The National Baccalaureate Trust has long advocated a switch to a baccalaureate curriculum model in England. The Trust has recently published proposals on what this would look like.

Much of the report is compelling. The proposed National Baccalaureate for England (NBfE)’s objectives of promoting greater parity of esteem for academic and vocational routes, and rewarding Level 1, 2 and 3 learners with a similar end ‘product’, are laudable and interesting.

The proposals for a personal project and varied extracurricular activities to receive one’s NBfE are common in many baccalaureate models, such as the International Baccalaureate. However, it is notable that the Trust stops short of calling for enforced breadth in academic disciplines (e.g. a requirement to study English, maths, sciences, humanities, arts) – meaning that Key Stage 5 students could, as now, choose to specialise if they wished – although the Trust says its model could lend itself well to enforcing such breadth if this were judged desirable in future.

The report further acknowledges that its proposals require further fleshing out through further consultation, and are not presented as final and definitive.

In the interests of contributing to the further development of the proposals, some friendly observations can be made:

  1. The proposals suggest a transcript model could be wrapped around existing qualifications – such as GCSEs, A-levels and BTECs – not least as a path of least resistance to bedding in their reforms. The report makes no secret, however, of wanting to break up such courses into smaller units (primarily as a means of reducing burden at 16). It remains to be seen, however, whether England’s relatively specialist universities would find it acceptable to admit students with piecemeal units in their proposed course of study. At the very least, clarity would be needed about the minimum number of units and the minimum Level which would be needed for admission to certain courses at certain universities. If these varied greatly from one institution to another, this could be confusing and detrimental to students who do not receive good careers advice or have such advice on hand at home.
  2. In an attempt to ensure their proposals reward all students, there are elements of the proposals which reward all students equally regardless of ability or effort. In particular, the proposed Personal Development units would award 10 points to anyone who successfully completed it, regardless of what they have done. For the public, this approach to reward and recognition may not sit comfortably alongside assessment of academic attainment.
  3. The Trust proposes having Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 Baccalaureates available, to certify students whatever their ability at 18 or 19.  To earn a Level 3 Baccalaureate in their proposals, a student would need at least 60% of their core units to be at Level 3. However, this approach opens itself up to gaming: a student could do 40% of their units at Entry Level when they are quite capable of having done them at Level 2, to hoover up additional marks to get towards 600.
  4. The Trust’s proposals are built around the framework of Levels 1, 2 and 3. However, beyond certain groups in government and education, such terms are arguably not widely recognised. For example, would an employer be able to distinguish who would be the more appropriate job applicant out of someone with 590 in a Level 1 Baccalaureate versus 510 in a Level 3 Baccalaureate?

Nevertheless, the National Baccalaureate Trust’s proposals are welcome. As AQi explored in our briefing on baccalaureates, too often debate on this topic is too hypothetical. Given the variety of baccalaureate models on offer around the world, it is welcome to see proponents of a baccalaureate model in England start to put some flesh on the bones of what it is they are specifically proposing.