What Lib Dem members think about EBacc, academies and free schools

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum before conference to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 550 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Narrow backing for replacing GCSEs with EBacc

LDV asked: Nick Clegg and Michael Gove this week announced that the GCSE exams in England will be replaced by a new qualification in core subjects called the English Baccalaureate Certificate from 2017. This will mean a single end-of-course exam sat by almost all pupils and one exam board for core subjects. From what you have seen and heard, do you support or oppose the proposed changes?

    Support – 44%
    Oppose – 37%
    Don’t know / No opinion – 19%

Here is a selection of your comments:

I disagree with ending continuous assessment but (limitless) resits and modularity should go. Pertaining more to the question below, the inexorable rise of students achieving A-C (and similarly A grades at A-level) may be due to improving students/teaching but no-one outside the educational system will believe that.

The way these changes have been supported, and the phrases used by our “leadership”, is disgraceful.

Unfortunately based to a great extent on Mr Gove’s prejudices. Nick Clegg should never have allowed himself to be in any way associated with this peremptory unresearched set of changes.

In principle this is progress but more money must be injected into the system to guarantee better education for all students across the board. Otherwise less able students won’t stand a chance.

I am cautiously optomistic based on the little I have seen and read – However, I will need to see more detail before I consider whether I would fully support this – I do have some reservations, that for those pupils who are more inclined to be ‘practically’ adept rather than ‘acedemic’ will be left behind.

Narrow opposition to academy schools

LDV asked: Do you support or oppose schools becoming academies – schools that receive funding directly from the government, are outside the control of local authorities, and have greater freedom over setting their pay, opening times and curriculum, but continue to operate on a not-for-profit basis?

    Support – 40%
    Oppose – 44%
    Don’t know / No opinion – 16%

And some of your comments:

Anything that gives schools greater freedom over pay, opening times and curriculum is a good thing. My fear with academies is that they open the door not for competition and pluralism but for nationalisation of education.

I did at first support academies because it should have bought local determination. However, our local comprehensive became an academy last year and we now find it very secretive and parents have no redress to the lea about changes to the curriculum.

It depends on the individual circumstances of the school, it’s community and what the reason for the acadamy status might be.

Some freedoms for schools are welcome, but replacing local authority ultimate control with that of central government is illiberal centralising and there is also a danger that academies cease to get involved in local community initiatives.

While I have no problem with diversity in education provision – the crucial and essential role of LEAs in the management of schools, while in need of reform, is continually ignored by government to the detriment of education provision. While masquerading as freeing schools this is actually a centralising measure.

Majority also oppose free schools

LDV asked: Do you support or oppose the creation of “Free Schools” – new state schools set up by parents, teachers or voluntary groups which are outside the control of local authorities but operating on a not-for-profit basis?

    Support – 34%
    Oppose – 52%
    Don’t know / No opinion – 14%

And some of your comments:

It is a major, Tory, distraction from the real issues. Opposition may be difficult for Lib Dems because of the false impression it creates about LD attitudes to personal choice. Opposing is not the same as banning, which is simply impractical and would be illiberal. In practice free schools are not going to address core educational problems in the UK.

Generally oppose. I can see a case for a few in exceptional circumstances, e.g. where the LA provision has failed despite attempts to fix it.

Pointless waste of money that could be used in existing schools.

Qualified support. My concern would be that extremists or racist groups could set up schools to propagate their views and indoctrinate children. There needs to be a local approval process; perhaps they should have to get charitable status as a company, bound to approved aims, including non-discrimination.

The issues I have with free schools are democratic involvement, potential for dodgy curriculum and potential for dodgy teachers. Sort that and I don’t mind too much.

Almost half put down GCSE results rise down to easier exams (49%) and better teaching standards (48%)

LDV asked: GCSE results have risen year-on-year since they were introduced in 1988 until this year. Some say that this is a sign of improving educational standards while others say that it shows standards are slipping. What do you think explains the increase? Please tick all that apply.

