including students and their parents. IMHO it sums up the case for a focus on a broad meaning of the word ‘education’ to age 18, during which GCSEs are simply a marking post on the way. Another, less selective 11-18 school or an 11-16 school in partnership with a post16 provider, would have both a KEGS-type model and one where A-levels are replaced by good quality technical qualifications. UTCs and Studio schools might just offer the latter. Who knows what a free or private school would do, but all would work in the same direction: post16 outcomes that produce the greatest benefit for young people.


  2. Tom, HTRT needed to be commended on this work. I know I’m adding to a large number of people who have already praised their thinking and work. Your points in this blog post around the decision making at your own school with respect to the IB are crucial in the final construct. There has been the identification of key elements of a student’s education without falling into the trap of trying to control the actual qualifications. It is an ideal balance and reflects the traditions of education in England where students have been given increasing choice over their curriculum as they go through school. Students often offset breadth with depth but I don’t see this necessarily as a bad thing.

    I can see this working at St. Mary’s very well and many of the building blocks are in place. We require all post-16 students to either complete the Extended Project Qualification (with a moral or ethical strand) or Community Volunteering Qualification (CVQ) as part of General RE. The CVQ could easily sit within the personal development element. Look forward to HTRT becoming the political party of choice at the next election.


    • Thanks for the affirming comment Stephen. I agree; I’d like this for my school. If we can get close to this as a national system, it would be excellent. I’ll be looking at it in my school. We need more people doing EPQ; currently all do General Studies which has value but doesn’t have the extended essay element. The Cambridge Pre- GPR course is excellent too.


  3. Good stuff Tom!
    My area of interest in all this can be summarised by the Whole Education bullet points regarding:
    a) skills (as well as knowledge/quals)
    b) relevance (mixing practical and academic) and
    c) the location of learning

    How do you see the emerging model drilling down into the explicit growth of skills for learning, skills for employment and skills for life?

    Some able students perhaps do not need to dwell in these curriculum elements; perhaps the extended project might work for some; but many learners, some from marginalised backgrounds, might need a more explicit personal development programme than that described in the model in order to become more effective and successful life-long learning.

    Maybe its possible to weave this seamlessly through the PDP, IP and the ESP components of the model?

    I also feel it is so important to “include”: that concept was inherent in the original HTRT model. I know you have only modelled an L3 version above, but some might mistakenly believe that there is interest only to present something that challenges the AdBac or the TechBac. We must actively promote a “Bacc for All” in all models that are presented… that will achieve greater buy-in.

    Keep up the good work!

    Marius Frank
    (Progressive Awards Alliance)


    • Hi Marius

      Thanks for the comment. Regarding the Personal Development Programme, yes those employability skills need to be featured in there. We need to develop more explicit models of the PRP and, thinking longer term, we’re hoping that will emerge from the trials. Also the Tech qualifications that fit into the Bacc have some of those elements built-in.

      We published what we’ve done so far but the L1 and Entry Level Baccs need more work. Why? Because we need more information about the volume of typical quals that a typical 18/19 L1 learner will be working towards in order to build the rest around it. What would their KS4 learning have looked like. This will come… I know there is a short-term risk of losing the inclusiveness but, with the current quals, it is messy and we want to get it right. Entry Level is even more difficult. We need to do a separate bit of work on Entry Level Quals post-16..

      Anyway, SAVE THE DATE: September 20th 2013: Pathfinder Bacc Trial Launch, London. Venue tbc. By then we will have a working model for everyone.

      Best wishes


  4. Top HKBK Engineering College imparts knowledge to students and nurture with the talents related to computer science engineering both theoretically and also practical trainings.


  5. Just for info, we now have a new qualification accredited through Ofqual at L1 and L2 to support Enterprise and Preparation for Employment. Its been put forward to the DfE to be assigned league table points. It meets all the criteria as far as I can tell. So we will find out end of November but even without them it provides a framework for assessing these things devised by teachers and active entrepreneurs in business start ups. and endorsed by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.


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