Labour’s 14-18 Baccalaureate – the dangers and how they could be avoided

Melissa Benn’s post on Local Schools Network points up the prospect of some very welcome new thinking from Tristram Hunt, but there are grave dangers attached to Labour’s 14 -18 academic/vocational baccalaureate proposals.

School students should not be making irrevocable career choices at 14. How many people have the same ambitions at 18 or 21 that they had in the second term of Y9 when these decisions are presumably to be made? If we really are to transform the experience of schooling from the ‘production line treadmill’ that Tristram Hunt has been very recently criticising, then we do not want to just substitute one treadmill with another twice as big.

Janet Downs points out the dangers of UTCs here

However, it does not require separate vocational colleges for this very bad idea to infect our school system. 11-18 schools could divide their pupils into separate academic and vocational streams at 14 or even earlier. I am a fan of banded admissions driven by CATs, as in Hackney, but not if the bands are used to designate students as academic or vocational streams. Labour’s plans create a real danger of this.

However the 14-18 baccalaureate idea has many sound educational attractions but only on the basis of a radically different approach to the structure and assessment of four-year linear courses.

The new KS4/5 must be both developmental and inspirational. A student may, in the course of personal development, be inspired to choose a completely different career and life-path to that which she envisaged in March/April of Y9.

I am sure it is necessary to revisit the concept of modular curriculum and teacher assessment, but in a way that can promote personal development and consequent pathway switching at many points during a 14 – 18+ curriculum experience. There were some very radical ideas and structures captured within the ‘Leicestershire Modular Framework’ (Section 5.7 in ‘Learning Matters’) that are relevant to these issues, but none of them are possible within our present marketised, league table-driven system.

The rest of this post is about the ‘Leicestershire Modular Framework’, which uniquely and very successfully solved the theoretical and structural problems of assessing widely divergent subjects including academic, creative, practical and vocational all within a single assessment and qualification framework within a curriculum structure that permits jumping back and forth between subjects and pathways and within which any given final grade genuinely reflects equivalent intellectual challenge between subjects and pathways.

The only way this has ever been achieved is by the Leicestershire Modular Framework (LMF), which is described in Section 5.7 of ‘Learning Matters’. I can’t reproduce all of that section of my book here, but I will set out the details of the scheme. I am not suggesting that the LMF can be lifted directly as the basis of Labour’s proposed baccalaureate, but I am suggesting that the radical principles of LMF could be adapted to do the job.

So what are these principles?

  1. LMF was a Mode 3 (curriculum and assessment devised and implemented by teachers) GCSE. This was permitted under the first GCSE Criteria approved by the government.
  2. Courses are based on 20 hour lesson modules supplemented by further private study.
  3. All modules have a problem solving/enquiry based format and involve peer-peer cooperation and research – all very Vygotsky. They all therefore contribute to the development of general intelligence as well as the accumulation of knowledge and skills. See sections 1.1 & 1.2 of ‘Learning Matters’.
  4. All modules can be aggregated with all other modules. In LMF, five modules were needed for a GCSE programme. There were a range of possible GCSE subject titles. Each title specified the modules that could qualify for that programme, but three ‘core modules’ were needed per title. All modules could be used in more than one subject title programme. LMF was only ever intended as ‘additional studies’ in a KS4/5 student timetable. The final version (1991) of the scheme had 11 subject titles.

Business and Information Studies

Communication Studies


Information Systems

Services to People

Technical Services

Expressive Arts

Creative Design

Social and Environmental Studies

Beliefs and Values

Interdisciplinary Studies

Interdisciplinary Studies allowed any combination of five modules.

These all have a vocational ‘feel’, however at that time none were vocationally specific as the main take up of LMF was in KS4 at a time when specifically ‘vocational’ courses had yet to emerge. Some schools experimented with the LMF approach in core academic subjects including all the current EBacc subjects. This is where very exciting further development of the LMF principle is possible. I envisage core subject modules based on Shayer & Adey’s Cognitive Acceleration programmes. There is no structural limit to the number and range of possible programme titles in an LMF-like scheme.

LMF had 196 approved modules available in 1991. LMF centres were encouraged to produce ‘developmental’ modules.

The really radical bit is how the modules are aggregated.

Every module is structured around the same five discreet ‘Capabilities’ in the sense that Guy Claxton now uses ‘learning capacity’. See Section 5.5 in ‘Learning Matters’. LMF ‘Capabilities’ have universal application across subjects and the academic/vocational divide. These are the five core ‘Capabilities’.