    Exams have got easier 49%
    Exams are more leniently marked 37%
    Teaching and school standards have got better 48%
    Students are brighter and/or working harder 25%
    Don’t know / No opinion 13%
  • Over 1,200 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. More than 550 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 22nd September. NB: most responses received before Nick Clegg’s apology broadcast.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    9 Comments

    • Peter Watson 3rd Oct '12 - 10:06am

      Suggested new-style exam question:
      The Lib Dem leadership is enthusiastically promoting education policies without the support of the party. Discuss.

    • Richard Dean 3rd Oct '12 - 10:28am

      So 63% do not oppose EBacc, and 56% do not oppose academies. If repeated in the population as a whole, Ebacc snd academies look like the democratic way to go. 48% do not oppose free schools, but is 2% statistically significant?

    • Simon Titley 3rd Oct '12 - 10:50am

      @Peter Watson – Here’s my science paper:

      Method: We elected a leadership that believes its members are “looking to the past”.

      Observations: The leadership enthusiastically promoted education policies without the support of the party.

      Conclusions: More than a quarter of the members left the party and, of the remainder, more than half disagreed with the leadership.

      Can I have an EBacc?

    • Peter Watson 3rd Oct '12 - 12:04pm

      @Richard Dean
      .. or 56% don’t think the EBacc is needed, 60% don’t believe schools should convert to academies, and 66% don’t believe free schools are needed, so why is Clegg wasting so much time, energy and support in order to enable Gove to do things for which there is no demand.

    • What became clear during conference was the reluctance to look at the detail of the new Ebacc certificates at all levels of the party. GCSEs have been damned for their endless resits and the failures of the exam boards. A lot of members assumed because Nick endorsed the change, it must be progressive. We had the same problem with Michael Gove’s original Ebacc which began the process of sifting out diversity and choice from schools. The new Ebacc will judge pupils in key subjects on a single 3-hour exam. It will allow an elite to be identified at this stage and will probably determine university offers. That’s fine for high achieving families. However we do need an education system which educates all young people, not just the elite.

    • Most of Gove’s proposals are dependent on a second Conservative term in office with an over all majority, Statistically this is very unlikely. The Conservative Party are simply not popular enough to win the next election. The evidence increasingly suggest either a Labour victory or a hung parliament in Labour’s favour.
      The thing the Lib Dems need to do is forward their own education policies because most Lib Dems don’t actually support those proposed by Mr Gove and they are unlikely to see fruition anyway.

    • http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/open-your-doors-to-all-sir-peter-lampl-urges-private-day-schools/

      Adopting this proposal as party policy would be a big step towards breaking the Labservative elites grip on society

    • Cllr Nigel Jones 4th Oct '12 - 12:36pm

      I am not convinced that people understand the implications of the proposal. It assumes that standards will be raised and the number sitting the new exam will be the same as before. Hence they must believe not only that the previous rise in passes is due to teachers and students improving performance, but such improvements will be even greater from now on. If this does not happen, then large numbers will fail and subsequently teachers will reduce the number they enter for it; hence a two-tier system.
      The FCC were wrong to restrict debate on this matter at the conference, since it is a very important issue and I hope for further debate at conference in which we can really shout to the public that we are concerned not only for the 50% who go to university, but also the other 50%. If we do not then we are loosing sight of our basic principles as Liberal Democrats.

    • Peter Watson 4th Oct '12 - 2:10pm

      I do not believe that a single 3 hour exam is capable of in any fair way of separating the most able from the least able while dividing everybody up into several bands in between. I fully expect that an early modification to the proposals will be to offer alternative easy and hard exam papers, abandoning the sop to the Lib Dems of a one-tier system.

      Then what will we have? A system that encourages and rewards development of a relatively small set of skills, and discourages others? A narrower curriculum as children are discouraged from studying a broad range of subjects? More “teaching to the test”? Shallower knowledge as children focus on exam technique and memorisation of facts? Who knows? The proposals appear to be based upon prejudice rather than evidence, and certainly don’t reflect what I believed Lib Dems wanted.

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