The sincerest form of flattery

October 2, 2012 by
Filed under: The RSA 

Obviously and for good reason, those who – like me – cherish the RSA’s independent, non-aligned status would be worried if the Society started to praise the policies of one particular political party.  But what if a party adopts a pre-existing RSA idea?

This is happening today as Ed Miliband unveils his idea of a technical baccalaureate for those students who do not intend to pursue an academic route to university.

Which school is arguably the lead in developing and piloting just such a qualification? Step proudly forward: the RSA Academy.

Emerging naturally from its commitment to a balanced, competency based and demanding curriculum, the RSA Academy has been at the forefront of developing the IBCC (the International Baccalaureate Career Related Certificate). For a slightly tongue in cheek introduction to the IBCC this article in the Telegraph (not a newspaper one might normally  associate with educational innovation) is useful.

So two cheers for Ed Miliband. One for focussing on the less academic – a group generally given a shockingly low profile in national educational debate. Two, for giving the RSA Academy a great opportunity to showcase its fantastic work. However, as is typical (and perhaps understandable) for politicians, there is a danger that Miliband is being a little simplistic.

For example, the IBCC, while absolutely being aimed at those who do not want a classic academic route into a Russell Group University, can be a very good stepping stone into HE. Also, while the IBCC has strong vocational and competency based elements, academic study is also integral to it. Indeed like the EBacc there is a requirement to study a modern language. Finally – and it is a separate point emerging from other RSA research –  while there is a strong case for Miliband’s insistence that pupils continue learning English and Maths up to aged 18, it is also important that what they learn is integral to the overall curriculum. So, for example, pupils who have not achieved a C or better in Maths GCSE should not necessarily be expected to keep plugging away at the same content (a dispiriting and generally unsuccessful endeavour) but be offered a maths qualification which is more vocational and practical in content.

So, there is a lot more thinking required before Labour’s new idea is watertight. And as Michael Gove’s response seems to be that the Government is already planning to do what Labour is promising, there is plenty of scope for the RSA to be involved in the debate without showing favour to any individual party.

Having said which, it can surely only be good news that for once the politicians are fighting to win credibility for their offer to all pupils not just the academically- inclined sons and daughters of the middle class.



  • Rosie Campbell

    How funny – I said to my hubby a matter of a couple of hours ago..!I really like what the Labour Party are saying this week about this bacalaureatte thing – I wonder who’s been doing their thinking for them on this..?…!’
    Well done RSA co-creative brain power..!

  • Rebecca Hanson

    Why is the RSA not supporting the Modern Baccalaureate?

  • Rebecca Hanson

    I’m not into flattery by the way. It’s dull.

  • Robert Burns


    I know hope springs eternal…but, please! The years with ‘New Labour’ and Blair should have taught you better.

    The present political offerings in this area will simply do more of what has already failed several generations.

    The new qualification will just be the old CSE (Cerificate of Second-class Education) and will spawn yet another generation of educational second class citizens – and they’ll have the certificate to prove it.

    We need an education system with fewer qualifications and a unified learning standard, not more, and certainly NOT the qualification being proposed.

    On the subject of making learning a ‘modern language’ compulsory under the new Baccalaureate how will that work in state schools after 30 years of language teacher genocide?

    All the pointers are set for yet another education policy failure.

  • Iain Scott

    Alternatively we could look at the Curriculum for Excellence that Scotland has adopted which is closer to Ken Robinson’s model outlined in the marvellous RSA Animate . I have to confess to being completely mystified by English attitudes,past and present, to education. Education is not really valued by the English political class. It is a football,a commodity ,a soap box. never ever about enriching people’s lives. So that brings me to my question. Why is English education always so inward looking?

  • Robert Burns

    Because traditionally education was seen as only fit for those who regarded themselves as ‘elites’.

    Education is dangerous in the wrong hands and by definition the mass of the population are the ‘wrong hands’.

    Without ignorance there is no authority and no power to exploit.

    Most of the fuss about ‘standards’ has nothing to do with the actual content of the curriculum.

    Instead, it has to do with the social qualifications of those who have achieved under the state system – too many of the ‘wrong type’ of people can now raise claims based on educational achievement that are difficult to deny except by calling the validity of their educational achievements into question.

    Hence the constant political tinkering with the curriculum and the examination/qualification regime.

    This is not to say that there isn’t anything wrong with the system, there is.

    But, most of the problems arise out of outmoded notions of ‘class advancement’, disconnection from economic reality and a refusal to admit the limitations of one-size-fits-all battery farm education.

    There is no debate about the very real distinction to be drawn between education as a public utility as against education as a service purchased from a market.

    The market education providers can pick and choose who they will accept to recieve their service and set limits on the numbers they will accept.

    Hence the private system has the advantage of a smaller, less diverse (in terms of learning ability) student population.

    On the other hand, the state system does not have this luxury and is expected to engage in remedial parenting.

    In spite of this, politicians and media commentators insist on making inappropriate and disingenuous comparisons between the state and private education system.