Recognition – Identification of the problem/issue and its implications

Location – Identifying the problem/issue within the current body of knowledge

Application – In the normal sense of the word, as in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Communication – Producing and communicating the outcome of the study.

Evaluation – As in Bloom.

A maximum of 8 marks is possible for each Capability. However these were not aggregated within modules, but only in the final stage of the programme assessment. So the final score for each module is a set of five marks out of a possible of 8. A mark of 5 corresponds to GCSE grade C level, defined in the scheme to be Piaget’s concrete/formal boundary. This means that LMF is a criterion referenced scheme of assessment without any of the disadvantages. Standards are automatically maintained from one year to the next because they are tied to the Master Assessment Grid, which can be found in Section 5.7 of ‘Learning Matters’. It is also reproduced in this website here.

Each module specification has its own Module Specific Assessment grid. These are subsets of the Master Grid. You can find an example here.

This is at the core of LMF. The attainment descriptors on the Master Grid are a combination of the underlying principles of Bloom and Piaget. This is explained in Sections 1.8 and 1.11 of ‘Learning Matters’.

The final student grade for the programme is obtained first by separately aggregating the five scores for each Capability across the five modules of the programme. This is done by the LMF ‘Rule of Consistency’, whereby the highest mark is taken subject to there being at least two other marks within one mark of it.

Finally, the aggregated Capabilities are added up to produce a total score that converts directly to a GCSE grade according to the table. This is set out in Figs 8 & 9 on p131 of ‘Learning Matters’. Grade awarding is therefore an automatic process. All the arguments and judgements in relation to grade specific standards take place at the module assessment and moderation stage, with the final decisions being taken by the Chief Examiner of the scheme. I was the first holder of this post.

The inter-school moderation process involves a large meeting or series of meetings, but involvement in this process is cascaded down to school level moderation, so that every single LMF teacher is involved in it, resulting in very high quality continuous professional development.

There is another very radical feature of LMF. This relates to how and when modules are chosen. At the Leicestershire Community College where we ran LMF, there was a team of LMF teachers sharing the same timetable slot, teaching parallel groups of students. Modules were taught for 135 minutes per week (1 double + 1 single period of 45mins), over a 10 week cycle. About 7 weeks into the cycle the students could choose their next module. If there were four teachers in the team the students had a choice of four modules, so the student groups and their teachers changed from one module to the next.

At an earlier time, the school had a very simple timetable structure that would have been ideal for LMF. There were 30 x 50min lessons in the school week, 6 lessons per day. The timetable was set out in columns. Each column represented a particular timetable slot in the week; eg Column 1 could have been Tue p2 and Fri p5&6. Each column got a single and double period. As there were 30 periods in the week this needed 10 columns. The school timetable was constructed column by column on paper rather than by moving blocks around a grid (then on the wall or now in a computer).

Consider a thought experiment in which this school teaches its entire curriculum on the LMF. Over years 10 – 13 each student would take 10 modules in each of the 10 timetable columns, making 100 modules per student. The modules would be assessed and moderated as they were completed, with their sets of 5 Capability scores per module banked (in a computerised system) until they left the school at the end of Y11 or Y13 (or later still – adult students taking LMF based courses could be taught alongside school students over as many years as they liked).

A Y11 leaver would have a banked set of 50 modules. A Y13 leaver would have a banked set of 100 modules. Five modules are needed for each qualification subject title. So school leavers would choose their qualifications at the end of their completed courses rather than at the beginning, by matching their personal module portfolios with those that are allowed for different subject titles. The aggregated subject grades would all be decided using the LMF Rule of Consistency. Not only that, the students would have been shaping their module pools through their own module by module choices throughout their progression through the school.

How cool is that?!

I doubt that any school would actually have a 100 percent modular curriculum on the LMF pattern. LMF is based on GCSE (L2) courses. There would also need to be L3 courses. This complicates things. There would probably also be conventional 2 year courses connected in series with new choices at the end of Y11. Perhaps there would also be 4 year linear courses in maths and English, but even these could be modularised within LMF.

What about 11 -18 schools? For this to work for them, the KS3 linear subject-based developmental curriculum would have to be structured within the same 10 column timetable system.

To return to the subject of this post, Let’s have a 14 – 18 academic/vocational baccalaureate as Tristram Hunt is proposing, but only on the basis of a flexible, developmental model that encompasses the strengths and pedagogic opportunities of the Leicestershire Modular Framework.

I possess the complete scheme including all the module specifications in two giant folders in my office at home, where they remained undisturbed from 1991 until I wrote Section 5.7 of my book.

I hope they may yet be the subject of renewed interest.

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