Why it’s time to Bacc-off!

October 19th, 2012 by

To (mis)quote George W Bush, ‘the trouble with the French is that they haven’t got a word for Baccalaureate’. At least, they haven’t got a word for the sort of things that we’re calling a Baccalaureate. What they describe as a Baccalaureate is a university entrance qualification. Here we’re running round with the word slapping it on to any old educational proposals that could do with sounding important and interesting. The word has something impressive and Napoleonic about it – no wonder Michael Gove nabbed it for his E-Bacc. Except the E-Bacc is not a university entrance qualification, it’s for 14-16 year olds. And it’s not a qualification at all, it’s a performance measure. But it’s a bit like a qualification as well because pupils can ‘get’ the E-Bacc if they’ve got the right package of GCSEs. It’s like a nice boxed set to put them in– or perhaps a shrink-wrapped package to fit handily into a CV or university application.

Just when we thought we’d understood what the E-Bacc was we heard that the E-Bacc would have its own special exams after all – English Baccalaureate Certificates – so when these come out we’ll have separate certificates AND an overall package.

It’s not the shortening to ‘E-Bacc’ that I object to – many of the most useful words in the English language are formed in this way – think of U-bend for instance. It’s the way that everything has suddenly become a Baccalaureate. Just this week we’ve heard we’re also going to have the A-Bacc, which is in fact for Sixth form pupils (Hooray!), but of course technically it’s an E-Bacc as well, being English. But the A-Bacc is not going to be a qualification, it’s just going to be the boxed set thing, with the contents mainly A levels and perhaps a bit of extra project work stuck in for good measure. Nothing wrong with the idea, just that describing it as a Bacc is rather confusing. We’d just got used to the idea that the E-Bacc was for 14-16 year olds hadn’t we? But now we’ve got an A&E Bacc.

Now, what about students who don’t get to get either an E-Bacc or an A-Bacc. Didn’t someone say something about a Technical Baccalaureate? That would be a T-Bacc, wouldn’t it? And maybe it would have vocational options within it such as a Brick-a-Bacc, or a Draw-Bacc? You can see my problem, the word is starting to get all slippery and slimy and not rigorous and Napoleonic at all.

They’re doing it in other parts of the UK too. In Scotland we have a Scottish Baccalaureate and in Wales we have a Welsh one. The Scottish one is for 16-18 year olds (Hooray again!) and it comes in different versions (Languages, Science…) while the Welsh one is for 14-19 year olds and can be taken at 3 separate levels. With all these Baccalaureates, it’s not surprising that George W might get a bit confused. All we need now is for Northern Ireland to come along with a Baby-Bacc and we’d have a full set. A Set-Bacc, even.

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