Is fear of MFL the real reason behind opposition to the Ebacc?

Opposition to the Ebacc usually centres around the fact that practical and creative subjects are excluded from this performance measure. As a teacher of MFL, I sometimes feel that teachers of art/drama/music tend to forget that their subjects appear glamorous to young people in a way that more traditional “academic” subjects can never match, no matter how hard their teachers try to jazz them up. Children will naturally flock to practical/creative subjects because they offer immediate gratification, rather than to subjects whose value is appreciated only after years of study. As I see it, the Ebacc measure simply helps to balance out the natural advantage that art/drama/music have when 14 year old children are asked to make their GCSE option choices. Despite wild predictions of the death of practical/creative subjects, I have yet to come across a school which doesn’t value them and doesn’t offer a host of extra curricular activities in those subjects. In fact, children talented in sport/practical/creative subjects have far more opportunities for acclaim and celebration than a child who is talented in subjects traditionally regarded as being more “academic.”

Nevertheless, if I were a teacher of non Ebacc subjects, I too would rail against any measure which I thought might decrease take up. Moreover, I, like most teachers I know, would say that practical and creative subjects are an important part of a rounded education. A school without art, drama, music or sport would be a rather sterile place in my view. So what I find interesting is that Tom Sherrington’s idea of a national baccalaureate to include both MFL and performing arts appears to have died a death, while Kenneth Baker’s version (which excludes a compulsory MFL) seems to be gaining support.

My school has compulsory MFL to GCSE, but it is in a minority. I often find it intriguing to go onto school websites of schools which trumpet their Ofsted outstanding ratings to see how many of the year 11 cohort took MFL to GCSE. This can be quite difficult at times, as schools are not obliged to publish the number of pupils taking a particular subject, but of those that do, I never seem to see the same numbers entered for GCSE  MFL as for those entered for English and maths. In fact, a school is often struggling to get 50% of children to study MFL to GCSE.

Whenever I hear of a head teacher opposing the Ebacc, I look to see if they support Sherrington’s version. Not usually. Why is that, I ask? I admit, I have no evidence for this, but if I were a head I would worry that MFL, of all subjects, is the one which most pupils say they find most difficult. It is also the one which, even in the most “academic” schools, never matches the performance of English and maths. I would therefore be tempted by any measure which excludes or makes optional the subject that most children find hardest. Call me a cynic, but my guess is that fear of the impact of compulsory MFL is what motivates a lot of opposition to the Ebacc. This fear is, however, disguised as concern for the fate of practical/creative subjects.


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2 Responses to Is fear of MFL the real reason behind opposition to the Ebacc?

  1. georgessimplon says:

    It’s also hard to recruit good MFL teachers, partly due to lack of expertise and partly because MFL is difficult to teach well. A bad MFL lesson is not a nice place to be, and by making it optional, a lot of headaches vanish. I support compulsory MFL, but only if it’s going to be done well…

    Liked by 1 person

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