    The problem is founded in a political refusal to address realities and a teaching profession that has lost the confidence to defend itself.

  • Rebecca hanson

    “Why is English education always so inward looking?”

    Because it’s configured to provide for the needs of politicians. This crushes professionalism and means that teaching itself can’t thrive and grow. If it were allowed to thrive and grow those who understand education would have reason to look outward. But at present they have no power to implement what they learn so why should the bother to look?

    Instead our politicians have the trips abroad but they don’t understand what they see.

  • B Lar

    Robert, You have some interesting points, and I find myself agreeing with you, but I wonder if you could justify the statement: “Education is dangerous in the wrong hands and by definition the mass of the population are the ‘wrong hands’”

    I would say that education is only dangerous when falsehoods are being recycled as facts. I would say that education is not in the hands of the mass population, but rather, in the hands of those who care about education. It is merely for the benefit of the mass population.

    I would also be interested to hear who you think has the “right hands”.

  • Robert Burns

    B Lar,

    thank you for your questions.

    I will try to answer, but in doing so I will have to address certain presumptions that I see as underlying your whole post.

    Here goes…..

    “It is merely for the benefit of the mass population”

    The state education system is effectively a youth conscription system that has its legal roots in the 1870 Education Act.

    What the Act was intended for was to raise the levels of basic literacy and numeracy in the general population in the face of increasing competition from the expanding economies of the US, France, Germany where levels of literacy and numeracy in the working population were higher than in the the UK.

    There was also a rising challenge from Imperial Russia recovering and rebuilding from the traumatic and humiliating defeat of the Crimean war.

    So the purpose behind the Education Act (1870) was to address the needs of the state and industry/commerce, not as a welfare measure for the general population and if such an agenda was in play it was only along for the ride as a tolerated passenger.

    I think it is fair to say that if anyone had put forward the idea that the Act could lead to members of the Working Class gaining access to a UK University they would either have been laughed out of the room, or branded a dangerous radical.

    Bear in mind that at that time UK universities were closed to anyone who was not:

    (a) male;

    (b) single;

    (c) publicly heterosexual;

    (d) an ordained Deacon of the Church of England; and

    (e) had access to the economic means to pay their way

    This automatically excluded:

    (a) women;

    (b) non C of E members – Jews, Catholics, Dissenters, etc;

    (c) the Working Class

    Over the succeeding decades the first two of these groups have made it into UK universities, Parliament and the senior ranks of the Civil Service.

    The glaring exception is the Working Class.

    I would go so far as to suggest that it is no coincidence that the primary recruiting ground for senior and long-term Parliamentarians, senior Civil Servants and the upper ranks of the traditional professions are UK universties (or faculties within universities) with the lowest admission rates for Working Class students of whatever sex or persuasion.

    Now, we are constantly told that the ‘top universities’ offer courses that are ‘more rigourous’ and ‘more demanding’ than ‘other’ universities, but this is all just heresay.

    It would be an interesting exercise for someone in the media to pick a range of subjects taught in universities like Oxford/Cambridge and a sample of ‘other’ universities and then have an international panel of top academics in each field compare the CONTENT of the examination papers set over the past thirty years by each institution without knowing where it’s from.

    Wouldn’t mind betting that a few surprises would come out of that!

    And another point.

    If these institutions really produced ‘better’ people why is it that so often things they try to do fail because they didn’t think it out properly or just plain lied?

    They don’t seem to have taken much benefit from their ‘more rigourous’ and ‘more demanding’ education at ‘better’ institutions.

    Truth is these places are just social gate-keepers that use bogus ‘academic’ criteria to filter out people and groups who don’t fit acceptable social profiles for the populations they educate and in return their graduates protect them from public criticism and funding cuts.

    Educating the masses is always dangerous because:

    (a) All social power heirarchies are based on asymmetries and the illusion that it is part of some inate natural order;

    (b) Once the asymmetry starts to break down the power relationship becomes unstable and the established ‘power group’ frequently makes the mistake of resorting to the short-term fixes of deception and repression

    We have been sold the lie that education is an automatic passport to a better standard of living and social promotion and that this is open to all.

    And now that lie is being laid bare despite the verbal gymnastics of politicians.

    To get around this politicians have started a bogus debate about the schools curriculum and the examinations regime.

    What politicians are effectively saying is:

    ‘If the promises aren’t kept, it’s your fault for having the education we provided’.

    Oh yes, they ‘care about education’ in the same way that Rick Mayall’s Robyn B’Stard cared about arming the UK police – check out ‘New Statesman’ on YouTube!

    People who really care about education are not in control of it because that would invite the risk of solving problems and delivering substantial results.

    I think that answers your first two paragraphs.


    The short answer is everyone.

    The knowledgeable person is the powerful person.

    Any decision we make about delegating powers and responsibilities that touch our lives should always be based on knowing consent, not ignorance and fear.

    I hope I answered as fully as you wished:-)